COVID-19 Response

COVID-19 Response: Learn how the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies is working under the current operational posture at

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the Summer 2021 Pitt Russian STARTALK program will be offered in a virtual format.

Program Overview
Pitt STARTALK “We're Off to Russia!” is an intensive five-week-long Russian summer school for high school students that is administered by the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies (REEES) and takes place in June and July.  Up to twenty-four students from five partnering high schools that offer academic year Russian language programs (Pittsburgh Brashear High School, Penn Trafford High School, Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School, Pritzker College Prep, and Noble Academy) along with students from other U.S. high schools can participate in our Russian language and culture program. The curriculum, which is based on the theme “We’re Off to Russia!” will prepare participants for a study-abroad program in Russia.  Besides performance-based instruction that targets the acquisition of speaking, listening, reading, and writing proficiency in Russian, high school students will also have a chance to explore Russian culture through a variety of online cultural activites..

Requirements and eligibility
High school students (grades 10-12 in Fall 2021) from our partnering schools and other US schools, who have no prior experience in Russian or who have taken one or two semesters of Russian in their high schools, are eligible to apply.  All STARTALK participants are required to participate in all language classes and cultural activities.

June 21 - July 23, 2021

The Pitt Russian STARTALK program is free of charge to accepted students.

General Daily Schedule
2021 classes will be held virtually through ZOOM.
All time is listed in Eastern Standard Time (EST).

11:00 am - 1:00 pm | Morning class (mandatory)
1:00 pm - 2:00 pm | Russian tea/lunch with instructors
2:00 pm - 2:30 pm | Break
2:30 pm - 4:00 pm | Afternoon cultural program (mandatory)
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm | Individual consultations/small group work
6:00 pm - 7:00 pm | Dinner break
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm | Evening cultural program

General Weekly Schedule:


Olga Klimova, Program Director
I am a Lecturer and Director of the Russian Program in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Pittsburgh.  I have been teaching Russian language, literature, and culture courses in Pitt's Slavic Department since 2005 as a graduate assistant, and, later, as a Lecturer. I have also taught a variety of language, literature, and culture courses at Carnegie Mellon University, Brock University, Mercyhurst University, Chatham University, and Washington and Jefferson College. I am a certified ACTFL OPI tester and WPT tester and also a regional chair for the ACTR Olympiada of Spoken Russian. I have received extensive training in second language teaching methodologies, educational technologies, and online teaching at Pitt, Duquesne University, CARLA Institute at the University of Minnesota, and the University of Hawaii, and participated in a few STARTALK teacher training summer programs. Since 2018, I have been directing Pitt STARTALK Russian Summer School. I am specifically interested in integrating technology into the language classroom and using computer-assisted programs for language assessment. In my free time, I like going to the gym, doing yoga, watching films and TV shows, and feeding stray cats who come to our porch daily.


Maria Dianifaba, Lead Instructor (Continuing level)
I am a global minded educator with 16 years of language teaching experience (ESL, French, and Russian). A native Russian, I spent 8 years leading the language department for the English International School in Moscow, Russia. In 2011 I was awarded a Fulbright scholarship and taught Russian at the College of Saint Rose in New York. I completed my master’s degree at the University of Pittsburgh and currently work as a language teacher at St. Edmund’s Academy, a private school in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh. I have taught Russian at STARTALK for four years, working with students in the summer and participating in rigorous professional development. I am looking forward to working with STARTAK again this year! When not teaching, I enjoy cooking, reading, and travelling with my spouse and our dog.


Aleksey Novikov, Assistant Instructor
I am a recent PhD graduate in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching with a Master’s in Russian and Slavic Studies from the University of Arizona. I began my career teaching Russian as a Fulbright Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) at California State University, San Bernardino. Since then, I have been teaching Russian for nearly 8 years. In addition to teaching Russian, I also taught English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in Russia and China. I love learning and teaching languages, hiking/camping, and traveling around the world. Currently, I reside in Tucson, AZ.


Michael “Misha” O’Brien, Instructor (Beginning level)
I received a dual Bachelor’s degree in German and Russian from the University of Pittsburgh before earning a Master’s degree in Slavic Literature, Film, and Cultural Studies at the Ohio State University. I am currently working toward a Master’s degree in Applied Linguistics at the University of Pittsburgh and hope to matriculate into the Linguistics Ph.D. program to focus my studies on the acquisition and variation of Russian morpho-syntactic features. In addition to my experience teaching beginner Russian at the college level, I have been with the STARTALK team since its inception, having worked as lead TA/RA for four summers as well as gaining experience teaching virtual classes for both STARTALK and the University of Pittsburgh during the height of the pandemic. I am incredibly excited to be teaching with the STARTALK “komanda” again this summer.


Eleanor Soekõrv, Assistant Instructor
I am a graduate student in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Pittsburgh. I have a MA from the University of Edinburgh, where I specialized in History and Russian Studies. My research interests include Russo-Baltic relations; ethno-futurist movements within the post-Soviet territories; economic-cultural platforms in East-Central Europe; and the development of Russian-Soviet psychiatry. Alongside my studies, I have worked as a TA/TF at the University of Pittsburgh for 3 years, having taught courses, such as Elementary Russian, Russian Fairy Tales, Russian Short Story, and Modern Russian Culture. I have also worked as a private tutor of Russian (in Pittsburgh), as well as a tutor of English (in Moscow).


Mykyta Tyshchenko, Lead Assistant Instructor
I am originally from Ukraine, and I grew up speaking both Russian and Ukrainian with my family. Naturally, studying languages became my passion, and did so teaching. While studying pedagogy at Kyiv National Linguistic University, I worked as a language instructor of English at middle and high schools and large tech companies. After graduating in 2017, I moved to the US to serve as a Russian-speaking Language Resident at Pomona College in California where I engaged the students in practicing conversational Russian and learning about the culture of Eastern Europe. I first joined the STARTALK team in 2018, and I cannot imagine a summer without the program. Now I am a graduate student at the OSU, and I study the representation of minorities of contemporary East European film and media. In my classroom, I try to create a safe and welcoming environment for everyone. To make classes more entertaining and memorable, I often incorporate one of my biggest hobbies – cooking, and especially baking. Making pies and cookies with students is always a lot of fun and a great way to get to know them. I also have a sweet tooth myself, so it is a double win.


Follow the application instructions online and download the parent/guardian agreement form (the updated 2021 form will be posted here soon) for submission with your application.  All application materials for the summer 2021 program are due on Thursday, May 20, 2021.

For any questions and inquiries about Pitt STARTALK Russian Summer School “We're Off to Russia!” contact (Olga Klimova),, or (412) 648-7407.

Our mailing address is:

Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies
University of Pittsburgh
4200 Wesley W. Posvar Hall
Pittsburgh, PA 15260