Fighting Ukrainians meet Fighting Irish

Author: Yaroslav Prytula

Yaroslav Web1

Yaroslav Prytula is the provost of Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) and served as a Nanovic Institute Visiting Scholar during the Spring 2023 semester. His research interests include European entrepreneurship and innovations, economics and cognitive systems, econometric modeling and forecasting, and quantitative methods for making business decisions.

As I sat in front of my computer screen on that fateful day, little did I know that the message in my inbox would alter the course of my life: “I write with the good news that we will be able to offer you a position as a visiting scholar in spring 2023!” Academics know that wonderful feeling they get when they receive the acceptance of an article, conference paper, or scholarship proposal. I wrote my proposal before the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine started in February 2022. At the time, I had planned to use my time as a visiting scholar at the Nanovic Institute to dive deep into the topics of technology ethics, ethical behavior, inclusive capitalism, and the role of civic society in fighting corruption. But by the time I departed for Notre Dame – after more than three months of active war, thousands of victims, and hundreds of destroyed schools and universities – I knew I wanted to do much more than my research at Notre Dame.

The first week I arrived with my wife and daughter proved to me that Notre Dame is a truly exceptional place. We went to our first mass in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, which happened to be on the day the Congregation of Holy Cross celebrated the 150th Anniversary of the entry of its founder, Blessed Basil Moreau, into eternal life. It was a beautiful Basilica, thousands of kilometers from Ukraine, whose parishioners had probably never been to Ukraine. There were hundreds of people in the service, only a few of whom had ever met Ukrainians. Yet, everyone was praying for Ukraine! All in one voice, praying: "God, please give strength to Ukraine." This was an extraordinary moment for me. This was a moment that said to me: “You are home, you are among friends.” After that I had a very clear plan: I needed to make these friends my very close friends.

Yaroslav Prytula

The Nanovic Institute for European Studies, my host institute and the gateway to Notre Dame for Ukrainian Catholic University and many other Catholic universities from Europe, became my first best friend. The institute is under the leadership of Professor Clemens Sedmak, whose dedication, humor, and passion make it a wonderful place for interdisciplinary research and a meeting point for researchers, practitioners, and students who focus their interests in Europe on topics such as faith and religion, human dignity, peripheries, memory and remembering, and other big questions of Europe and humanity. Each meeting, seminar, or conference organized by the Nanovic Institute offered plenty of opportunities for discussion and knowledge sharing. One week, you talk to the former president of Georgia; the next week, you have a lasting conversation with a member of the German Bundestag; and another week, you have a chance to talk to a member of the Meta Oversight Board. The Nanovic Institute gave me the possibility to look at my research and my worldview from a different perspective and I highly appreciate this. Thank you to Clemens, Grant, Melanie, Peter, Morgan, Gráinne, Keith, Rebekah, Abigail, Hildegund, Jennifer, Anna, Fr. Ante, Andrzej, and Halyna for making it such a collaborative and supportive environment!

I found help and support from every person I met at Notre Dame’s campus. 

My passion is in interdisciplinarity and when I found out that there is a vice president and associate provost for interdisciplinary initiatives at Notre Dame, I knew we would find common ground for conversation. You can imagine my surprise when, even before writing a message to him, I found myself sitting near Father Bob Dowd at one of the meetings organized by the Nanovic Institute. This and further meetings with Fr. Bob gave me extraordinary food for thought. It was Fr. Bob who shared about the role of universities in the reintegration of veterans and who put me in contact with Ken Hackel, current director of the Office of Military and Veterans Affairs (OMVA) at Notre Dame, and the founder and former director of the OMVA, Regan Jones. My conversations with Regan and Ken allowed me to systematize the idea of a veterans support office at a university, an idea that I took to my colleagues at UCU and is now a part of our strategic plan.

It was also Fr. Bob who invited me to the “Connect with the Institutes” initiative, where various Notre Dame units make presentations of their activities to a wider audience to encourage cooperation within the university. One such meeting allowed me to meet Professor Nitesh Chawla, the Founding Director of the Lucy Family Institute for Data and Society. Cooperation with Nitesh and the Lucy Family Institute has already brought its first fruits with the hope for a huge harvest in the future.

I found help and support from every person I met at Notre Dame’s campus. While working on my research, I also tried to learn how things work at Notre Dame and bring best practices to my university. Being a dean of UCU’s School of Applied Sciences and working distantly on opening our first Ph.D. program in Intelligent Systems, I tried to meet and interview many people with experience in launching and running doctoral programs at Notre Dame. To the dean of the College of Engineering, Dr. Patricia Culligan; the dean of the College of Science, Dr. Santiago Schnell; associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Science (now vice president, associate provost, and dean of Notre Dame’s Graduate School), Dr. Michael Hildreth – thank you all so much! Your support and expertise helped me a lot!

Yaroslav Prytula
Discussing my work at a presentation at Notre Dame.

I had dozens of interesting and fruitful meetings with many bright people at Notre Dame: many sports activities, seminars, and random conversations that opened Notre Dame to me. But, surprisingly, this semester at Notre Dame opened my home university to me too. Working as a dean, you spend almost all your time at your specific school, you talk mostly to your school’s students and faculty members and you almost have no opportunity to meet students from other UCU schools. But this spring semester was different for me. I had much less contact with people from my school but much more contact with 18 undergraduate students from UCU (from all different programs) who were studying at Notre Dame for the semester. It was the reopening of UCU for me. I learned about their study programs, their stories, and their plans. We jointly went to the Ukrainian Club of Notre Dame, we jointly prayed for peace and Ukraine’s victory in the war, and we jointly planned activities to raise our voices about the situation in Ukraine. “What a bright group of students,” I thought. “It would be great to have an opportunity to work with students from different programs upon my return to UCU.” It seems that God heard these thoughts and, with a good sense of humor, He talked to me through UCU’s Rector Taras Dobko who proposed I become UCU’s Provost. “This indeed expands my circle of communication at UCU!” was in my mind when I said yes to Taras.

In this remarkable chapter of my life's journey, from my time at Notre Dame to taking up the role of Provost at UCU, I find myself profoundly grateful for the experiences and connections that have paved the way. My time at Notre Dame has proven to be an enduring source of strength and inspiration with insights gained, friendships forged, and new collaborations initiated. It's a testament to the transformative power of education and global connections.

As I look ahead, I'm filled with optimism, knowing that the wisdom, experiences, and relationships from my time at Notre Dame will continue to be a guiding light, propelling UCU to new horizons.

Basilica Yaroslavweb
Visiting the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame.



Originally published by Yaroslav Prytula at on October 09, 2023.