The Stanford US-Russia Forum (SURF) is an independent organization for students dedicated to cultivating U.S.-Russia cooperation in spheres of mutual interest. Bringing together students from leading Russian and American universities for research in public policy, business, economics and other disciplines, each year approximately twenty students each from America and Russia are selected for the program, which begins with a fall conference in Moscow followed by eight months of work on collaborative research projects and then a capstone conference in the spring at Stanford University.
SURF at Fort Ross
Since 2011, the Stanford U.S.-Russia Forum delegation has traveled to Fort Ross as part of the Capstone Conference at Stanford. Program delegates learn about our shared Russian American history at Fort Ross, engage in community service activities, and also participate in team building exercises.
The Stanford Conference Fort Ross retreat is made possible through the generous support of the Renova Fort Ross Foundation. This retreat provides an opportunity for delegates to understand the history that the U.S. and Russia share. At the same time, the delegation has an opportunity to explore the unique ecosystem present along the Northern California coastline.
Some of our community service activities at Fort Ross include:
- Building a new trail through the coastal Redwood forest (a project that each year’s delegation contributes to)
- Collecting data on marine wildlife to assist with an ongoing marine conservation project
- Preserving historic orchards by removing non-native and invasive plants
- Assisting with scholarly translations relevant to the Fort’s history.
We have been fortunate to offer the following speakers during past SURF Fort Ross retreats:
Stephen Noerper, international relations specialist, educator and commentator.
Observations on the importance of efforts like Fort Ross conservation in a time of crisis in US-Russia relations. Noerper shares his views on bilateral relations from a modern historical perspective and offers insight into ways forward for policymakers and publics in both nations.
Deborah Zierten, Education & Interpretation Manager, Save the Redwoods League.
2015’s SURF-Fort Ross presentation focused on our coastal redwoods, including an illustrated presentation and a guided hike through FRSHP’s Spyra Memorial Grove of old growth and the state’s first second-growth Coast Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), the Earth’s tallest tree. Participants learned about the biology of redwoods and redwood forests, past and current conservation efforts, and the 19th century use and export of redwood and prefab redwood buildings from Colony Ross.
David Gordon, Exec. Director, Goldman Environmental Foundation
Lysbeth Gordon, former Consul General, US Consulate in Vladivostok, Russia
This Earth Day presentation and discussion brought our attention to the often difficult yet inspiring role of environmental activists in the US and Russia. The evening presentation featured short video clips of former Goldman Environmental Prize winners from the US and Russia and their shared and distinct challenges faced in both our countries. Lively discussions followed, including perspectives about the role of environmental activism from both inside an American Consulate in Russia and from environmental activists working in the field in the US and Russia (including Alaska and the Russian Far East).
People of the Seal
SURF-Fort Ross participants viewed People of the Seal, a documentary film produced by the NOAA Ocean Media, offering them a unique glimpse into the world of the Alaska Natives and fur seals living between the US and Russia in the North Pacific and with the legacies of the 19th century fur trading. This award-winning film explores the centuries-old connection between the northern fur seal and the Unangan natives of Alaska’s Pribilof and Aleutian Islands in the middle of the Bering Sea. Aquilina Lestenkof traces five generations of her own family’s history in this remote part of the world, weaving together native, Russian, and American cultural threads. At the heart of the story, are the fur seals. Like the Unangan, the fur seals are struggling to survive. As Aquilina says, “if they’re not here, then we won’t be either”.
Stanford US – Russia Forum at Fort Ross
“I absolutely loved the entire experience (of SURF at Fort Ross). I find what you are doing at Fort Ross to be extremely important, both for the preservation of history and nature, and for the improvement of Russian-US communication.”
– 2014 participant
Testimonials from 2015 participants:
“… I learned a lot and really appreciated all the speakers…(who) were so prepared and knowledgeable and interactive… I felt very engaged…”
“…I had the chance to try out basket weaving, making (basket) starters, and to help in clearing thistles from the orchard. I had so much fun with both! I felt great being able to contribute to Fort Ross and its preservation…. Everything was great!”
“…I absolutely love and adore people who work here, they are the true soul of this place…”
“Highlights? The redwood hike – beautiful! Learning about the fort and seeing the passion of the volunteers…”
“Everything was so impressive, it seems it’s impossible to highlight anything!”
“I really enjoyed the hikes and service projects.”
“Highlights? Nature, air, ocean and people.”
“I liked everything – nature, food, introduction to history of the area and discussion of US-Russia relations…”