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UM News
May 07, 2013

MISSOULA – The University of Montana Russian Program continues to shine this year, with two students recently capturing top prizes in a national Russian-language essay contest. Dakota Whisler received a second-place silver medal and Justin Davis received honorable mention in the second-year nonheritage learners category of the annual American Council of Teachers of Russian National Post-Secondary Russian Essay Contest.

The UM Russian Program, within the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures, has produced strong majors in Russian language, literature and culture in recent years. Justin Trifiro, who received a bronze medal in NPSREC last year, currently is studying at Saint Petersburg State University in Russia on a prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. He will attend a graduate program in Slavic at the University of Southern California next year, where he was awarded a five-year scholarship worth $30,000 per year.

Two Russian Program students also recently were offered Fulbright Scholarships to teach English overseas next year: Greta Starrett of Winnetka, Ill., to teach in Georgia; and Mark Jackson of Minnetonka, Minn., to teach in Kazakhstan.

Whisler, of Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Davis, of Shelby and Missoula, both are second-year Russian students at UM. During the contest, they wrote short responses in Russian with no dictionary or assistance on the topic “Compare yourself to who you were four years ago. What has changed? What has stayed the same?”

More than 900 essays were submitted from the top Russian students at 55 universities, colleges and institutions. Judges in Russia then ranked the submissions. Only two second-level students in the country were ranked above Whisler, and very few writers receive an honorable mention like Davis.

“The success of our students in the annual Russian essay contest and in earning prestigious grants and fellowships like U.S. State Department Critical Language Scholarships, Gilman Scholarships, Fulbrights and the highly competitive Boren Scholarship, speaks to the high quality of our program and our students,” said Clint Walker, assistant professor of Russian.  “My colleague, Ona Renner-Fahey, and I work very hard as teachers and mentors, and we couldn’t be more proud of our talented students.”

For more information call Walker at 406-243-2501 or email



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Contact: Clint Walker, assistant professor of Russian, UM Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures, 406-243-2501,