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Student Spotlight: Joseph Maberry (SIPA, MIA ‘16)
November 17, 2015
On February 22, 2014, Joseph Maberry (SIPA, MIA ‘16), a Peace Corps volunteer, sat in his apartment in Staryi Krym, a small historic town in Crimea, watching a livestream of the protests taking place on Maidan in the wake of the “Heavenly Hundred” massacre. Suddenly he received an email informing him that his Peace Corps service, which was supposed to last another month, would end that day. “We were told to get to Simferopol as soon as possible,” he says. He left town by bus that afternoon, stopping to say goodbye to whatever friends he could find along the way, and, within forty-eight hours flew out of Simferopol International Airport (within seventy-two, all Peace Corps volunteers would be cleared out of Ukraine). The following week the airport was seized by armed rebels.

It was a dramatic exit, but Maberry emphasizes that, aside from the hasty retreat, his time in Ukraine had been tranquil. Entering the Peace Corps in March 2012, five years after graduating from Boston College with a B.A. in philosophy, he had acquired enough professional experience to work for a small business union where he organized business trainings and helped entrepreneurs to market, find funding, create budgets, and to develop and implement business plans. Since much of the business in the area revolved around tourism, Maberry promoted diversification. “I wanted to get the people I worked with off the seasonal track as much as possible so they could earn more consistent revenue,” he says.

The most interesting project proved to be an animal husbandry venture with an agricultural cooperative in a small, inland village suffering from 90 percent unemployment. The cooperative identified ten needy families and gave each of them an artificially inseminated dairy cow. The farmers sheltered and cared for the cows, handing over the calves to the cooperative. As a reward for their efforts, the farmers could augment their income by selling the cows’ milk. Maberry helped to develop the project, create funding, and buy the animals for the farmers. “The idea was to help build a dairy micro-economy,” he says. “Not an easy feat in rural Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, in November 2013, protesters erupted on Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in Kyiv. At first, Maberry was certain the demonstrations would fizzle out, “like most protests do,” but he was glad to see them gain traction instead. Fortunately, the atmosphere in Staryi Krym remained peaceful throughout; though there was a sizeable Crimean Tatar population in favor of Yanukovych’s ouster, there were no clashes with the largely pro-Yanukovych population in town. Preoccupied with concerns of finding and keeping employment, buying property, and living a peaceful life, the Crimean Tatars “more or less kept their heads down,” recalls Maberry. As a result, Staryi Krym “was probably calmer than anywhere else in the country.” The serene atmosphere in town added to Maberry’s surprise and disappointment when he was forced to truncate his Peace Corps service in February 2014.

Soon after he returned to the United States, Maberry’s frustrations faded—he had applied to international affairs programs in Boston, D.C., and New York the previous fall, and was happy to receive notice that he had been accepted to almost all of them.  He chose SIPA because of its energy program, its New York City location, and “certainly because of the Harriman Institute.” Enrolling in September, Maberry decided to focus on Ukraine. In addition to the country’s politics, the friendships he developed with Crimean Tatars in his village ignited an interest in the group’s history. As a result, he found himself filling his schedule with Harriman courses and was particularly influenced by the expertise of Professor Valery Kuchinsky, who provided Maberry with a deeper political and historical understanding of contemporary Ukraine.

“I’ve always thought that in doing this kind of master’s program you get in and get out—it’s not very long,” says Maberry, “but I’ve become more involved in the Harriman Institute than I would have expected.” From the start Maberry embraced the Institute’s “communal atmosphere” and attended its various events and socials. This year he is the Harriman Institute’s Department Research Assistant, and is working with Professor Kimberly Marten on the new Program on U.S.-Russia Relations. As part of the program he is organizing a student forum whose goal is to invite prominent speakers to participate in closed seminar sessions with students and faculty. “The idea is to enable students to interact with celebrities in their field,” he says.

During his time at Columbia, Maberry has received various awards and fellowships, including a FLAS Area Studies Language Fellowship from the U.S. Board of Education, a Harriman Studies Graduate Fellowship, a SIPA DRA Fellowship, a Bazarko Graduate Studies Fellowship, and a Harriman Studies Language Fellowship that he used to study in Kyiv last summer. He has been able to develop close relationships with professors and students alike. “The Harriman Institute has been the unique factor in my experience,” he says.

Masha Udensiva-Brenner

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