UM center opens technology bridge between Maryland, Soviet Union

April 15, 1991

One on One is a weekly feature offering excerpts of interviews conducted by The Evening Sun with newsworthy business leaders. Roald Sagdeyev is director of the East-West Science and Technology Center at the University of Maryland at College Park. A former science adviser to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Sagdeyev moved to Maryland last year after marrying Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of Dwight Eisenhower.

Q. Can you give us a little history about how you started the East/West Science and Technology Center here at the University of Maryland?

A. By the time I had joined the faculty of the University of [Maryland], College Park, it was about a year ago, there was a lot of interest here in establishing direct academic ties with scientific institutions and universities in Eastern Europe and Soviet Union, and shortly after I came here, the president of the university, William Kirwan, told me that he's going to visit a few capitals in Eastern Europe and then go to Moscow, in accompanying Gov. [William Donald] Schaefer . . . So after they had returned, the University of Maryland then decided to explore the chance of opening a permanent office. So this is how East/West Center in Science and Technology was launched beginning from last fall.

Q. How can Maryland businesses benefit from the work being done at the East-West Science and Technology Center?

A. There are many businesses, many American companies which are looking for a Soviet market, and many of them are interested in technology transfer from Soviet Union and East European countries. Our center would provide a home for many visiting researchers from that area and they essentially are an intellectual resource, a bridge to technology development and we would introduce them to the American high-tech community.

Q. Is this program unique or do other universities have something similar?

A. I believe several universities already are thinking of implementing something similar, not precisely the same format, but there are very, very similar brainstorming seminars organized by Stanford; MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] is interested, I think.

Q. It seems to me that the University of Maryland must have an advantage because of having you, with your prestige and maybe getting an early start on it. Would you think so?

A. I would try, of course, to help through my own university now, and I hope my colleagues back in Russia and in Eastern Europe still would not be afraid to contact me, they would not consider me as a deserter.

Q. You were formerly the head of Moscow's Institute of Space Research and advised President Mikhail Gorbachev. How difficult was it to move to the United States and establish this program?

A. I came here as a result of a change in my family situation and it had nothing to do with political or any other considerations.

Q. Do you have good relations with the Soviet Union?

A. I would say that I have good relations on the level of the scientific community . . . It is much more tricky to keep good relations with the government. First of all, nobody knows which government is going to be more important in the process of decentralization and the internal political struggle that's going on. So, we try to stay outside of politics.

Q. Did the Soviet government try to keep you from leaving?

A. I'm pretty sure that if there was no special kind of symbolism behind my marriage, I would not have been allowed to leave the country.

Q. The University of Maryland, like the rest of the state, is strapped for money. Are your efforts here being hampered by a lack of funding?

A. It's felt in every aspect of our university life, and of course,

everyone now is in a rather scarce financial situation.

Q. But this is considered a priority program, isn't it?

A. You know, the priority for the university is education. My main job here now is teaching and doing research, so the East/West Center is a kind of, you know, complementary activity. But at the same time, the university provided a certain amount of initial funding and I hope very much that we could have a fund-raising and contributions since the local businesses, American businesses, would find that they could benefit if they would use the Center.

Q. What is your budget at this time?

A. Our current budget is $100,000 for the first year.

Q. And that is all university or state money?

A. Yes.

Q. So at this time you don't have any private funding?

A. We already have made some contacts, and we were given some small, some modest but very important contributions from agencies, from companies, and I hope this component will grow.

Q. How successful was your exhibit you recently had on Soviet high technology?

A. It depends on the definition of success.

Q. What is your definition?

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