2020-2021 FLAS Fellows

We are happy to announce that REEEC was able to fund nine graduate FLAS fellows and two undergraduate FLAS fellows for the 2020-2021 academic year. This is a decidedly strong group of scholars who highlight the wide variety of interests held by our students. Please join us in congratulating the 2020-2021 FLAS fellows found below!

REEEC FLAS Fellows, 2020-2021

Graduate Students:
Justin Balcor (Musicology) – Georgian
Jacob Bell (History) – Russian
Melissa Bialecki (Musicology) – Ukrainian
Tabitha Cochran (REEES/LIS) – Ukrainian
Murad Jalilov (Slavic) – Turkish
David Louden (Slavic) – Ukrainian
Demetry Ogoltsev (Slavic) – Serbian
Danielle Sekel (Musicology) – Bulgarian
Brian Yang (Slavic) – Russian

Undergraduate Students:
Jasmine Jacome (REEES) – Russian
Haley Nelson (Political Science & REEES) – Turkish

Illinois students awarded Boren Scholarships

This is a re-post of an article posted by the Illinois News Bureau regarding four students at the University of Illinois selected as recipients of David L. Borne Scholarships. For the original article, please see https://news.illinois.edu/view/6367/809539.

University of Illinois Boren Scholarship recipients for 2020. Clockwise from top left: Haley Nelson, Folashade Olumola, Melanie Rohla, and Matthew Schultz.

Four students at the University of Illinois were selected to study in world regions critical to U.S. interests as recipients of David L. Boren Scholarships. They are among 217 students nationwide chosen by the National Security Education Program to study languages in 44 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America and the Middle East.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Four University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign undergraduates are among 217 students nationwide awarded David L. Boren Scholarships.

The National Security Education Program selects students to add international and language components to their education by studying overseas in world regions critical to U.S. interests. In the 2020-21 academic year, Boren Scholars and Fellows are slated to study in 44 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America and the Middle East, studying 46 different languages. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, the program is adjusting grant start dates so that recipients can proceed with their overseas language study when it is feasible to do so.

Haley Nelson, of Lake Forest, Illinois, and a graduate of Lake Forest High School, has been awarded a full scholarship to participate in the Turkish Flagship Language Initiative, which provides Boren Scholars with intensive study of the Turkish language through a combination of domestic and overseas programs. Nelson will pursue a year’s worth of Turkish language studies through the University of Wisconsin, Madison this summer, followed by continued language study at Azerbaijan University of Languages in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Attending Illinois on a swimming scholarship, Nelson is a junior double-majoring in political science and Russian, East European and Eurasian studies. Last summer, Nelson attended an intensive Turkish language program at the U. of I. She also has studied Russian and Ukrainian. In preparation for a career focused on Turkish and Russian culture and foreign policy, Nelson participates in the campus Program in Arms Control and Domestic and International Security.

“The unique perspectives that ACDIS helped me uncover, my desire to commit my knowledge to U.S. national security and the addition of Turkish fluency will give me the skills needed to gather information on Turkish culture and intelligence in my career,” Nelson said.

Folashade Olumola, a graduate of Homewood-Flossmoor High
School and a resident of Calumet City, Illinois, has been awarded a Boren Scholarship to study Arabic at Sijal Institute for Arabic Language and Culture in Amman, Jordan.

A sophomore in political science, Olumola spent the past year on campus working as a resident assistant for housing and as an undergraduate research ambassador for the Office of Undergraduate Research. Simultaneously, she has served as a Virtual Student Federal Service Internship with the U.S. Agency for International Development Operating Unit of the U.S. Mission to the African Union. She also is an active member of the campus Program in Arms Control and Domestic and International Security.

Olumola aspires to work as a foreign service officer for USAID under the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance. She said she hopes to “focus on strengthening governance accountability through the inclusion of youth, anti-corruption and peacebuilding.”

Melanie Rohla, of Lisle, Illinois, and a graduate of Lisle High School, has been awarded a full scholarship to participate in the African Flagship Languages Initiative, which provides Boren Scholars with intensive study of African languages through a combination of domestic and overseas programs. Rohla will pursue a year’s worth of Swahili studies this summer through the University of Florida, followed by continued Swahili studies in Arusha, Tanzania.

Rohla, a senior pursuing majors in global studies and earth, society and environmental sustainability, will return to a familiar region. Her first exposure to East Africa was during a two-week trip to Rwanda in high school. She has returned twice, on a Critical Language Scholarship to Tanzania and for a semester study abroad in Kenya. She is a member of the Campus Honors Program and established a campus organization, Project Connect, to get peers involved in refugee assistance.

Rohla has worked as an intern for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration in the U.S. Department of State, where she would like to return in her career. “The cultural and linguistic knowledge I will gain from the Boren program will allow me to communicate with local people, understand their input and experiences, and thus create better refugee programs and policies for East Africa,” Rohla said.

Matthew Schultz, of Arlington Heights, Illinois, and a graduate of

Matthew Schultz, Boren Scholarship recipient 2020

Prospect High School, has been awarded a full scholarship to participate in the African Flagship Languages Initiative, which provides Boren Scholars with intensive study of African languages through a combination of domestic and overseas programs. Schultz will pursue a year’s worth of French and basic Wolof studies through the University of Florida this summer, followed by continued language studies at the West African Research Center in Dakar, Senegal.

Schultz is a senior pursuing majors in Frenchpolitical science and Spanish. He has worked on campus promoting study abroad through Illinois Abroad and Global Exchange and in the community as an interpreter and translator for The Immigration Project, a nongovernmental organization providing legal services to immigrants in Illinois. He spent a semester studying abroad and volunteering with an NGO serving the Paris homeless population and another summer teaching English in Morocco.

An aspiring diplomat, Schultz has taken classes in 10 different languages including Turkish, for which he was awarded a Critical Language Scholarship. “I envision myself drawing upon my knowledge of global affairs and my linguistic capabilities in a career representing the United States on the international stage,” Schultz said. “Nothing sounds more exhilarating and worthwhile to me than continuing to learn about the world as I lead collaboration efforts across cultures and protect freedom globally.”

A fifth Illinois student was named a Boren alternate.

NSEP is a major federal initiative designed to build a broader and more qualified pool of U.S. citizens with foreign language and international skills. NSEP’s Boren Awards program provides U.S. undergraduate and graduate students with resources and encouragement to acquire language skills and experience in countries critical to the future security and stability of the nation. In exchange for funding, Boren Award recipients agree to work in the federal government for at least one year. Since 1994, more than 7,000 students have received Boren Awards and contributed their skills to careers throughout the federal government.

Editor’s note: For more information on the National and International Scholarships Program at Illinois, contact David Schug, director, 217-333-4710; topscholars@illinois.edu

REEEC-Affiliated Graduate Student Awarded ASEEES Summer Dissertation Writing Grant

LeiAnna Hamel, a Ph.D. candidate in Slavic Languages and Literatures and FLAS alumna, has been awarded an ASEEES Summer Dissertation Writing Grant for work on her dissertation, “Undisciplined Bodies: Deviant Female Sexuality in Russian and Yiddish Literatures, 1870s-1930,” this summer.

LeiAnna’s dissertation analyzes the depiction of female bodies and eroticism in Russian and Yiddish literatures alongside medical, anthropological, and journalistic examinations of female sexuality. Her project poses the question: How did the sexualized (Jewish) female body become the locus for anxieties about modernization in Russian and Yiddish texts from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries?

REEEC-Affiliated Undergrad Receives Boren Award


REEEC-affiliated undergrad Haley Nelson (Political Science) has received the Boren Award’s Turkish Language initiative program scholarship. The program will take place in Baku, Azerbaijan, where Haley will continue to advance her Turkish as well as learn Azerbaijani.

Boren scholarships fund study abroad by U.S. undergraduate students in world regions critical to U.S. interests. More information about the program can be found here, while a list of past Illinois Boren recipients can be found here.

Congratulations to our 2020 REEES Graduates & Student Award Winners!

We at the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center are pleased to announce this year’s REEES and affiliated graduates:

REEES Undergraduate Degrees:

  • Joseph Dillier, B.A. in REEES & Political Science
  • Jacob Smith, B.A. in REEES with a concentration in Arms Control & Domestic and International Security
  • Leslie Bueno, B.A. in History with a REEES minor
  • Buyandelger Tsetsengarid, B.A. in Global Studies with a REEES minor

REEES Graduate Degrees:

  • Megan Carpenter, REEES M.A.
    • Final Research Paper: “Zombie Politics? The Continuation of Soviet Foreign Policy and Tactics in Russia Towards the Former Satellite States of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.”
  • Thornton Miller, Ph.D. in Musicology and REEES graduate minor
    • Dissertation: “Reaching Through the Iron Curtain: Practicalities in the Anglo-Soviet Cultural Exchange of Music and Musicians, 1955-1975”


  • Maria Dorofeeva, Ph.D. in Art History
    • Dissertation: “Making Men: Spanish Art and the Politics of Masculinity, 1898-1936”

We are also pleased to announce three awards for REEEC-affiliated students:

Ben Krupp (Ph.D. Candidate, Anthropology) won the Department of Anthropology’s Shimkin Prize for best graduate student paper. The paper, “Fitness vs. Fitzkultera: Nike and the Unfit Body in Moscow,” will appear as an article in a special issue of  Laboratorium. The article was invited as part of a special issue on Russia and corporations organized by Doug Rogers and supported by the Carnegie Foundation.

Diana Sacilowski (Ph.D. Candidate, Slavic Languages and Literatures) won a SLCL Dissertation Completion Award. Her dissertation title is “Strategies of Silence: Representations of Jewish Poles in Polish Literature since the 1980s.”




REEEC-Affiliated Graduate Students Receive ASEEES Cohen-Tucker Dissertation Fellowships

Elizabeth Abosch (Ph.D. candidate, History) and Matthew Klopfenstein (Ph.D. candidate, History) have received Stephen F. Cohen- Robert C. Tucker Dissertation Fellowships for 2020-2021. The fellowships are awarded by the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES), and support doctoral research in Russia. Elizabeth received a dissertation research fellowship, and Matthew received a dissertation completion fellowship.

thumbnail_ImageElizabeth’s dissertation is titled “The ‘Outcry from the Criminal Soul:’ The Social Imaginary of Song, Popular Culture, and State Power in the Soviet Union, 1920-1980.” Her dissertation explores the history of the genre of criminal song, or “blatnaia pesnia” as it evolved in the Soviet Union. This history reveals conflicts between ideology and the popular; high and low culture; and between the new soviet man and his “shadow,” the figure of the singing criminal that is made of representations of criminal culture and the Soviet cultural and social underworld.

48384639_583342608778066_7933175032346312704_nMatthew’s dissertation, “Performing Death, Embodying Modernity: Media Spectacle, Public Emotion, and Modern Selves in the Celebrity Funerals of Russian Female Performers, 1859-1919,” examines the public funerals of famous women opera stars, actors of the stage and screen, and popular singers as a social phenomenon in late imperial Russia. He analyzes the empire-wide press coverage of the deaths and funerals of five celebrity performers to argue that emotion, gender, and mass media were interrelated elements central to the history of the Russian public sphere in the tumultuous period before the 1917 Revolution.

The complete list of this year’s Cohen-Tucker Fellows can be found here. 


Summer 2020 FLAS Fellows

We at the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center are pleased to announce the awardees for this summer’s Foreign Language Area Studies Fellowship, funded by the U. S. Department of Education. This year six students from five different departments will be studying four different REEES languages and related area studies scholarship. We would like to extend our congratulations to the following students for the national recognition of their studies:


Graduate Students:

Justin Balcor (Musicology) – Georgian

Alex Karsavin (Slavic Languages and Literature) – Russian

Murad Jalilov (Slavic Languages and Literature) – Turkish

Quinn O’Dowd (Sociology) – Czech

Cassidy Ward (REEES/LIS) – Russian


Undergraduate Students:

Kameron Gausling (Astronomy) – Russian


REEEC Staff Profile: Danielle Sekel

Picture1Danielle Sekel is a third-year M.M. student in Ethnomusicology and a REEEC FLAS fellow for 2020-2021. Before coming to the University of Illinois, she received her bachelor’s degree in music and literary studies at Roanoke College and subsequently taught middle and high school music and English for two years in South Carolina. She aims to find a career in academia upon earning her degrees. Her M.M. paper focuses on the musical contributions of the Bosnian band Dubioza Kolektiv, and the ways in which they reference cultural artifacts, criticize the current state of the Balkans, and address individuals now living in diaspora.

As a REEEC FLAS fellow, Danielle has been able to study introductory Bosnian at the University of Pittsburgh during the summer of 2018 and advanced Bosnian in Sarajevo the following summer. She says that these language study opportunities have given her the ability to interact more comfortably with the musical texts and existing literature about this musical group and have also opened the door to many new research interests and new contacts in the field.

Currently a FLAS fellow with the European Union Center studying Bulgarian, Danielle will continue to study advanced Bulgarian as a REEEC FLAS fellow in the fall. Looking towards her doctoral research, Danielle hopes to work towards a multi-sited project focusing on LGBTQ vocal artists in Bosnia and Bulgaria. She says she is incredibly thankful for the plethora of language-learning opportunities and courses available through REEEC, as they have been instrumental in shaping and tuning her own research interests.

As a graduate assistant for REEEC, Danielle is also in charge of the outreach initiatives with the Champaign County Head Start, where she visits a group of 150 children ranging in ages from three to five years old monthly to teach them about countries in the REEE region. This academic year, children have been introduced to countries such as Turkey, Georgia, Uzbekistan, and Romania. Danielle says that “this is easily one of things I have enjoyed doing most during my time at UIUC thus far!”

FLAS Fellow Profile: Melissa Bialecki

Sunflower fieldMelissa Bialecki is a third-year Ph.D. student in Musicology with a minor in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies, and a REEEC 2019-2020 FLAS fellow. Melissa received her Bachelor of Music degree in Cello Performance and Bachelor of Music Education from Central Michigan University in 2015. She received her Master of Music degree in Ethnomusicology in 2017 from Bowling Green State University. Melissa decided to combine musicology with Russian, East, European, and Eurasian studies after learning about a group of blind minstrels in Ukraine called kobzari during a seminar in music and disability studies. She began thinking about the role of folk music in Ukraine today, as the region becomes increasingly volatile. Her forthcoming dissertation will focus on the role of sound in shaping political thought on the Ukrainian conflict, musicians who engage in dialogues about Ukrainian sovereignty, and artists who shape narratives of Ukrainian-Russian relations in the current post-Soviet moment.

Melissa is studying advanced Ukrainian with her FLAS fellowship from REEEC. This summer, she will also study Russian through the University of Pittsburgh with a FLAS from the Center for Global Studies. She studies Ukrainian and Russian in order to facilitate her dissertation fieldwork, which includes accessing sources in both languages, and conducting field interviews. One such interview occurred last summer in Kyiv when she saw two women playing bandura on the street—an instrument which even today is still typically only played by men—and she was able to interview them thanks to her knowledge of Ukrainian and Russian.

At UIUC, Melissa was most excited to be able to study both Ukrainian and Russian, neither of which were offered in her master’s program, as well as to have access to our library’s extensive resources. Upon earning her degree, Melissa plans to continue on in academia by finding a teaching position.

FLAS Fellow Profile: Jacob Bell

thumbnail_ImageJacob Bell is a Ph.D. student in History at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and a 2019-2020 REEEC FLAS fellow. He received his B.A. in History and English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2018 and his M.A. from the University of Illinois in 2019. He considers himself to be a historian of the global Middle Ages, Christian church history, mobility, and material culture, with a focus on the place of the Kievan Rus’ in the medieval Baltic world. Specifically, he studies the idea of “religious mobility” in what is now Russia from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries, especially pilgrimage culture and the veneration of non-Orthodox saints.

With support from FLAS, Jacob is currently taking advanced Russian in order to improve his reading and conversation abilities to assist with his research and enable collaboration with other scholars. He also feels that a high level of Russian proficiency can open doors across the Baltic Sea and Eastern Europe. Jacob hopes to use this knowledge after earning his doctorate by teaching—hopefully at the university level—and to share with others his love for this language and its culture.