Who We Are

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

Ms. Joyce Harden
Administrative/Events Assistant
Office: Garey 036
Phone: 610-519-6302