Welcome to CREECA, welcome to campus: Meet the next generation of REECAS specialists from UW

The CREECA student body looks different than it did when Ingraham Hall was abandoned in March 2020. As MA students in REECAS transition from one phase of professional life to another, the next generation of specialists of the REECA region has joined our community—virtually in the last year, on campus this year, or perhaps both. In this piece, meet CREECA’s new cohort of graduate students and read about their connection to the region and what led them to UW-Madison. A warm welcome to all! 

Olga Boukhvalova 

Olga Boukhvalova

Olga Boukhvalova earned a BS from the United States Air Force Academy with a major in geospatial sciences, a minor in Russian, and a geospatial intelligence certificate. Her interest in the region stems from her family heritage as a first-generation U.S. citizen of Russian immigrant parents. She grew up speaking Russian at home and has visited her family in Russia twice. For Olga, it is important to honor her family by preserving its language and culture and learning more about the region’s history and politics to pass on that knowledge. 

As a student in the REECAS MA program, Olga will continue studying Russian at the advanced level, with plans to teach the language to future Air Force Officers when she returns to the Academy after graduation. For her MA thesis, Olga looks forward to expanding her undergraduate research in geosciences and applying what she learned to the REECA region. 

Hannah Hamelman 

Hannah Hamelman with friends in Tajikistan

Hannah Hamelman graduated from Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina, where she discovered and pursued her love for the Russian language, history, and culture as a history major. She was the first from her university to study in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Her time at Narxoz University was life-changing: she advanced her Russian at a nerve-racking pace, made friends from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Russia, and met her future husband, a fellow student. For two years, Hannah traveled Central Asia extensively, and her connection to Tajikistan grew considerably. In 2018, she studied in Tbilisi and Kazbegi, Georgia and again in Tbilisi to learn Russian for a Critical Language Scholarship. Georgia and Tajikistan are her favorite places to relax! 

At UW-Madison, Hannah is cultivating her connection to Russian culture, history, and people. While narrowing her research interests, she is particularly drawn to the culture and transformations from the 17th through the 20th century. Long-term, her goal is to help to improve U.S.-Russian relations, which has led her to CREECA. 

Mia Hanson 

Mia Hanson in Moscow

Mia Hanson earned her BA from the University of Buffalo with majors in history and political science. She began studying Russian in college out of mere curiosity. After a brief study abroad trip, she became very interested in the culture and history and shifted her research interest toward the history of Russia and the Soviet Union. Mia’s undergraduate honors thesis examined the “New Soviet Woman” during the early Soviet period. At UW-Madison, Mia intends to continue her work on women in the Soviet Union and potentially branch out into queer history in the USSR. She also plans to further develop her Russian while in the REECAS program. 


Courtney Johnson 

Courtney Johnson at the Minnesota Science Museum

Courtney Johnson recently graduated summa cum laude from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities where she majored in political science and Russian and minored in history. Her first encounter with Russia was through Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, which largely inspired her interest in Russian literature and culture.  

Courtney is very interested in Kievan Rus’ and its associated texts, such as the Slovo o polku Igoreve and the Zadonshchina. Her research interests include the mobilization of medieval texts and perceptions of Kievan Rus’ in the imperial and the Soviet spheres, including how notions of medieval Russia were used to justify imperial expansion and Soviet statecraft.  In addition, Courtney is interested in Kazakh and Old Church Slavonic languages and will continue to advance her Russian while in the REECAS MA program. 

Gabe Sheir 

Gabe Sheir in Kyrgyzstan

Gabe Sheir graduated from the University of Vermont, where he majored in political science and studied abroad in Moscow and St. Petersburg in 2014. Since then, he has spent nearly three years in Central Asia and two additional years in Ukraine, and he considers Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan a second home!   

Gabe worked as an English teacher in Kyrgyzstan from 2016-17 before working with the American Pavilion at the 2017 EXPO in Kazakhstan. From 2017-19, he served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a small town in Ukraine and worked as a Pre-Departure Orientation Leader for FLEX Ukraine. In summer 2020, Gabe was a Russian Language Director for NSLI-Y (National Security Language Initiative for Youth), supporting students taking online Russian lessons with Moldovan and Kyrgyz sites abroad.  In the REECAS MA program at UW–Madison, Gabe will develop his Russian and Kazakh, as well as research interests in Kyrgyz politics and the political opinions of the Kyrgyz people.  

Written by Ryan Goble | Communications Project Assistant | CREECA