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Sandra Freels
Sandra Freels

Russian Exposure

Giving students a global edge

Employers around the world need professionals with advanced Russian skills, and professor Sandra Freels has focused much of her scholarship on filling those jobs with Portland State graduates. She founded PSU's Russian Flagship Program to help students from any major achieve near-native Russian fluency in four years. Her students gain a deep knowledge of Russian language, culture and history while preparing for international careers.

Sandra Freels, a Portland State Russian emerita professor, has been fascinated with Russia ever since she read her first Russian fairy tale in the fourth grade.

It was the Cold War era, when everything about the Soviet Union—including its language—seemed mysterious and forbidden. The closed nature of the country made her curious about the Russian people and their culture, history and language.

"I wanted so much to know what they were saying," she says.

Freels founded the Russian Flagship Program at PSU in 2008 to give students the academic, cultural and professional experiences she only dreamed of as a student. The program helps students from any major learn Russian at a near-native level in four years. Funding comes from the National Security Education Program.

Flagship students—some of whom start with little or no Russian skills—take intensive Russian language classes, conduct research in their major in Russian, and spend a year working, studying, and living with a host family in Almaty, Kazakhstan. When they graduate, they are ready for government and business careers with a Russian focus in the U.S. and around the world.

"This program is making PSU a school of choice for people who have this serious desire not just to take Russian but to achieve a level of proficiency that they can use in their future," Freels says.

She also worked with Portland Public Schools to create the nation's first seamless Russian program from kindergarten through college. In doing so, her legacy has been to hand down a life-long appreciation of the beauty of Russia and its language to new generations of Portland students.

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