Program Overview
The Pitt STARTALK Russian Program will be administered by the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies (REEES), offering an intensive three-week residential Russian language summer camp from June 25 to July 15, 2023, with pre-camp online activities in March-May 2023 and post-camp online language and culture activities in September 2023 through May 2024. The curriculum will be based on the theme “That Diverse Russian-Speaking World!”, through which students will be introduced to the cultural diversity of Russia’s regions and to other cultures in which the Russian language is spoken daily. The language curriculum is proficiency-based and student-centered, developing language skills in all modes required for successful communication—speaking, listening, reading, and writing, with a goal of ACTFL Novice Mid to Novice High proficiency for students in the beginning group and Novice High to Intermediate Low for students in the continuing group. Other anticipated outcomes include the students’ increased cultural competence and college and career readiness. The program is for 20 students entering grades 10 through 12, providing a total of 200 instructional hours. REEES partners with three high schools that offer academic year Russian language programs (Pittsburgh Brashear High School, Pritzker College Prep, and The Noble Academy) to recruit participants, while also accepting applications from students at other U.S. high schools.

Requirements and eligibility
High school students (grades 10-12 in Fall 2023) 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 25 - July 15, 2023

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

Schedule of Classes
A sample weekly schedule of classes & cultural activities from a previous year.
The schedule might be modified for the 2023-2024 program.


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 STARTALK again this year! When not teaching, I enjoy cooking, reading, and travelling with my spouse and our dog.



Elena SnopenkoResidential Instructor 

Lena Snopenko received her Master’s Degree from Lomonosov Moscow State University and a Doctoral Degree in Linguistics from UCLA. Her area of expertise is applied linguistics and sociolinguistics. Lena’s approach to languages and cultures is multidisciplinary and humanistic. She has been teaching linguistics and language courses in Russia and US over 20 years and has mastered a range of approaches to language acquisitionOver many years of professional experience, Lena has developed a style of teaching that is built on human connection and transformative learning. Teaching for her is primarily about relationships between teachers and learners. Students don’t learn from a teacher they don’t like. She truly believes that building strong, mutually respectful relationships with each student is the key to unlocking a student’s potential. It is important to interact not only on intellectual, but on emotional level engaging entire personalities. When not in the classroom, Lena enjoys music, singing, travelling and outdoor activities with her family, pets, and friends.


Natalia Krylova Instructor (Beginning Level)
I am a lifelong educator and researcher with a diverse professional background spanning across global academe. I am very passionate about connecting people through culture, and over a few recent years, I have intentionally diversified and expanded my career path to include such areas as translation, interpretation, and intercultural communication, but I have never given up on teaching.
I have taught a variety of language, literature, and culture courses at a number of universities in the U.S., Scandinavia, and Russia. To accompany my teaching, I have conducted research and published my findings in peer-reviewed journals, while continuously expanding my expertise through rigorous training in language acquisition, curriculum development, and educational leadership.  My areas of academic interest include Russian Avant-guarde art, the construction of masculinity in Russian art, as well as the life and oeuvre of the two prolific Russian poets - Vladimir Mayakovsky and Vladimir Vysotsky.
I love sharing my passion for Russian culture with my students and have a record of bringing them into a more serious commitment to Russian beyond the language requirement. Several of my own students started with a passing interest in Russian studies and ended up majoring or minoring in Russian, traveling to Russia on a study abroad trip, expressing interest in the business in Russia after graduation, and even having been admitted as volunteers at Russian Winter Olympics in Sochi.  
To top all of the above, I am also a savvy learner and am wide open to new experiences and challenges. I feel thrilled at the opportunity to contribute to the Startalk program at the University of Pittsburg with all of my skills and to learn more from my students and colleagues.

Matthew FallonTeaching/Resident Assistant

Mathew Fallon is our Teaching/Resident Assistant. He was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He first went to Russia in 2016 knowing only a few words of Russian. Since then, the study of Russian has become an important part of his life, and in the summer of 2017, he completed a STARTALK program in California. From 2021 to 2022, he was a Master's student in St. Petersburg, Russia.


Alina Fiorella Teaching/Resident Assistant

Alina Fiorella is a recent Russian MPhil graduate from the University of Bristol (UK). After a lasting career in amateur and professional Latin-American dancing spanning her native Ukraine and the United States, Alina embarked on an academic journey in 2014, committed to taking her enduring passion for literature to the next level. First a community college student, Alina went on to The University of Pennsylvania, graduating summa cum laude in 2019 with a BA in Russian Language, Literature, and Culture and a keen interest in 19th-century Russian literature, early Soviet literature, and Eastern European cinema. After a short break and with a research project in mind, Alina set sights on the University of Bristol, where she completed and defended her Master’s dissertation thesis offering a revisionist reading of two key figures in Russian literature. Although Alina’s scholarly pursuits now take center stage, she can still be spotted doing some salsa dancing in Philly or teaching high schoolers how to waltz. Ever ready for the next challenge, Alina is looking forward to joining Pitt’s STARTALK team this summer and a new opportunity to learn and grow.  


To apply, please complete and submit this application form , attach a letter of recommendation, and download the parent-student agreement and photo release form for submission with your application.  All application materials for the 2023 program are due by Friday, February 17, 2023.

FOR TEACHERS—SUBMIT your confidential letter of recommendation.

For any questions and inquiries about Pitt STARTALK Russian Summer School “That Diverse Russian-Speaking World” 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