College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
Agricultural & Resource Economics

AREC Alum Wins Prestigious Fulbright Grant

Grant will allow for nine-month research trip to Russia
Alex Gittelson '09, Agricultural and Resource Economics
Image Credit: 
Meg Dibley

As the son of Russian immigrants, Alex Gittelson ‘09 grew up speaking Russian at home and hearing stories about his parents’ upbringings in St. Petersburg.

“I’ve always had this pull to figure out how I’m going to spend some time in my heritage homeland,” Alex says.

Now that he has been awarded a competitive Fulbright grant for the 2013-2014 academic year, Alex will have a chance to pursue his lifelong goal of helping to make a difference in Russia.

After graduating with his bachelor’s degree from the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of Maryland, Alex went to work for the US Department of Agriculture as an International Affairs Specialist focusing on policy issues related to energy, climate, safety, and security. His work with the USDA gave him the opportunity to interact with researchers and economists from around the world, including Russia. Those experiences in Russia prompted Alex to apply for a Fulbright grant that would allow him to study alternatives to agricultural burning in the country. This common practice of burning excess crops – typically straw – is believed to boost soil fertility but is also harmful to the environment, particularly in the Arctic.

“The main reasons farmers do this is not because it’s good for the soil but because it’s the cheapest way to get rid of the straw,” says Alex. “I’m interested in looking at what you could do with that straw. Could you covert it into bio energy, for example? Or leave it on the ground to use for future planting?”

Alex put together a proposal to partner with faculty at Saratov State Agrarian University, located about 10 hours southeast of Moscow, to examine viable alternatives to agricultural burning. He found out in early April that his proposal had earned him a grant from the highly competitive Fulbright Program – one of the most prestigious awards programs in the world.

“I ran around the building and did an airplane dance basically. I was definitely very, very excited about it. In the short, medium and long-term, it is the ideal thing that I wanted to be able to do,” says Alex.

Alex will leave for Russia in September and spend roughly nine months on the research project. Afterwards, he plans to pursue a graduate degree in public policy.

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