Issue 5, 2015. October-November



Georgia is prioritizing science and engineering education. To attract local talent, the government has teamed up with a U.S.-government- funded program and San Diego State University to tempt young people with an American education and a career in science.

Maia Edilashvili

Ken Walsh, the dean of San Diego State University-Georgia

Future Georgian scientists and engineers are studying for an American degree this fall, much like bright and promising students have done for years. But unlike generations before them, they won't have to travel thousands of miles from home to achieve their dreams.

This year, eligible student scan work toward a U.S. degree in classes and lectures held in Georgian universities thanks to a $140 million compact signed between the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and the Georgian government.

Under the project, California's San Diego State University (SDSU) is offering bachelor degree programs in Georgia in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (known as STEM) in partnership with three local public universities: Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, Ilia State University and Georgian Technical University.

Three majors are available to aspiring students in the program this year: computer engineering, electrical engineering and chemistry/biochemistry. Three more specialties - computer science, civil engineering and construction engineering - will be added next academic year.

Upon graduation, the students will receive both Georgian and U.S. diplomas.

SDSU-Georgia has accepted slightly over 80 students: 25 percent for the chemistry program, 25 percent for electrical engineering, and remainder for computer engineering. The list of students includes a handful of international students, including those from Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

"I liked that I would have a chance to study in my country, while my lecturers will be U.S. professors, and I will get a double American-Georgian degree," one of SDSU's new students, Nika Alavidze, told

The STEM Academy, organized by SDSU-Georgia for the freshmen class

Mission to Improve Georgia

The program is one part of the Georgian government and MCC's efforts to counter the mismatch between the modern labor market and Georgia's pool of graduates.

Before classes started on September 28, SDSU Georgia organized two-week intensive orientation meetings, called theSTEM Academy, to get to know the students, explore their English and prepare them to work in a U.S. curricula.

Ken Walsh, the dean of San Diego State University-Georgia, said one thing was clear after the STEM Academy: incoming students are driven by entrepreneurship.

"They have a strong feeling - of a mission to help improve the economy of Georgia," Walsh told in an interview. "The goal for the whole project was to develop a workforce that could transform the economy of Georgia. Now, after getting to know the students, I am absolutely confident that these are the right people to do that."

SDSU Professor William Tongis also very optimistic. He has been involved with this project from the beginning and visited Georgia many times already. "We have been working on this for a long time - 2-3 years now - and finally, I see the students this time! They are very motivated; they ask good questions; they are excited to be in this program, and we are also very excited," noted Tong, who serves as the director and chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at SDSU.

For Tong, SDSU-Georgia's mission is to produce a highly skilled and highly educated workforce with the same qualifications as they have in California, so that the graduates in Georgia can go to any biotech company or high-tech company and start work right away. "Hopefully, once Georgia has a qualified workforce,U.S. or other international companies will be more interested to come. And we will have an innovative economy here in Georgia," he told

One of the advantages for SDSU-Georgia students will be an opportunity to receive hands-on experience at the newlyinstalledcutting-edge laboratories at the three partner universities.

"All our students will be required to do undergraduate research to have hands on experience with all the equipment and research topics," Tong said. According to him, this will be possible in a number of different ways: one is to set up collaboration projects so that students can go to labs here and carry out projects, while some can go to California and work on these projects there.

"In San Diego, as soon as our students finish, they are ready to go to jobs immediately because we emphasize a lot on hands-on experience. Our students in Georgia will have the opportunity to visit our campus or be interns at San Diego biotech companies and high-tech companies," Tong explained.

"We have to figure out travel grants and awards. It depends on how many students want to do that or how much money we will need. Some students may want to do it on their own, but some may need our help. Lots of our professors will be also coming here to teach."

A "New Type" of School

SDSU-Georgia does not have a stand-alone campus. One goal of the project is to help the local partner universities upgrade their laboratories, libraries and other facilities.

For Vladimer Papava, Rector of Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, SDSU-Georgia is "a new type of engineering school."

"In purely pragmatic terms, this cooperation gives us a cutting-edge technical base. Also, SDSU professors will be engaged in the academic process, and the best students will have a chance to continue studies in California," he told

"The fact that students will get double degrees means that their career growth will not be limited to the Georgian job market alone. And above all, in order to push the Georgian economy forward, we need to develop a knowledge-based economy, an innovative economy, which requires a proper workforce."

Tuition costs at SDSU in Tbilisi

To study at SDSU Georgia, Georgian citizens have to pay a tuition fee of about $7,500, less than half of the cost they would pay in California. A large fraction of the accepted students at SDSU Georgia are supported with scholarships covering some part of the tuition cost. Those from socially vulnerable families received full financing.

"In the future, we anticipate that the funds available for scholarships will go down, at least from that source [funds left as part of the previous compact]. On the other hand, we are now talking to some private companies and individuals in Georgia who have expressed interest in funding some scholarships, which is a kind of new culture," Walsh said.