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Alumni Testimonials

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.

During my time at Villanova I’ve been able to study a wide variety of topics and subjects. As a business major, most of my time would have been spent in Bartley Hall, studying accounting rules and regulations, commercial real estate cap rates, and business law, but my decision to enroll in the Russian Area Studies Concentration allowed me to go beyond business and learn more about the world around me. Through the RASCON program I was able to learn not only the language that I deeply wanted to understand, but also about religious beliefs of Russian people, the political foundations of what is now Putin’s government, and the history of Russia from long gone tsars to revolutionary icons like Lenin. My enrollment in this program has allowed me to meet amazing teachers and become completely immersed in a culture that not many people at Villanova get to experience on such a deep level. It gave me a chance to leave the Bartley Bubble and venture to a country far away with a culture and language not many people understand. Professor Борис Львович has had me as a student since I was a freshman just starting my journey at Villanova and I’ve just completed his final as my last ever exam at Villanova. The teachers in this program care deeply not only about the history and culture of Russia, but also about the students in this program. I’ve always felt comfortable coming to them for help or guidance on a particular topic.

As a result of this program I am now able to identify words or phrases from a Russian conversation or artifact in the media or in a movie. When people in job interviews asked what I was passionate about, they were deeply interested to hear about my involvement in the RASCON program and it was a fun connection when I discovered that one of my coworkers at my internship spoke Russian. I can now talk about the fall of the Russian tsarist system or about the famines endured by the people and feel like I have some knowledge of the subjects. But most importantly, I will take from this program the sense of community I have felt, with teachers and students, both in and out of the classroom.

During my first semester at Villanova, I enrolled in Introductory Russian on a whim and first encountered the man who would have a significant impact on my undergraduate career, Dr. Boris Briker. Dr. Briker, through his warm manner and sense of humor, coupled with his endearing habit of referring to students as “friends” led me to examine my preconceived notions about Russia and stimulated a curiosity to learn more about this nation so very different from our own.

From this starting point, I began my journey of discovery into the history, culture and politics of Russia. Along the way, I was fortunate to find myself in Dr. Lynne Hartnett’s history courses, in which I discovered that Russia was a land not just of tsars and commissars but of Tolstoy and Turgenev, of Shostakovich and Solzhenitsyn. The guidance of program director Fr. Joseph Loya led me to appreciate and understand the Russian Orthodox Church and its historic role in the development of the Russian polity and society.

As I reach the culmination of my undergraduate journey, I know that I will always cherish the unique experience and deep cultural proficiency provided by the Russian Area Studies program. I know that the unique interdisciplinary knowledge gained through this program has not only strengthened my resumé but has widened my literary, historical and cultural horizons, enriching my life in the process. I will always be grateful for the guidance and support of the RASCON faculty, both inside and outside of the classroom, as these individuals proved themselves to be not only gifted educators and inspiring mentors, but to quote Dr. Briker, “friends.”

Updated April 2022: Lucy received a Critical Language Scholarship and a Boren Fellowship in April 2022! During the Summer 2022, Lucy will study intensive Russian language in Tbilisi, Georgia as part of the Critical Language Scholarship. Lucy will study Russian through the Boren Fellowship at a location TBD. Congratulations, Lucy!

My passion for Russian Studies began at age fourteen, with the serendipitous discovery of a “How to Speak Russian” book in the language section of Radnor Memorial Library. At that age, I had wanted to be a cultural anthropologist and to learn how to speak as many languages as possible. However, after checking out that book, I absolutely fell in love with the Russian language, and was too busy spending the summer avidly studying the Cyrillic alphabet to think about any other languages. As Dean Lindenmeyr would say, I was bit by the Russian bug.

While my high school did not offer Russian language and I was occupied by my other studies for several years, I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to study Russian again at Villanova University. From the first day that Dr. Briker asked my Introductory Russian class «Как дела?», to my eight-week stay at Middlebury College’s School of Russian in the summer of 2018, to planning Russian Club field trips to Bustleton Avenue and Brighton Beach with Father Loya, to a fascinating and exciting year working on my senior thesis with the ever-supportive Dr. Hartnett, and to being honored with the Alexander Pushkin Medallion of Excellence as I graduate from Villanova University, I am grateful beyond words for the support, mentorship, and enthusiasm I have found at Villanova University’s Russian Studies program.

After graduating, I am honored and excited to be leaving for a Fulbright Student Fellowship in Ukraine, where I will be conducting research at the Odessa Center for Nonproliferation at Odessa I.I. Mechnikov National University and at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. It has been with the vital support and guidance of each and every one of my faculty mentors close to the Global Interdisciplinary Studies: Russian Area Studies program that I am able to embark on this next adventure. I could not be more grateful and appreciative for all that they have taught me during my years at Villanova University. I would like to include special thanks to Dr. Boris Briker, Dean Adele Lindenmeyr, Dr. Lynne Hartnett, Father Joseph Loya OSA, Dr. Chiji Akoma, Dr. Michael Westrate, Ms. Catherine Stecyk, Dr. J.J. Shanley, as well as many more. I have also been fortunate enough to be able to watch the Russian Studies program grow, and it is wonderful to see so clearly that this program is being left in the hands of a remarkable group of students. With joy and gratitude in my heart, I cannot wait to see what more the future holds.

When my family immigrated from Ukraine to the United States, I was very young. My parents encouraged my brother and me to learn English so we could adapt more easily, but my ability to speak Russian or Ukrainian deteriorated in the process. It was incredibly frustrating not being able to speak normally with my grandparents or my younger cousins back in Ukraine, and it was even more frustrating when I couldn’t communicate some things just to my own parents. And as I grew up in the American school system, I could never relate to the moments that my teachers told my classmates and me to ask my parents about where they were or what they remembered about some historical event. I realized that I knew more about the history of my adopted country but very little about the history that my family actually lived through.

My decision to pursue the Russian Area Studies Concentration was very personal. I want to thank Dr. Briker for helping me improve my ability to write and speak Russian, and Dr. Hartnett for her incredible classes on Russian history. Throughout my classes on Russian Area Studies, I have had the opportunity to explore my own family history and empathize with their experiences. And since my ability to speak and understand Russian has also improved over these past four years, I was also able to experience this family history being told to me firsthand.

In the future, I intend to continue practicing and improving my ability to speak both Russian and Ukrainian, for professional and personal use. After graduation I will be enrolled in the Political Science Master’s program at Villanova and will also be completing a certificate in Non-Profit Management.

Growing up in a Lithuanian household, my family has always had a small connection to Russian culture. This connection was manifested through a variety of different Russian-related things such as television, food, songs, and movies. This exposure helped spark greater curiosity in everything that was Russian. Entering Villanova University, I knew of its excellent Russian Area Studies program. I wanted to take advantage of this great opportunity to learn not only the Russian language, but also gain a greater understanding Russia’s rich political-history and literature. I would like to thank professor Mark Schrad for his ceaseless enthusiasm for everything Russia. Professor Schrad’s ability to eloquently teach about Russia’s political history became the basis for my junior year research paper: Russia’s Illiberal Democracy. I would also like to thank professors Briker and Rayevsky for helping me gain a better understanding of the Russian language and short stories.

Although I have had many great memories during my time as a Russian Area Studies student, I enjoyed myself the most in professor Rayevsky’s intermediate Russian class. Professor Rayevsky’s passion for teaching the Russian language was definitely passed on to her students. The learning environment was inviting and allowed the students to comfortably practice their Russian skills. I will continue to use the lessons learned in not only professor Rayevsky’s class, but all Russian Area Studies classes, as I continue to build upon my interests in global affairs. I will continue to improve my Russian as I enter Villanova’s MBA program. As I pursue a concentration in International Business, I am sure that the Russian Area Studies courses will help me have a more well-rounded global perspective and respect for other cultures.

Russian history has always fascinated me from the time I was a sophomore in High school. I never thought able to come to Villanova and study the language, culture, and history of Russia, as well as traveling to Russia with Boris Briker to see first hand all the things I had studied about in history books. Boris Briker has become a real friend to me, as well as a mentor in my studies of language and culture. Although I only had Dr. Hartnett for one class, she still was able to teach me so much about the history of Russia I thought I already knew everything about having been to the country in person.The RASCON program as a whole has opened up many doors for me in my studies, interests, as well as future goals for my career in the US Army. My experience in this program is certainly something I will never forget, and I am sure that it will serve me well in the future.

Being a part of the Russian Area Studies Concentration program has changed my Villanova experience for the better. It has allowed me to learn a new language, experience an incredibly rich culture, and travel to a beautiful country that I never thought I would get to see. Most importantly though, it has introduced me to new people that quickly became friends. One of these friends is Boris Briker, who became a wonderful mentor to me during my time at Villanova. Boris is kind and truly passionate about sharing the Russian language. He always encouraged me to challenge myself and try new experiences, including convincing me to travel to Russia and use my new language skills whenever I could. If it was not for Boris and the RASCON program I would have missed out on incredible opportunities that helped to shape me into who I am today and also provided me with some great stories. RASCON has taught me many things that I know I will carry with me into my future career and throughout my life.

I am so happy to have been part of the Russian Area Studies Concentration program at Villanova. RASCON has given me incredible opportunities to learn about such an impactful country including its rich language, culture and history.  My Russian classes with Dr. Boris Briker were not only interesting, but also fun. I also loved learning about Tsarist Russia and Russian politics. There are so many different options for classes to choose from where you can learn about Russia’s culture and arts. I ended up being with the same people in most of my RASCON classes, which was also great as we got to know each other. What’s also great is that many of the RASCON classes count towards Villanova’s core Irequirements, so you can advance your career at Villanova while taking classes you enjoy.

I am very grateful for everything I have learned in the past four years thanks to this program, and will definitely be putting it to use in my career when I graduate. Knowing the language of one of the most powerful countries in the world as well as its culture is a very valuable resource.

Class of 2017 - Eric Mitz

My journey through the Rascon program started out in high school, but not in a traditional sense. My interest in Russia started in books, not in a classroom. As I went through a phase of deep interest in World War II from the American side I left to explore the largest and most deadly area of the war, the Eastern Front. Reading about the devastation wrought by the Germans across the Russian Steppe, the brutality of the Russian winter, the violent battles of Stalingrad, Leningrad, and Moscow, I was I awe of the perseverance of the Russian people in the face of so much hardship. Finishing off high school I took a comparative politics course that covered the history and modern politics of Russia, and for some reason my younger self said “Russia is going to be important again”.

My freshman year here at Villanova I had the pleasure of continuing my desire for more things Russian by taking classes taught by the two biggest Russian junkies I know: Dr. Hartnett and Dr. Schrad. Their passion for the Russian history and politics respectively, and ability to teach that passion, was one of the most influential experiences of my Villanova career. What also didn’t hurt was that 17 year old high school kid being right about Russia so soon. As I learned about Russia the Maidan Revolution filled the news followed by videos of Russian Marines in Crimea and bitter fighting in Donetsk and Luhansk. No better perfect storm could have existed to pull me deeper into understanding what Russia is really like.

If I were asked to characterize my experience through the Rascon program it would be through Father Loya’s favorite phrase: the Russian Soul. Everything Russian can be explained through the “soul” whether it is history, politics, art, religion, food, language, or just pure interaction. Learning about the founding of Kievan Rus or the Napoleonic wars, or the Bolshevik Revolution, or even the language means nothing without understanding the Russian soul. I have never learned about something that embodies what an entire shared identity is before this. It tells me how the Russians were able to endure such hardship in World War II, but it also told a story that transcends all of Russian history and culture.

Villanova is not the end of the Russian story for me. Seeing Russia make a loud entrance back into international politics with the annexation of Crimea, support for the rebels in eastern Ukraine, and activity in Syria has only entrenched my belief that Russian Studies will be the new Arabic Studies, or old Soviet Studies as it used to be back in the day. As some of you may know my post graduate, now post masters, goal is to use this knowledge and participate in international relations, most likely through a government agency. I had the pleasure of interning at the State Department my junior year and loved the interaction with foreign parties and the diplomatic process. Understanding just a small portion helped me work better on Russian related issues including combatting Russian misinformation and propaganda as well as analyze the effectiveness of my office’s programs on Russians’ opinions of the US.

I will always be thankful for the enthusiastic professors I have studied under during my time at Villanova who have fueled the Russian fire that lives within me. The way each of you have approached teaching and the subject matter made this experience one of the best I could have hoped for at college. As I said before this program has shaped who I am as a student and thank you very much for the opportunities here at Villanova.

Henry Hartman Class of 2017

 I would like to end my address by thanking just a few of the Villanova Russian History Department & Language staff personally: Dr. Hartnett, Mr. Briker, and Father Loya; just a few professors I was privileged enough to have while learning here, and all the additional Russian Area & language concentration staff members present today whom I’m sure have contributed as much to the department as a whole. It was your enthusiasm & commitment in stewarding your fields which has kept that spark in my heart burning for the desire to continue my learning experience.

It is my solid honor bound dedication to further contribute to this field, and maximize the intertwinements of my life’s future endeavors & all else I can into stewarding such an interest in this study as you have yourselves.

Thank you.


Briana Brown. Class of 2016

I am so grateful for the RASCON program at Villanova for how it has shaped my four years. My very first university class was with Dr. Boris Briker.  I remember walking into the classroom feeling extremely nervous, but was instantly reassured with my decision to go to Villanova and study Russian as soon as he said "Hello Friends." Over the past four years, Dr. Briker has been a wonderful teacher, mentor, and friend to me, and that would never have been possible without RASCON. I also found inspiration in Dr. Lynne Hartnett, who helped me rediscover my love for history, and embark on a path to being a professor one day.  Father Loya and Dean Lindenmeyr have also been great resources and mentors to me, and I am so grateful for having had them in my life.  I know that RASCON has shaped my college career, but also shaped me as a person, and I would not trade the experiences it has given me for the world.  RASCON will always be a part of me and I am so excited to use what I have learned in the program throughout my life.

Kaisla Kollanus, Class of 2016

The Russian Area Studies Concentration program has given me incredible opportunities to learn more about a country that is often looked down upon but in reality has an amazingly rich language, a fascinating culture and history….

The best part of the RASCON program here at Villanova is the community. In Russian classes we are not just students, we are friends. And friends help friends. With the community around you, you never feel too overwhelmed by the work and it’s always easy to seek and find help. And what comes to the classes and subjects, there is something for everyone: you can pick from arts, history, political science or the language studies. Additionally, many classes in the concentration count towards the core requirements so you can hit two birds with one stone.

Knowing any language and culture is a valuable resource and appealing to employers. But knowing one of the principal languages in the world and the culture of a major emerging country that is both European and Asian, is upright impressive.  That being said, with the RASCON program you can truly set yourself apart.

Matthew Thorp '15 CLAS

Studying Russian has been unlike studying any other language or subject that I could have ever experienced.  I’m not talking about the struggle to pronounce my щ’s or ш’s correctly, but rather I’m referring to the community that builds itself around studying the language.  This community exists mainly because the people that choose to study Russian do so consciously; they make a conscious effort to pursue something other than the more commonly studied languages like French or Spanish, taking a step from their peers toward an unknown and mysterious culture…

 The first Russian community I experienced was in high school.  We had our “Russian Mother,” Mama Steimel, who was instrumental in igniting my interest and pursuit of Russian.  There, we dedicated ourselves as students and friends to unraveling and understanding the Orange Revolution and Putin’s wide spread success.  Mrs. Steimel was the main contributor in why I chose to study abroad for an academic year in Kazan, Russia.  I was sad to leave that community in high school because I thought nothing would ever compare.  I spend a year abroad in Russia, where I experienced that same feeling of a community of friends.  Coming home from Russia, I again thought, “How can this continue?”

Fortunately, I wound up at Villanova. I emailed the Russian professor at Villanova asking if he would be willing to meet with me to speak Russian.  From there, I became close friends with one of the most genuine and kind-hearted professor and mentor that I know, Boris Briker.  My path in Russian throughout college has been heavily influenced by Boris—so much so that I can never repay him. The community here at Villanova within the RASCON Department has been so welcoming and is truly inspiring to me.   I am grateful for the memories that I will take with me through studying Russian with Boris, and I look forward to small Russian communities I will be a part of and build in the future.

Elena Gianella, Class of 2015

Though I didn't know at the time that I would or could be a RASCON student, it was my Russian classes my first semester at Villanova that helped me being a focus and direction to my studies that I had never anticipated. From my senior year of highschool and my AP English class I gained a deep appreciation for Russian literature and had always been a huge fan of Russian composers as a pianist and percussion player. With these interests in mind, I decided to sign up for the Tsars and Commissars class for my my freshman history class and Introductory Russian for my language requirement my first semester here. Dr. Hartnett's energy and exciting lectures in Tsars and Commissars and Boris and Yakov's personalities and cultural anecdotes in Introductory Russian were things I'd look forward to each week and I couldn't help but try to think, during this time where I was looking for a direction and a purpose for my new college studies, about how I could find this from my Russian studies. In this sort of roundabout way,  RASCON helped me determine my Political Science major. But RASCON itself has been so interesting and rewarding for the interdisciplinary context it has given to this area of interest that I have and also to my major where I have been able to apply this area studies knowledge to all of my International Relations and foreign policy courses. RASCON has also prepared me for my career after Villanova as an analyst for the Department of Defense where I know that my Russian language and historical, cultural and political knowledge gained from RASCON will be invaluable.  

Contact Information

Rev. Joseph Loya, OSA, PhD
Director, Russian Area Studies
Associate Professor, Theology and Religious Studies
Phone: 610-519-7243

Sarah Peters
Program Coordinator
Theology and Religious Studies Department
Phone: 610-519-4732