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UGA’s Russian Flagship Program renewed for additional four years

Kathryn Kao

August 24, 2020

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The University of Georgia’s Russian Flagship Program secured a four-year, $1.3 million grant from the National Security Education Program in the U.S. Department of Defense to continue helping students from all fields achieve intercultural competency and professional-level proficiency in Russian, a language considered vital to national security and economic competitiveness by the Department of Defense.

Administered by the Institute of International Education, the elite grant program helps students secure scholarships to study abroad in Flagship-approved Russian-speaking countries to master the language while taking classes in their major, holding professional internships and completing a year-long capstone study.

The Language Flagship grants are highly competitive and offer students an array of resources, including study abroad immersion with elite providers, intensive instruction with personalized tutoring, career advisement, an edge in competing for prestigious scholarships and internships, nationally-recognized Language Flagship certification and a pathway to earning eligibility for direct hiring with leading federal agencies.

“Establishing a Language Flagship program is a formidable challenge given the program’s level of rigor and multifaceted nature,” said Russian Flagship director Victoria Hasko, an associate professor in the Mary Frances Early College of Education’s department of language and literacy education. “Two years later, we can say that our UGA students—most of whom are double or triple majors—have risen up to the challenge of intensive Russian Flagship programming with tremendous dedication; they already demonstrate a level of proficiency, progress and retention that few Russian language programs can boast in the U.S. We have the privilege of working with future leaders whose global expertise will serve Georgia and the nation.”

Under the leadership of Hasko and Russian Flagship assistant director Olga Thomason, a senior lecturer in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, the program has expanded its network of talented and dedicated language professionals to include faculty in the department of Germanic and Slavic studies, the department of language and literacy education and a range of affiliated instructors from across campus.

“It's exciting to see our students developing not just language ability, but intercultural competency and to see them gaining the skills, tools and experience that will position them to succeed as world leaders in their chosen fields,” said Russian Flagship coordinator Sofia Ivanova. “The Language Flagship has so much to offer students and attracts some of the most capable, dedicated learners."

Since the program began in 2018, 63 undergraduate students have participated, two have completed the program and 14 have studied abroad in Russia, Kazakhstan or Latvia. One student worked in the hospitality industry and another interned with the Bauyrzhan Charitable Foundation to develop their language, professional and intercultural skills. The Flagship program is also partnered with several public schools where students promote Russian instruction in K-12 classrooms and beyond.

Going virtual

Due to COVID-19, many Flagship programs were either cancelled or held virtually during the summer. Students continued their studies by attending online tutoring sessions with native speakers around the world and taking UGA’s intensive Russian Flagship program online, equivalent to second-year Russian language studies.

Students also tutored at or participated in a number of virtual workshops with several institutions, including Indiana University, the University of North Georgia and Middlebury Language Schools. Additionally, two students were invited to attend fully-funded, highly competitive programs online, including the Critical Language Scholarship Program housed in the U.S. Department of State and the Project Global Officer Program for ROTC cadets.

“For a program that is only 2 years old, the UGA Flagship program has had some great achievements,” said Alexandra Shapiro, a Russian Flagship lecturer in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. “Several dozen other students have achieved great results here at UGA and have participated in a number of study abroad programs.”

The program’s first two graduates completed their capstone year in Kazakhstan during the 2019-2020 academic year, and while their time abroad was cut short due to the pandemic, they finished their studies virtually and qualified for Flagship certification after passing their proficiency exams in Russian with superior ratings.

Student spotlight

In 2019, Matthew Goldenberg (A.B. ’20, A.B. ’20), a Russian and history double major, was one of two Russian Flagship students at UGA to receive the prestigious Boren Scholarship to study in Kazakhstan. He also received the department of Germanic and Slavic studies’ 2019 Scott Sikes Award, which recognizes the Outstanding Russian Student of the Year.

In 2020, Goldenberg received UGA’s Presidential Award of Excellence for demonstrating outstanding academic achievement and strong extracurricular involvement. This fall, he will attend graduate school at Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey in California on an assistantship with Middlebury’s Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

“Our students have enjoyed an array of extracurricular and cultural activities in addition to participating in and leading the UGA Russian Club and excelling at their Oral Proficiency Interviews,” said Shapiro. “It has been a pleasure to work with such motivated and grateful students, and I hope to continue helping them on their journey to success.”

UGA’s Russian Flagship Program is the sixth Russian program established in the country and is open to undergraduate students of all majors. The program is a collaborative initiative between the Mary Frances Early College of Education and the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, with faculty partners across campus.

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