With Fulbright to Ukraine, W&L Law Student Will Build Future While Connecting With Past

Lexington, VA Monday, May 09, 2005

Aleksander Mehrle, Washington and Lee School of Law '05, has won a Fulbright award for a year of study at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in Ukraine. Mehrle's path to the highly prestigious award has been dotted by the emergence of unforeseen career interests, clouded by potential political complications, and paved with a deep personal connection to his proposed place of study.

Born and raised in New York City, Mehrle completed his B.A. at the College of the Holy Cross and entered W&L's School of Law in 2002. In the spring of 2004, he began an internship with Lux Capital, a nanotechnology venture capital firm. Mehrle says his work there "turned into a career interest - and I never imagined it would." He followed the internship with an independent study on the nanotechnology regulatory issues within the United States.

A first-generation American whose family left Ukraine in 1943, Mehrle grew up with strong ties to the Ukrainian community within the U.S. and thoughts of his relatives still living in Ukraine. With a deep personal interest in the country, he has resolved, he says, to work "to contribute to Ukraine's development as a sovereign, democratic and prosperous nation."

That resolution and Mehrle's interest in nanotechnology find common ground in his Fulbright proposal. As Mehrle explains, the nanotechnology market is ascending aggressively. He quotes the National Science Foundation's prediction that it will reach $1 trillion within 15 years. The United States has the money for nanotechnology research and development, but, says Mehrle, the rising cost of these operations in the U.S. causes many large companies to outsource.

Enter Ukraine, where years as a hub for Soviet innovation have laid a promising infrastructure for research. According to Mehrle the nation boasts 1500 research institutes and the 26th per capita population of research and development professions in the world. "With its population of highly trained scientists and the ability to offer comparative cost advantages over the United States on labor and materials, Ukraine should prove an inviting destination for nanotechnology research and development."

Mehrle will divide his time in Ukraine between establishing a framework for potential U.S.-Ukraine partnerships and finding the practical routes to creating those partnerships. The first semester of his time there will be spent researching the legal and logistical issues involved in forming Ukrainian-American joint ventures in nanotechnology. The second semester will involve establishing contacts and interviewing members of Ukraine's scientific, legal, business and political communities, evaluating their interest in working with U.S. capital.

Discussing the independent study that lead up to Mehrle's Fulbright proposal, Washington and Lee Law Professor Lyman Johnson notes, "Aleks' treatment of the subject was ambitious in scope and outstanding in result." He continues, "The Fulbright award offers Aleks an extraordinary opportunity to take the 'next step,' which is to explore the economic, social and political dimensions, not to mention obstacles, of trying to achieve cooperative commercial applications of nanotechnology in a cross-border manner. Aleks has an opportunity to do enormous good in his work."

Despite the strength of his proposal, Mehrle's hopes, and the hopes of other applicants for Fulbright awards in Ukraine, were clouded during the recent elections there. In the November 2004 elections presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych was declared the winner before widespread but peaceful public protest - dubbed the Orange Revolution - forced investigations of fraud and tampering.

Those investigations lead to a revote and Viktor Yushenko was declared president. Mehrle notes that had Yushenko, who has expressed openness to working with the West - not been declared president, or had the Orange Revolution not been peaceful, the Fulbright program in Ukraine may have been cancelled all together. Such a move is used when there is any question of student safety, or as a symbolic diplomatic reproach.

With Yushenko peacefully installed, however, opportunities in Ukraine are wide open and Mehrle is poised to initiate work that could serve crucial needs in both Ukraine and the U.S. Mehrle hastens to add, "For all my drive to implement this project, as a first generation Ukrainian-American I am equally motivated by the opportunity to become immersed in the culture of my ancestral home."

The Fulbright Program, the U.S. government's flagship program in international educational exchange, was proposed to the U.S. Congress in 1945 by Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, with an aim of promoting "mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries of the world." The program was approved by Congress and signed into law by President Truman in 1946.

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