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Kotlas Connection Sends Representatives to Scientific Conference in Kotlas

by Greg Smith

In June 2001, the Kotlas Connection sent two delegates, Renee Coombs and Wayne Whitcomb, to represent us at an international scientific conference in Kotlas. Entitled "Environment, Education, Science, and Culture: Status and Perspectives of Development," the conference was held on June 19, at the Kotlas branch of the Archangel State Technical University.

At the opening session, Renee Coombs briefly addressed the assembled conferees. Speaking in Russian, she shared a translation of a letter by Kotlas Connection co-chairmen Phil Gonyar and Jack Mayhew. The letter read in part, "In Waterville, in Maine, and in the United States, we fully realize the value of Mother Earth. So we are hopeful that this conference will lead to new insights in preserving her and making her more fruitful. National legislative leaders from Maine, Edmund Muskie and George Mitchell, have been in the forefront of saving our air and water, making them clean and pure for future generations. Renee and Wayne join you with this legacy from the past." In the letter, the co-chairmen also expressed their hope that our participation in the conference would strengthen the sister city relationship.

Later the conference broke into three thematic groups: Education, Ecology, and Business and the Economy. Coombs attended the education group and Whitcomb went to the ecology sessions. Each group heard several presentations on its theme by PhD candidates. Topics included diamond mining in the Archangel Region, the environmental impact of paper mills, teaching humanities in vocational schools, the use of computer applications to teach geography, balancing work with family life, and the reorganization of the Russian banking system. Besides the presenters, there were approximately 50 attendees at the conference. Apart from the two Americans and a delegation of Finnish businessmen, the rest were mostly doctoral students and university professors from the Archangel Region and the surrounding provinces.

In a gesture of sister city solidarity, the conference organizers waived the registration fee for Coombs and Whitcomb. Our two delegates then donated the $400 that had been set aside for that purpose to the Kotlas branch of the university. We have since received a letter from the school thanking us for the donation. They are using the funds to equip a physics laboratory. Since $400 is the equivalent of eight month's salary for an instructor at the college, this donation will go a long way.

Both Coombs and Whitcomb are veteran travelers to Russia and both lingered in Kotlas after the end of the conference. Coombs stayed for a week and Whitcomb for the rest of the summer. Coombs, 25, has been to Russia several times, including a six-week stay in Kotlas after her junior year of high school and a semester in St. Petersburg at a Russian language program while in college. She is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, with dual degrees in physics and Russian. She currently teaches physics at Westfield High School in Westfield, MA. She is the younger daughter of Mary and Earl Coombs, longtime members of the Kotlas Connection.

Whitcomb, 28, has now been to Russia three times; his second trip was last fall. Whitcomb graduated from the University of Maine in 1999 with a BS in sustainable agriculture, but is currently working as an airport mechanic. He is a member of the Kotlas Connection's executive committee.