UM Russian Major Celebrates 50th Year With Awards

May 10, 2017

MISSOULA – The Russian major at the University of Montana is celebrating its 50th year. To mark the occasion, the program held a two-day Jubilee event in April.

More than 60 guests attended the opening reception, which featured keynote speaker, Tom Seifrid, chair and professor of Slavic at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and a 1978 UM graduate. His talk was titled “Now and Then: What Endures (in Russian Culture).”

Ona Renner-Fahey, UM associate professor of Russian, speaks during the opening session of a two-day Jubilee celebrating the 50th anniversary of the University’s Russian major. The evening also was highlighted by student performances, shared remembrances of former professors in the program, an awards presentation and a champagne toast. All events were organized by UM faculty members Ona Renner-Fahey, Robert Greene and Clint Walker.

On the second day, eight alumni of the Russian program presented their recent graduate research. The presenters and their paper titles were:

 Panel I: Populations and Policy (Chaired by Robert Greene, UM)

  •  “Industry and the Indigenous: The Case of the Yamal Nenets and Hydrocarbon Extraction” (Ethan McKown, American U)
  • “A Problem Definition Approach to the Conservation of the Lion in Tanzania and Amur Tiger in Russia” (Travis Vincent, Johns Hopkins University)
  • “The Bumpy Road to Democracy: Success and Failure in the Integration of Ethnic Armenians in the Republic of Georgia” (Greta Starrett, University of Washington)
  • “Between Wartime Atrocity and the Genocide of the Jews: Early Soviet Representations of the Nazi Death Camps and Polish Responses” (Alana Holland, University of Kansas)

 Panel II: Literature and Film (Chaired by Clint Walker, UM)

  • “History as Motion: Time, Memory and the Modern Jewish Experience in Jabotinsky and Bergelson” (Tyler Dolan, University of Illinois)
  • “Anatolii Lunacharskii and the Soviet Theater” (John Dunkum, UM)
  • “‘Yesterday I Was Still a Fool, but Today I’m a Bit Wiser’: Reading Dostoevsky in Contemporary America” (Justin Trifiro, USC)
  • “Upstaging the Carnival: A Bakhtinian Take on Necrorealist Biopolitics in Film” (Ellina Sattarova, University of Pittsburgh)

The Jubilee punctuated an outstanding year for the Russian program at UM, one that included a wide array of faculty and students garnering prestigious national awards. Earlier this year, Associate Professor Renner-Fahey received one of the most prestigious national awards eligible to a Russian professor, the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages (AATSEEL) Excellence in Teaching Award, as well as the UM Distinguished Teaching Award.

The program’s Outstanding Senior this year, Julie Ammons, who last year was the recipient of a U.S. State Department Critical Language Scholarship to Vladimir, Russia, won one of only two grand prizes in the Bureau of Education and Cultural Exchange’s “Citizen Diplomacy Story Challenge.”

Ammons’ moving essay about her intimate bond with her host grandmother through the power of poetry was prominently featured on the State Department’s International Exchange website. After graduating from UM with a degree in Russian in December 2016, Ammons returned to Vladimir via the American Council of Teachers of Russian to study advanced Russian on a Title VIII Language Fellowship. While in Vladimir this spring, she also learned that she had won a Fulbright Scholarship to work as an English teaching assistant in Russia in 2017-18.

Graduating senior Mariah Johnson recently received an UM Conference for Undergraduate Research award for her poster presentation “Satirical Perspectives: A Cross-Cultural Comparison.” Her research compares societal satire of America and Russia through two satiric novels, Sinclair Lewis’s “Babbitt” and Yurii Olesha’s “Envy.” Her faculty mentor was Clint Walker. 

Sophomore Kaitlyn Anderson is the recipient of a highly competitive Boren scholarship for next year. Boren scholarships are administered by the National Security Education Program, and they offer up to $20,000 to study less commonly taught languages in regions deemed critical to U.S. interests. Anderson won a Boren award to study in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, to learn about trade and conservation of resources in Central Asia.

Second-year Russian student Kitiri McDunn is the recipient of a U.S. State Department Critical Language Scholarship to study in Vladimir, Russia, this summer. McDunn currently is the vice president of Russian Club at UM, and she will take over as president next year.

The current Russian Club president, Lindsey Greytak, is this year’s recipient of the ACTR Post-Secondary Russian Scholar Laureate Award for 2017. This award gives national recognition to the best, brightest and most committed and enthusiastic Russian students across the United States. UM faculty members said Greytak has made this year one of the most successful and dynamic in the history of thriving Russian Club.

First-year Russian student Emily Gmeiner, a senior graduating from Hellgate High School on the Pilot Program, will study in Moscow this summer on a six-week language immersion program funded through the U.S. State Department.

Andrew Castellanos is a first-year Russian student who will study in Irkutsk, Russia, this summer on a program administered by the School of Russian and Asian Studies, with whom UM has collaborated for several years now. Castellanos will fund a significant part of this program using a $3,125 Fund for Education Abroad Scholarship that he received.

Finally, Kristina Buffham, another first-year Russian student, has won an Honorable Mention in an annual national essay contest administered by ACTR. Essays on the topic of “An Important Person in my Life” were submitted by students from 67 universities, colleges and institutions across the nation.

For more on UM’s Russian language major, visit


Contact: Ian Withrow, media and information coordinator, UM College of Humanities and Sciences, 406-243-2683,