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UGA establishes Russian Flagship Program

Kathryn Kao

November 6, 2018

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The development of global partnerships and a growing Eastern European economy has created an expansion of job opportunities for professionals with Russian language skills in fields ranging from the biological and mathematical sciences to the social sciences and international affairs.

To meet this growing need, a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense’s National Security Education Program (NSEP) was recently awarded to the University of Georgia to establish the Russian Domestic Undergraduate Flagship Program. The renewable grant brings more than $275,000 to UGA in the first year and is expected to provide more than $1 million, pending Congressional approval, during the first full grant cycle.

The Language Flagship Programs are administered by the Institute of International Education, which oversees several elite grant programs, such as Fulbright. The Language Flagship currently funds 25 Flagship Centers across the country in languages considered vital to national security and to the challenges of a global society, such as environmental degradation, global disease and hunger and economic pressures.

“Flagship provides students with the resources to sustain and grow their proficiency in Russian throughout their undergraduate studies with generous funding for study abroad scholarships to help students strengthen their language and intercultural skills in professional terms,” said Russian Flagship director Victoria Hasko, an associate professor of world language education in the College of Education’s department of language and literacy education.

The Russian Flagship program will help students secure scholarships to study abroad in Almaty, Kazakhstan, or any other Flagship-approved Russian-speaking country, to complete their year-long capstone studies. While abroad, students will continue mastering professional Russian, taking content classes in their major and holding professional internships.

These experiences, including social events with faculty and special projects with native Russian language speakers, help students develop intercultural competency that link their intensive language studies with their academic interests and professional aspirations. Since Flagship certification is highly regarded by employers, graduates of this program often obtain high-profile positions in national security.

“Intercultural competency is a very important component of the program,” said Hasko. “One of the goals of the Language Flagship initiative is to prepare professionals who command deep knowledge of the country’s language, as well as their culture, customs, history and geopolitics, so they can serve as effective interlocutors both socially and professionally in their language of study.”

The first cohort of 20 students was admitted to the program this past August, and each student receives intensive instruction and tutoring at least five times a week. The program currently has over 40 students on various levels across campus pursuing majors in fields ranging from international affairs and chemistry to computer science and ecology.

“Our intensive training enables students to have the tools of the language, so they can succeed in global careers in their fields,” said Russian Flagship assistant director Olga Thomason, a senior lecturer in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of Germanic and Slavic studies. “Our goal is not simply to teach Russian—our goal is to prepare specialists in a variety of fields who have mastered Russian at a professional level of proficiency, enabling them to pursue various international careers involving Russian, in private and public sectors.”

Thanks to another program awarded to Hasko and sponsored by the Eurasia Foundation U.S.-Russia University Partnership, Russian Flagship students also have the opportunity to work with and maintain relationships with Russian students from Moscow and Khabarovsk, Russia, via Skype and WhatsApp. This partnership allows students from both countries to practice speaking Russian or English and receive intercultural information from first-language speakers.

With over 150 million speakers, Russian is the eighth most spoken language in the world. As commercial opportunities continue to grow between the United States and Eastern Europe, an increased number of businesses and government agencies are hiring individuals with Russian language skills.

UGA’s Portuguese Flagship was established in 2011, making this the second Language Flagship at the University and the fifth Russian program in the country. The program is open to undergraduate students of all majors and is a collaborative initiative between the College of Education and the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, with faculty partners across campus.

“This program is a critical national security initiative, and we want to help UGA Russian Flagship graduates succeed in impactful and prestigious careers nationally and globally,” said Hasko. “This program is a long-term commitment. We are hiring new faculty, building new intensive programming and planning to bring in experts whose work relates to Russia to create an innovative and effective career path for our students.”

For more information about the Russian Flagship program, contact the program directors at RussianFlagship@uga.edu.