Angela Sarni

Angela Sarni '22 CLAS received the 2022 College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Alexander Pushkin Medallion for excellence in the major of Russian Area Studies. The Medallions for Academic Excellence honor students in the College who exemplify the Augustinian ideal of people living in community united in “mind and heart” in a passionate pursuit of knowledge. The Russian Area Studies faculty and Director commented in Angela’s recommendation letter, “A student with a wonderful personality, who from her freshman year showed great interest in and passion for Russian language and cultural studies.”

Allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election sparked my interest in Russia. I was already interested in international affairs in high school, so I came to Villanova thinking I would major in Political Science and incorporate Russian studies into my academics, but I fell in love with Russian language and culture after my first semester in Dr. Briker’s Russian language class.  This led me to choose Global Interdisciplinary Studies: Russian Area Studies as my major, in which I sharpened my focus on a country that captured my attention just two years earlier.  Many other Russian Studies professors helped me along the way-deepening my contemporary, historical, political, and cultural knowledge of Russia-including Dr. Hartnett, Fr. Loya, and Dr. Rayevsky. I was also incredibly lucky to have Dean Lindenmeyr as my senior thesis advisor. Dean Lindenmeyr’s tremendous knowledge of Russian history and sharp writing skills helped me push my thesis on Russian propaganda and disinformation to a new level of academic research and writing. My degree in Russian Studies serves my future as I work for companies fighting against disinformation. I aspire to be a U.S. ambassador in a Central or Eastern European country one day and I am confident that my GIS: Russian Area Studies degree from Villanova has set me on the right path.



At age 18, my mother, Galina, emigrated from Moscow, Russia to the United States. From a very young age, my mother, grandmother, brother, and I would communicate using my family's native tongue. Several years went by, and without learning the technicalities of the Russian language, I came to Villanova with a plan to learn as much as possible. Over the last four years, I have grown as a Russian language speaker, reader and writer. I have possessed a desire to learn as much as I can about the language, culture, and history through all of my classes. Since at Villanova, I have taken advantage of the RASCON and Russian Language programs through several classes and after-school activities. In my first few days at Villanova, I was introduced to Professor Rayevsky in my Intermediate Russian I class. Immediately, I felt as if I was in a comfortable environment, yet seemingly uncomfortable in my own Russian grammar, writing and even the alphabet. I remember spending day after day outside of class working on getting down the basics just to work my way up to other individuals in the class. Since then, Professor Briker has allowed me to continue to improve and develop my Russian language skills in Russian Composition classes and an Independent Study. Over my time at Villanova, I have been so fortunate to have taken many Russian language classes with Professor Rayevsky and Professor Briker, Religion in Russia with Professor Loya, where I have learned about the impact and importance of religion in Russia over the last few hundred years, and Russian Film with Professor Briker to combat my study of the Russian language. All of my teachers in the RASCON program have allowed me to grow in the Russian language, culture and society. Moving forward, I wish to utilize the invaluable resources that have been given to me in everyday life, and hopefully, one day work in an environment where I can make use of them to the fullest.

In my freshman year, I was motivated to take Russian for my language requirement at Villanova for one main reason: it only took one year to complete. What I was not expecting, however, was to have to go from South Campus all the way to St. Mary’s every day. However, I feel that taking Russian was one of the most beneficial and enjoyable experiences of my time at Villanova. I quickly became very interested in the language, culture, and history. Additionally, having classes with the same few students and teachers every year really helped to give a sense of community to the class environment. I am happy to say that I will continue taking Russian in graduate school next year, and I would like to thank, Boris, Inna, Yakov, Dr. Westrate, Dr. Schrad, Fr. Loya, all my classmates, and everyone else involved in the Russian Area Studies department for making these past 4 years so informative and enjoyable.

I started studying Russian as early as middle school. I was incredibly lucky that my school system even offered such a unique language to its students. What I learned then and the wonderful teachers I had is what inspired me to continue my Russian studies at Villanova. From the start, I knew I least wanted to try and attain the minor for Russian Language and Cultural Studies, but after my freshman year, it became more and more difficult to try and find the time in my schedule with all the required classes for my major. Luckily, I was able to take Religion in Russia with Fr. Loya as my upper-level theology course my junior year. Being in that class was such a joy as I finally got to meet Fr. Loya, whom Boris talked so highly of in my freshman year Intermediate Russian class, and it was the first true Russian history class I had ever taken. It reinvigorated my love for the culture and language, and I knew then that I had to keep pushing for the minor. This year, my senior year, I was finally able to find time in my schedule to take Advanced Russian. And with that, and an extra independent study with Boris, I am on track for not only the minor, but I am now a RASCON student. I never thought I could be a RASCON student, but I am so glad that I am. Russian language and culture have always been of great interest to me and as a science student, I never thought I would be able to pursue that interest in any sort of concrete way. But because of the encouragement from the amazing professors in this program, I am now a proud Russian minor and RASCON student and the incredible experience I’ve had as a student of Russian here at Villanova is something that I will never forget.

I arrived at Villanova as an undecided Liberal Arts student. I took Russian as my mandatory language class because I wanted to explore a new language that did not use a Latin alphabet. As a result, I began the journey of becoming a RASCON student. It was Dr. Briker’s class that first semester of my freshman year that propelled my interest in Russian Studies. I grew an attachment to the language and wanted to know more about the Russian culture and history. As a result, I took more language classes with Dr. Briker and Dr. Rayevsky. In addition, I also took Father Loya’s religion in Russia class, where I learned more about the Russian Orthodox Religion and was inspired to finish my sacraments in Catholicism. However, the one class that solidified my desire to continue Russian studies was my Communism and Post-Communism class in the Czech Republic. Dr. Hartnett’s enthusiasm regarding Russian history and its relationship with the Western world captivated my attention and propelled my desire to learn more about Russian Studies. My final project allowed me to travel throughout the entire city of Prague, where I discovered a new world of post-Communism relationships between the West and Russia and developed the connections with my Czechoslovakian identity. Furthermore, this class and study abroad experience formulated the base for which I structured my Global Interdisciplinary Studies thesis around: The failed liberal democratic transition of the Russian Federation. Holistically, I have been intellectually satisfied by the Russian Area Studies program at Villanova. In addition, the topics that I have learned have a direct influence on my career as a future United States Navy Officer, for Russia still remains a significant player in global affairs with NATO. 

I remember when I first selected Russian on the class interest form in the summer before my Freshman year. It’s hard to connect the motivation I had for choosing Russian with the concentration that I have now completed. Between middle school and high school I had taken seven years of French and decided that I didn’t much care for a language that could have half a dozen vowels in a word that pronounced maybe two of them, so I certainly had no intention of fulfilling my Liberal Arts & Sciences language requirement with more French. In fact, what really appealed to me about Russian was that, unlike some of the other more traditional language options, like Spanish, I could fill my language requirement in just two semesters. Plus, Russian sounds cool and none of my friends speak it.

A year later I was enrolled in the minor, having committed to two more years of language (one more year than I would have had to do for Spanish). And, if I was already doing the minor, why wouldn’t I do the concentration? It was only two more classes past the minor. So, here I am, four years after checking a box that said Russian for the sake of only needing two classes, and I believe that I have taken nine total classes that count towards RASCON. I’m not quite sure what it is that wore me down, but I am left with one distinct thought: I definitely enjoyed Russian more than French. I’m very glad that, out of all the options I had at the time, the one that I chose led me to end up here today.

I arrived at Villanova with three years of Russian speaking under my belt at one of the most prestigious public high school Russian language programs on the East Coast, if not the country. In spite of my bravado having come from such a program, it did not take long for me to realize that program had only scratched the surface. Before arriving at Villanova, I frequently found myself secretly Googling, “What is a commissar?” or “How to say ‘united’ in Russian?” followed up by “How to pronounce ‘соединенный’?” The unknowns of this interdisciplinary field were dissolved with only a few semesters of study at Villanova, thanks to the impact of the Russian Area Studies professors whose classes I had the fortune of enrolling. Dr. Mark Schrad taught me the complexities of the Russian political machine and how to examine the sociopolitical atmosphere of such an anomalous beast without the influence of my biases as a member of the US military. Dr. Lynn Hartnett not only made Russian history fun but inspired me to see history in the same enthusiastic manner in which she sees it. I frequently find myself at family gatherings going on long lectures about the buildup to the 1917 Revolutions or Stalin’s Five Year Plans; sometimes I even end up forcing my parents to read books assigned to us in the syllabus. And of course, Dr. Boris Briker helped develop my language aptitude for an additional three to four years, both inside and outside the classroom. The care he has shown for my personal and professional growth only furthers my drive to become a better Russian linguist and scholar.

Whether it be my desire to study Russian at the postgraduate level, my desire to serve in the foreign service, or the poster of the flags of the Soviet Republics I hang ironically in my room, Villanova’s Russian Area Studies Concentration program has and will continue to impact me in invaluable ways.

My study abroad experience in the spring 2020 semester began with a two-week orientation in New York City. My group members quickly took advantage of this time to get to know each other before we flew to Brazil. One student’s interest in Russia prompted me to share much more than I normally would have with a fresh face. At first, I was a bit puzzled by her unusual interest in the topic of Russian politics (I later realized she had a crush on me), but this did not stop me from sharing everything I could with my new friend. As we talked, I amazed myself with how much I had to share about Russian religion, politics, culture, and everything in between. I understand now that I should not have been so surprised by my knowledge. I have always assumed that most of what I learned in school would be lost within a few months, but my Russian Area Studies Concentration has proven me wrong. With Russian immigrant grandparents, I came to Villanova with what I thought was a pretty solid Russian background. Unexpectedly, RASCON added the much-needed meat to my skeletal knowledge, while also giving me valuable perspectives I had never considered.

This would not have been possible without the incredible courses and professors that taught them. I will always be grateful for the RASCON faculty members’ diverse experiences. Dr. Schrad’s passion and impressive expertise made Russian politics one of my favorite courses at the University. Father Loya’s unique religious background and perspectives introduced me to aspects of Russian Orthodoxy that I had never known of before. And Dr. Briker’s love for literature and care for his students made his classes something to look forward to every day. I will soon be going to Law School, and the Russian Area Studies Concentration will be of immense value to securing a possible law career with an international orientation. Ultimately, I hope the program will one day bring me to the country that has both frustrated and inspired me in so many ways.

Mark Schrad, PhD
Director, Russian Area Studies
Professor, Political Science