PSU gets $600K to continue Russian Flagship Program

Portland State University received more than $600,000 to continue its Russian Flagship Program, one of eight federally funded programs in the U.S. and the only one serving the Pacific Northwest.

The innovative program is open to students from any major and allows them to develop professional-level fluency in Russian, no matter what field they are studying. It offers intensive language instruction, including individual work with native speakers of Russian. Students also spend a year in Kazakhstan taking language courses at Al-Farabi Kazakh National University, living with a family and doing an internship.

"The Russian Flagship Program gives Portland State students a fantastic opportunity to enhance their majors with a significant international experience," said William Comer, professor of Russian and director of the program. "Learning to use the language in cross cultural communication about real world issues gives our students a strategic advantage as they enter the workforce in the 21st century."

The program was first established at PSU in 2009 by Professor Emerita Sandra Freels in a partnership-grant with the Chinese Flagship Program at the University of Oregon. 

"The choice of Portland made sense, given the large Russian population in the metro area and Woodburn," Comer said. "Plus, Portland Public Schools had just started its dual-language immersion program in Russian."

Since then, more than 30 students have completed the program. Recent graduates have gone on to careers in government, including the U.S. State Department, Department of Defense and NASA, international nonprofit organizations, and graduate programs in law, international relations, Russian history and computational linguistics. 

Comer said the program attracts students from a wide variety of disciplines. For example, students who plan to head abroad next academic year are majoring in computer science, political science, and math. 

"It gives them an incredible number of opportunities," he said. "They not only get academic Russian, but during their homestays, they learn the language of family communication, and during their internship, they learn workplace dynamics all in a foreign language."

This term, as PSU shifted to remote learning, students are continuing to hone their Russian skills through a combination of tools, including D2L, Zoom meetings, VoiceThread and shared Google documents. The two students who were abroad for the 2019-20 year returned to the U.S. in mid-March and are finishing off their work remotely with their professors in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

The program is supported by a renewable grant from the Institute of International Education. The Language Flagship is part of the National Security Education Program.