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.

A sample of classes and cultural activities:


Olga Klimova, Program Director

I am a native Russian speaker from Minsk, Belarus, and I hold a M.S.ED in Instructional Technology from Duquesne University, and an MA and a Ph.D. in Russian Literature and Culture from the University of Pittsburgh.  I currently teach Russian language and culture courses and serveas an Acting Director of the Russian Program in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Pitt.  I have been teaching language, literature, and culture courses at the college level since 2004 in different colleges and universities (Pitt, CMU, Brock University, Mercyhurst University, Chatham University, and Washington and Jefferson College).  I have received extensive training in second language teaching methodologies, educational technologies, and online teaching at Pitt, Duquesne University, and the University of Hawaiʻi, and participated in a few STARTALK teacher training summer programs at the University of Minnesota and the University of Iowa.  In 2017, I was also an online instructor in the University of Iowa’s STARTALK teacher program, “Bridging the Gap: STARTALK, Teachers, and High Tech.”  Since 2018, I have been directing Pitt STARTALK Russian Summer School.  I am specifically interested in integrating technology in the language classroom and in using computer-assisted programs for language assessment.  In my free time, I like going to the gym, watching films and TV shows (Big Bang Theory and Modern Family), spending time with my husband and my kids, and feeding stray cats who come to our porch daily.


Maria Dianifaba, Lead Instructor/Intermediate Russian Instructor

I am a global minded educator with 12 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 two 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 and going to live music shows with my spouse.


Olga Savchenko, Beginning Russian Instructor

I am from Saint Petersburg, Russia, where I began my exciting language teaching journey as a teacher of English. I have a degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language combined from Herzen State University in Russia and the University of Iowa. I switched to teaching Russian when I entered a M.A. program at the University of Missouri. I got my Master’s, and now I am working toward my PhD in Slavic Linguistics at the University of Kansas with the focus on second language acquisition, and I am teaching Russian! I started working with STARTALK as a teaching/resident assistant in 2016, and in the summers of 2017 and 2018, I was the instructor of Beginner Russian.  In my free time, I like dancing, going to the gym, and listening to classical music or jazz. When I have a lot of free time, I like going on road trips and exploring new places.



Mykyta Tyshchenko, Lead TA/RA

I have been teaching various languages, mainly English, French, and Russian, for six years now. I believe that knowing foreign languages and cultures helps people understand each other better, and it is a very powerful instrument in a globalized world. In the classroom, I try to create a safe and welcoming environment for every student.  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.



Matthew Abrahamsen, TA/RA

Last May I graduated from Claremont McKenna College, where I earned a BA in International Relations and a Minor in Computer Science. During my gap year in 2014, I traveled to Kazan on a grant from the State Department to learn Russian. After returning to the US, I worked as a Language Partner at the Oldenborg Center, where I tutored students who were studying Russian. My other interests include ballroom and social dance, making guacamole, and cybersecurity. I live in Hackensack, New Jersey, but will be moving soon to Washington DC to pursue the next steps in my career.




Grace Ingle, TA/RA

I am a student at Dickinson College, where I am majoring in Russian and Middle East Studies with a certificate in Security Studies. I studied in Moscow in the summer and fall of 2018 at the Russian State University for Humanities. I have worked at Dickinson's art museum, The Trout Gallery, for two years, where I instruct and create Spanish-, French-, and Arabic-language programming. I have also worked as a private language tutor. Last summer, I created curriculum for and taught English classes at a library in my hometown of Rochester, NY, which offered a new perspective through teaching my own language. I am passionate about language learning, and I enjoy finding ways to help others succeed in their studies. In my free time, I enjoy cooking, curating music playlists, hiking and playing tennis.

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 Saturday, May 1, 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