Pushkin Summer Institute Receives STARTALK Grant

The University of Wisconsin–Madison has received $90,000 from STARTALK to support the Pushkin Summer Institute, a pre-college program that helps high school students from low-income and minority communities advance their study of Russian language and culture.

This 2017 STARTALK award to UW–Madison’s Center for Russia, East Europe, and Central Asia (CREECA) provides support for the Pushkin Summer Institute, which is entering its sixth year.

PSI students at Devil's Lake
PSI students visiting Devil’s Lake. Photo credit: Elisia Cintron

The Pushkin Summer Institute (PSI) is an intensive, six-week residential pre-college program that introduces outstanding students from under-represented communities to Russian language and culture through the life and works of poet Alexander Pushkin. Drawing on UW-Madison’s expertise in Russian language instruction from the Department of German, Nordic, and Slavic and from the Russian Flagship Program, PSI seeks to build students’ Russian language abilities, prepare them for college life, and introduce them to opportunities at UW–Madison. Participants take a pledge to speak in Russian as much as possible during their six weeks. PSI partners with Noble Street College Prep, Pritzker College Prep, and the Noble Academy in Chicago, Illinois and Anchorage West High School in Anchorage, Alaska to recruit students interested in pursuing careers in Russian studies.

STARTALK is a federally-supported initiative administered by the National Foreign Language Center (NFLC) at the University of Maryland that provides support for the instruction and use of critical-need foreign languages for U.S. students from kindergarten through post-secondary education. UW-Madison also received STARTALK grants to support PSI from 2014-2016.

PSI students at Memorial Union
PSI students enjoying Memorial Union’s famous chairs. Photo credit: Elisia Cintron

“We want to encourage our outstanding students to become proficient in Russian and start on interesting career paths,” says David M. Bethea, professor emeritus of Slavic languages and literature and PSI faculty director. “Thanks to the continued and generous support from STARTALK, we can create a new stream of dedicated ‘Russianists’ from groups of kids who have been virtually unrepresented, many of whom will be first-generation college students.”

Bethea says that a new “Pushkin Scholars” program will also provide financial support to PSI alumni who continue to study Russian after enrolling at UW–Madison. Funding from STARTALK and the Pushkin Scholars program are vital to helping students from diverse backgrounds pursue Russian studies.

STARTALK is guided by objectives to increase the numbers of students enrolled in the study of critical-need languages, highly effective critical-language teachers in the U.S., and highly effective materials and curricula available to teachers and students of these critical-need languages. Russian is one of 11 languages STARTALK supports, with Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, and Korean among the others.