American citizen, I feel responsible to excel in this program in order to be a productive ambassador and to promote U.S. security."
As one of just seven CSU campuses in the Consortium, CSUN, which launched its first Russian SLI cohort in the 2008-2009 academic year, has attracted greater visibility on local, national, and international platforms. "We are very proud of having this program at CSUN," says Professor Dina Mokhnatkin, Director of the Russian SLI Program. Currently working with her colleagues in CSUN's Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures to expand the university's Russian program, Mokhnatkin points out that "CSUN is the perfect campus to house the Russian SLI Program because of its location. The San Fernando Valley is home to one of the major Russian language islands in the greater Los Angeles area." Adds Nguyen-Lam, "Heritage language communities provide the perfect environment for our students to authentically engage with native speakers in our intensive summer programs prior to going on study abroad. Our CSUN Russian program is very successful in getting Russian-speaking professionals to serve as mentors to our SLI students to support our students' language development in the content area."
The goal of the SLI Program is to promote intermediate to advanced language proficiency in three phases: a six-week, on-campus, residential program including in-class language instruction and cultural activities in the target language; continued study of the target language during the academic year via mentoring, individually tailored online learning materials, and projects integrating the language with individual students' academic majors; and a six-week study-abroad opportunity in Russia, where students who have reached at least mid-intermediate language proficiency will engage in self-designed, in-depth field study projects related to their major and career goals to deepen language skills and cultural experience. While in Russia, students are obliged to speak exclusively in the target language at all times.
Such experiences present a rare opportunity for students, says Mokhnatkin, who reports that in addition to government service, SLI participants are inclined toward study in linguistics, international relations, national security, international law, and international business. "We hope that our students not only gain a fluency in Russian overall but also a working knowledge of terminology and vocabulary in their chosen field of study and/or profession."
Nguyen-Lam says that through the 18-month program students can acquire a level of language proficiency that would generally require three to six years of study. And she reports that many students who have completed the program are already employed as bilingual liaisons and collaborators in their areas of study. "Usually, most students in language programs are pursuing teaching, literature, or linguistics," Nguyen-Lam told the Los Angeles Times in February. "Our goal is to graduate a large number of students from all disciplines and majors who can then use the language to collaborate with professionals from different regions of the world."
In addition to his direct interest in government relations, Bio-Chem major Nestoiter plans to advocate for American cooperation and investment in Russian venture capital stem-cell research firms. "Treatments for traumatic skin injures, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases [that can cause] heart attacks are a few of the goals of stemcell research," Nestoiter says. "While American controversy over stem cell research remains heated, in Russia these therapies are widespread."
While SLI students like Nestoiter grew up speaking at least some Russian in their family households, the program attracts many more students who are actively studying Russian as a non-native language and have attained high-beginner to low-intermediate levels of proficiency upon entry. August Samie, a 21-year-old English major in his final year of undergraduate study at CSUN, was attracted to the Russian SLI Program for both linguistic and cultural learning opportunities. "Learning any language gives insight into the actions and thoughts of a people, and in partaking in the SLI Program I feel that I've come closer to understanding a wider range of people," says Samie, who grew up in a primarily English-speaking home in Northridge. Samie, who is also fluent in Farsi, entered the SLI Program having completed only one semester of Russian study, but over the six-week summer immersion he reports that he has learned the complete case system of the language, its tenses and verbal aspects, and over 500 new vocabulary words. He's currently looking into graduate school for English, Middle Eastern Studies, or Slavic Studies, and he foresees potential courses of study in Russian literature, Russian history, or Russian politics.
As both Samie and Nestoiter begin their year of individualized study, integrating language enrichment with their respective majors, there's a real possibility that their cohort could be the last: Federal funding for the Strategic Language Initiative is scheduled to expire after the 2010-2011 academic year at all seven CSU campuses hosting the target language programs. Nevertheless, Mokhnatkin, Nguyen-Lam, and their colleagues continue to actively lobby Senator Boxer and other congressional representatives to secure further support and ensure that this vital, innovative, hands-on learning experience remains available to CSUN students and their counterparts throughout the state. "We are grateful for this funding and believe that our CSU system is in a unique position to create the most impactful program with it," says Nguyen-Lam. "In all SLI programs we have documented students who were offered jobs with companies overseas as they completed their study-abroad program. Our SLI students are especially valued for being able to serve as the cultural liaison between the host country and the U.S. Their language as well as their knowledge of both cultures and economic systems proved to be their strongest assets in the global economy and increasingly interdependent world."
— Submitted by Teresa K. Morrison