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Bill Maddock, Director of Subsea Systems Institute

High School Senior Writes on What a Melting of the Arctic Means for U.S.-Russian Relations

By Valeria Dominguez

Nikola Skerl, a senior at Houston’s Carnegie Vanguard High School, won first place in an essay competition sponsored by UH Energy and the UH Honors College about the future of U.S.-Russian relations.

Skerl, 18, plans to study international relations and global studies when he begins college in the fall. The global-minded teen also plans to pursue a pair of minors: Russian and Arabic.

“Russian affairs deeply interest me,” Skerl said. “I saw the contest and really liked that I could have an impact on the field as the paper would be published, and I could earn a year-long membership to the U.S. Russian Chamber of Commerce.”  

The contest was open to high school seniors, along with university undergraduate and graduate students, challenging them to address why relations between the United States and Russia are more important now than ever. The students were encouraged to consider how Houston relates to the question.

“I didn’t expect to win at all. I put a lot of love in the essay because this is what I care about, and it was a really nice thing to win,” Skerl said.

His essay focused on the opening of shipping routes in the Artic due to melting ice and how this has the potential to shift the energy industry north due to Russia’s vast reserves of gas and oil. Skerl connected the city of Houston by claiming industry dominance will shift away from Texas and towards Alaska and the central U.S.

“A melting of the Artic opens possibilities for Russia and shifts the dominance of Houston as the energy capital. The fact is that the focus is now north because shipping is available north,” Skerl said.

The high school senior attributes his interest in Russian policy to his Serbian background. Skerl is half Serbian and said he spends time discussing Russian policy with both relatives and friends. By surrounding himself with others interested in the topic, Skerl discovered how U.S.-Russia relations are perceived by different people.

“I had a lot of general knowledge on the topic but had to do a lot of scrounging around for specific detail of these things, you can’t say things out right, you have to have backing considering the delicacy of the situation,” Skerl said.

According to Skerl, the thawing of Arctic ice has the potential to further freeze U.S.-Russian relations with a new race over territory critical to the energy industry. Both the U.S. and Russia will be drawn into a competition over the Arctic. Cities like Houston, which are energy focused will have to adapt to change, he said.