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Russian Studies Program Expands Horizons At ECU

By Nancy McGillicuddy 

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, an exchange of ideas has flourished between Russia, Eastern Europe, the former Soviet republics and the West.

Now, students and faculty at East Carolina University are poised to further contribute to that exchange, thanks to a $144,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education, under the Undergraduate International Education and Foreign Language Program. The grant was awarded in March and began last fall.

The two-year award, with matching funds from the university, allows for development and expansion in three main areas: curriculum, faculty research and community outreach.

Hoping to increase knowledge of Russia and Eastern Europe, Professor Sylvie Debevec Henning, chair of Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, designed the multidisciplinary program centered on Russian language and culture.

"The idea is to get more people in eastern North Carolina – faculty, students and community members – interested in this part of the world," Henning said. "Our goal is to increase the cultural awareness and understanding."

Interest in the program has been tremendous, Henning said, crediting the response to an evolving social and economic atmosphere.

"There is a renewed interest in Russia because of the change in the political situation," she said. "Russia is now actually seeking partnerships with western institutions."

A number of students have expressed interest in the new program, and many faculty members – from departments as varied as art, criminal justice and marketing – have already signed up.

One aspect of the project is a two week research trip to Russia and/or Eastern Europe. Faculty competed for eight travel grants that will fund the upcoming summer trips. Henning said she hopes to fund 10 research grants in 2004.

The grant also allows the procurement of research and instructional materials for the language lab and library. "Joyner Library has been very generous and we've been able to obtain a large number of books and films through the grant," Henning said.

Several new curricular projects have already been developed as part of the program. These include a template for a Russian Studies concentration for the Multidisciplinary Studies major, new Russian content courses, study abroad opportunities and new modules for eight existing courses. In addition, students have already begun to design Russian Studies interdisciplinary minors.

"The University Honors Program will be an important contributor to the project with several new courses with Russian/Eastern European content as well as opportunities for Honors students to meet visiting scholars, said Michael Bassman, director of the University Honors Program and curriculum enhancement coordinator for the project. "We are very excited about these new internationalization activities."

The final aspect of the grant involves community outreach, coordinated by Dr. Alice Arnold of the School of Art. A film series, a Russian and Eastern European Forum, a Russian Studies web site ( and workshops with Pitt County Schools are in the works to expand the program.

The theme of this year's film series is "Russia through the American Eyes." Films such as Anna Karenina, Doctor Zhivago and Thirteen Days have been included.

The goal of the workshops is to bring awareness to Russian art to public school children. "It will help increase understanding of Russian art," Arnold said. The Forum will bring a number of scholars to campus where they will meet with faculty and students as well as making public presentations. Arnold said the Russian Studies Program supports several of the university's initiatives, including internationalization and the promotion of interdisciplinary studies.

Nancy McGillicuddy is a staff writer with the Office of News and Communication Services.