11:35 AM

From Bellevue to Baku: The Caspian Project Illuminates Important Region

From Bellevue to Baku: The Caspian Project Illuminates Important Region

By Dan Silvia, Communications Manager

A hub of energy, environmental, and political issues, the Caspian Sea is the largest enclosed body of water on earth and is bounded by five countries — Kazakhstan, Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, and Turkmenistan. That confluence of interests and influences makes it one of the most important regions in the world, according to Dr. Matthew Crosston, Director of the University’s International Security and Intelligence Studies (ISIS) program.

CaspianProjectCrosston and his students are helping shed light on the region for Americans and others through The Caspian Project, an online magazine produced by Modern Diplomacy. The magazine is the brainchild of Modern Diplomacy editor, Dimitris Giannkopoulos.

“He (Giannkipoulos) contacted me from Athens, Greece, asking if I would be interested in taking over the helm for this project as Senior Editor, given my background, experience, publications, and reputation covering the region,” Crosston said. “His desire was to create something that would be more unique than the standard economic and natural resource analyses that tend to dominate Caspian region reports.”

The publication has served as an outlet for original policy commentary articles written by students in the ISIS program. The latest issue, Volume 9, features an article by University student JJ Harper, one by Evan Thomsen, a University alum who is currently pursuing his master’s degree at George Washington University, as well as one by Crosston himself.

Crosston is quick to point out that the submissions are heavily vetted and acceptance is anything but guaranteed.

“The competition to be accepted into The Caspian Project and have your research published is incredibly intense and restrictive,” Crosston said. “As a result I can say with confidence that every single contributor so far from Bellevue University has been top-notch.”

Harper has relished the opportunity to see her work published.

“I never really aspired to be a writer, but it was an opportunity I couldn’t resist. It increases my knowledge of the area and helps me stay relevant within my field,” she said. “The relationship between the former Soviet republics with Russia and with each other (fascinates me). It surprises me that people don’t generally have a lot of knowledge about this important region.”

Taylor Morse is another student who has been published in The Caspian Project.

“I am very honored to have my work published among the prestigious writers and editors at Modern Diplomacy,” said Morse, who wrote about Iran’s naval strategy in a recent issue. “It is a wonderful opportunity to have my work as a graduate student published among scholars of this caliber.”

Crosston said the publication is a great way for students to build a portfolio and adds to the prestige of the ISIS program and Bellevue University in general. Not long ago four of the five top trending articles on the larger Modern Diplomacy site were occupied by Bellevue University ISIS students.

“This meant, in real numbers, that their work had been read by over 10,000 people and followed on social media by more than 1,000 organizations,” Crosston said. “This type of exposure, popularity, and growth is truly mind-boggling when you consider that in the Social Sciences in general we tend to get excited when a few dozen scholarly peers read our work.”

Crosston has even larger goals for The Caspian Project over the long term.

“I can envision The Caspian Project growing around Bellevue University, where people all over the world (and especially in the five titular countries connected to the Caspian Sea) will come to see our university as a hub of analytical expertise and a center of intellectual and diplomatic wisdom,” he said. “As that slowly develops, there will be very interesting opportunities for Bellevue University growth into this area of the world. Speaking even more fantastically, I would love to see our little piece of the heartland here in Omaha become a ‘destination spot’ for important meetings and diplomatic/business initiatives concluded about the Caspian region. Perhaps BU can become a primary mediator for what will be, in some case, multi-billion dollar deals across the global market, but originating from this region.”

A perfect example of this is the upcoming celebratory No. 10 issue of The Caspian Project, due out at the end of this week, where as many as eight Bellevue University students will have original analyses published, including for the first time three members of the undergraduate program, something Crosston praises as particularly unique.

“Student scholarship is and has been a buzzword across all universities, all over the world. Despite this emphasis very few, if any, can point to the success we have achieved and will continue to achieve. This not just a testimony to the talent at our university, but also what can be done when faculty focus on building programs of relevance that are meant to structurally produce real scholarship and not just teach students the rules and regulations of research but never provide them opportunity for real world engagement. Our three undergraduate students, for example, ended up with articles because a specific analytical research assignment was built into the BS ISIS course on geostrategy. By looking to fuse in-class demands with out-of-class opportunity, the ISIS program has become a beacon of pedagogical innovation that, at present counting, has seen TWO DOZEN Bellevue University students earn international publications before receiving their degree. There is no other university or program in the world capable of making that statement.”