When Nataliya Piramova heard about Portland State’s new Russian Flagship Program this summer, she didn’t hesitate to sign up, despite knowing little about what the actual program was. The program is designed to produce students fluent in Russian with majors in any discipline. Unlike a Russian major, students enrolled in the program will receive a certificate of advanced Russian proficiency that can be attached to any undergraduate or graduate degree.
When Nataliya Piramova heard about Portland State’s new Russian Flagship Program this summer, she didn’t hesitate to sign up, despite knowing little about what the actual program was.
The program is designed to produce students fluent in Russian with majors in any discipline. Unlike a Russian major, students enrolled in the program will receive a certificate of advanced Russian proficiency that can be attached to any undergraduate or graduate degree.
“The opportunity to speak Russian in a context outside of my family was really important to me,” said Piramova, a native speaker whose family moved to the United States from Baku, Azerbaijan in 1990. “Your vocabulary suffers.”
The program features three main components: advanced Russian-language classes, or classes taught in Russian; Russian discussion sections integrated into the University Studies program and a year at the Russian Flagship Center in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Only students with an “intermediate high” Russian proficiency level are admitted into the program.”To be admitted to the program students must fill out an application and take a placement exam,” said Russian professor Sandra Freels.
Russian reading content for the program is integrated into University Studies courses. At the moment, the only freshman University Studies course available is “Power and Imagination,” while sophomores have the option of taking “European Studies,” “American Studies” and “Natural Science Inquiry.”
“Response has been very positive,” Freels said. “We have enrolled 18 students since the beginning of the term.”
Piramova, 22, is set to graduate after spring term with an English degree and a minor in Russian, and will not get the opportunity to study abroad.
However, she said it is exciting to be part of the program’s inaugural year and that she is enjoying the program’s European Studies class, which is taught entirely in Russian by two teaching assistants recently relocated from Russia.
“The content is very interesting to me. I get to read it in Russian and talk about it in Russian,” said Piramova, who also spends much of her time immersed in the English language as the editor of Pathos Literary Magazine. “It’s like being in Russia for a couple hours.”
The program, one of many similar programs throughout the country, is federally funded by a three-year $1 million grant from the National Security Education Program (NSEP), an arm of the U.S. Department of Defense.
“The dollars support second-language instruction for the languages that have been identified as ‘critical’ to the U.S.’s engagement in world affairs and important to fostering mutual understanding between the U.S. and other societies,” said associate professor Martha Hickey.
NSEP’s goal is to produce advanced foreign language speakers within the United States and to create the next generation of global professionals in languages significant to U.S. competitiveness and security, according to the Language Flagship Web site.
“We in the Russian program at Portland State saw the flagship program as an opportunity to help students achieve their educational objectives while providing them the chance to reach a level of proficiency in Russian that could prove instrumental for their careers, giving them more opportunities in a global marketplace,” Hickey said.
Students enrolled in the program will receive $1,000 in tuition assistance for the year, something Hickey said she would like to see continue as long as the program is able to maintain its funding.
In addition to the current curriculum, starting in the fall of 2009 university housing will offer a “Russian immersion floor” where only Russian will be spoken.
“We are in partnership with Sandra Freels to start an immersion floor to support the grant she received,” said Corey Ray, director of Residence Life. “We are looking at several different buildings, but it should be one of the current spaces that is not currently labeled as a community.”
While Piramova will not get to experience the full breadth of the program, she said she appreciates how the program has shifted her frame of mind and made her more comfortable speaking the language.
“It puts me in this role, this mode that I haven’t really been in since visiting my family in Russia,” Piramova said. “The most exciting thing is just being able to express myself better in a language that I haven’t been able to very well.”