The first-year results are in, and the results are good – in terms of immediate success, certainly, but also in what they mean for the future.
Nearly 70 Ukrainian geoscientists – unexpected refugees due to war in their homeland – received a foothold in their professional transitions this past year, thanks largely to the AAPG Foundation.
The Foundation’s support, in turn, was provided because one AAPG member saw not just a need but also a way to provide humanitarian and professional aid to these distressed geoscientists – a concept that meshed perfectly with the Foundation’s mission.
Piotr Krzywiec, associate professor at the Institute of Geological Sciences, Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, Poland, was immediately drawn to the plight facing those who were fleeing nearby Ukraine when Russia invaded the country in February 2022.
“We had to do something,” Krzywiec said, to help the nearly two million refugees who had arrived in Poland. “And it was a sudden, emergency situation – we had to act quickly.”
Krzywiec is no stranger to AAPG organization or potential. He has been an active member and influential voice since joining AAPG in 1991, including leadership roles with the Committee for History of Petroleum Geology group and Visiting Geoscientist Program.
He knew how to get things done, especially in the world of geosciences. And especially in the world of AAPG.
The humanitarian efforts began with a fast call to his friend in America, past AAPG President Robbie Gries. The two of them, working with Ukrainian member Sasha Kitchka, chose to focus on humanitarian relief for woman geoscientists who were escaping from their war-ravaged country – an immediate and crucial need, all agreed.
For that, they started a Facebook page along with a GoFundMe campaign, titled “Female Ukrainian Geoscientist Refugee Funds.” Also providing support and energy were past AAPG presidents Randi Martinsen, Denise Cox and Gretchen Gillis.
That initiative, still managed by Gries, has raised more than $115,000. “Robbie did something spectacular,” Krzywiec said. “The results are over the top.”
(Details on those efforts were reported in the June 2022 and November 2022 issue of the EXPLORER.)
But Krzywiec saw other needs, too, as he watched geoscientists arrive in Poland without knowing the Polish language – or with limited or no knowledge of English, which is vital for any academic setting.
“We wanted to give geoscientists an opportunity to make a professional transition in their new homes,” he said, “so they could continue to work as geoscientists.”
Back to the Future
For that, Krzywiec contacted the AAPG Foundation Trustees, and in November they approved a $9,000 grant to the Polish Geological Society to create and administer two online educational courses to help with the transitions.
The Zoom-based courses were:
- Academic English for Ukrainian Geologists – The Foundation provided funding for two groups to receive 30 hours of instruction.
- Polish for Ukrainian Geologists – The Foundation funding allowed four groups to receive 50 hours of instruction.
“The Polish language course for geologists (attracting more than 30 professionals) lasted almost four months, through the end of this past March,” he said.
That group included students, magistrates, doctorial students, professors and associate professors, all in the field of geology.
The “Academic English” course attracted another 30, who were divided into two classes of 15. They, too, “came from all walks of life, from students to those in retirement from various companies and institutions, as well as from both industry and academia.
“We had almost 150 people interested at the beginning,” Krzywiec said, “and many were ultimately not selected due to space constraints.”
After the first month, attendance fell. There were, after all, practical considerations … like a war.
“Many people could not attend due to the rolling blackouts associated with Russian airstrikes on Ukraine’s power grid,” he said. “Several people also missed various weeks because of air raid alerts, which meant they were in shelters.
“The students were determined, however, and many followed by candlelight from basements or toilets, on their phones, or while in a car parked outside the city,” he said.
At that point, Krzywiec decided on a course correction: The courses would be recorded, allowing students the opportunity to access them whenever it was best for them.
There were non-war challenges, too.
“The main problem (for the Polish language course teachers) was to properly form the groups and get along with them, and to determine the time of classes that would suit as many people as possible, and to adapt the materials to each of the groups,” he said.
“The first month was devoted only to the Polish language, due to the fact that scientific texts on geology would be very difficult for (them),” he said.
The first lessons, then, covered the basics of grammar, vocabulary, listening comprehension, speaking and reading and writing in Polish.
“Later, we started working on scientific texts in geology,” he continued, “in which we studied the specification of the form of writing scientific texts and geological vocabulary.
And those lessons tackled a lot of basics: general geology, rocks, minerals, earth structure, tectonics, seismic, orogeny, volcanology and the history of the earth.
“But it was offered so they will be able to continue their careers, wherever they are,” he said. “They’ll have the opportunity to make significant contributions to the science.”
The entire experience, Krzywiec said, was as positive for he and the other PGS instructors as it was successful for the Ukrainians.
“These students saw a significant development in their ability to read, write and understand both generally and especially in their academic texts, which was great,” Krzywiec said.
“It was very easy to work with them,” he added. “They quickly picked up new material.”
Especially impressive was their “willingness to learn, because the classes are in the evening, and after working all day, twice a week they devoted an hour-and-a-half to these classes.
“I admired how committed some people work, despite the difficult circumstances these people found themselves in,” he said.
“At the end of course, the students all took a test in both parts, and they got very good results,” he said.
So, despite the war, they learned a new language and new ways of managing things they already knew in their homeland, but with “no electricity, or connecting from mobile phones, having poor network coverage, by candlelight or lanterns.
“Their willingness to learn under the circumstances was even greater,” he said.
The courses concluded in April, but the war with Russia continues. As such, Krzywiec already is anticipating ways to continue the geoscience momentum when the next semester begins in the fall.
“I think perhaps we need more specialized courses, dealing with geology, geophysics, geochemistry, how to work with seismic,” he suggested, adding that the “AAPG umbrella” was an attractive draw for the initiative.
For Krzywiec and his PGS colleagues, the next round of courses would be a case of making a good thing better.
“When circumstances improve, there will be many I would be happy to collaborate with,” Krzywiec said, “as Ukraine is an excellent country with good geology and fabulous, brave people who are committed to freedom and getting on with their lives.
“Many words of gratitude were received from the participants,” he said. “They tell us ‘Thank you,’ but I say it is we who should be thanking you.”
(Editor’s note: To contribute to Gries’ campaign visit GoFundMe.com and search “Female Ukrainian Geoscientist Refugee Funds.” To contribute to the AAPG Foundation’s efforts with this or any other program visit the website at foundation.aapg.org.)