Spotlight on Gina Peirce

Gina Peirce is Assistant Director for Grants and Assessment at the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies (REEES), and Grants Manager at the University Center for International Studies (UCIS), at the University of Pittsburgh. She holds a dual M.A. in Russian and East European Studies and Political Science from the University of Michigan, as well as an M.A. in Linguistics—with emphasis on Second Language Acquisition—from the University of Pittsburgh.

Learn more about Gina's journey to and through UCIS and how she ended up as our grants expert!
Maggie McDonald: What brought you to Pitt? How did you end up in your current role? 
Gina Peirce: I was fascinated by the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies (REEES) world area ever since the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989 and then the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 during my freshman year of college, which led me to focus on the comparative politics of the region during both my bachelor’s studies at the College of Wooster and my master’s studies at the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor. I attended a junior semester abroad in Olomouc, Czech Republic and later a summer program in Prague. When I finished my MA in Russian and East European Studies, I moved to Pittsburgh with my husband, who had an internship here for his master’s program. I worked for two years at the Pittsburgh Council for International Visitors—predecessor to Global Pittsburgh—helping to coordinate a USIA-funded professional training program for visitors from Donetsk, Ukraine. Given the recent events in Ukraine, I now wonder about the status of the visitors I worked with while at PCIV and hope they are safe. 
In 1999, I saw an announcement of a position at Pitt REES (there was no third E for “Eurasian” in the Center’s name yet) and immediately decided to apply. Much to my excitement, I was hired. My position initially took in a broad range of responsibilities, including outreach programs and student advising, as well as grant writing—which I had never done before, but I was told by a colleague within months of starting the job that I was a “born grant writer.” Over the years, as staff roles became more specialized and the Center obtained more external grants, my position focused increasingly on grant writing, reporting, and administration. Along with being REEES’s Assistant Director, I eventually added the role of Grants Manager for UCIS, advising other units on grant proposals. 
My work with REEES’s language training programs also sparked a strong interest in second language acquisition, leading me to complete a second MA degree in Pitt’s Department of Linguistics in 2015. This background proved particularly useful when I became the main coordinator of REEES’s Project GO, a Department of Defense-sponsored Russian language training program for ROTC students, in 2019. I currently coordinate our domestic and overseas (in Estonia) intensive summer programs for Project GO, while continuing to work on other REEES programming, including our Title VI National Resource Center and FLAS grants and our STARTALK summer language program for high school students.
MM: What does a typical day in the office look like for you?
GP: I presently work three days a week in the office and two days remotely. I’m not sure I can say there is such a thing as a “typical” day, since I focus on different projects throughout the year. For instance, the fall term tends to involve a lot of data collection for annual Title VI reporting and other grant reports, while winter and early spring focus on the Project GO student application process and late spring on planning program details and logistics for Project GO. Summer involves management of ongoing intensive language programs, while wrapping up the budgetary year for REEES’s Title VI and Project GO grants. And, of course, if we decide to apply for a grant opportunity other than our regular annual programs, everything else may have to be put on the back burner for a while as the proposal deadline approaches. 
MM: What’s the accomplishment at Pitt that you’re proudest of?
GP: I’d say that I am proudest of working to expand access to REEES languages and area studies for underrepresented groups—such as the diverse student population in Pittsburgh Brashear High School’s Russian program—and organizing one of the first nationwide gatherings highlighting the experiences of scholars and students of color in the Slavic studies field, which we hosted at Pitt in 2011. While I’m no longer a primary organizer of such events as my job responsibilities have evolved, I am proud of the fact that REEES remains a national leader in diversifying the study of our world area, and that I continue to play a key role in securing grant funding for these initiatives.
MM: What would you say is the most exciting project you’re working on now?
GP: After three years of being unable to run our Project GO study abroad program in-person in Estonia due to COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine, REEES is planning to resume sending ROTC students to our Estonian partner institution (Narva College of the University of Tartu) this summer. I’m excited to be able to provide this unique experience for a group of future U.S. military officers, and hopefully to reinforce a love of language learning and increased intercultural competence that will serve these students well throughout their future careers. While we achieved impressive language proficiency results through online Project GO programs for the past three summers, and even transported students to New York City to visit Russian-speaking immigrant communities last year, nothing can entirely replicate all aspects of being physically immersed in an overseas setting. 
MM: What’s one fun fact that people might not know about you?
GP: My family has two cats, one of whom is a senior citizen (age 19) and likes to hang out in my home office, especially when there’s a sunbeam shining through the window. However, she gets annoyed at having her peace disturbed when I start a Teams or Zoom call. The other cat was a stray who suddenly turned up in our backyard with her kittens. We found homes for the kittens, but their mom ended up staying with us. She tends to keep to herself except when she wants food, at which point she makes her presence obvious.
MM: Favorite thing about UCIS and working here?
GP: I think that working with so many smart and talented people who all share the goal of expanding students’ knowledge of diverse world regions, languages, cultures, and global processes is my favorite thing about UCIS. Working in international education provides the sense of being part of a larger endeavor, which meaningfully contributes to equipping future generations to make progress toward solutions to global problems. The fact that—for the first time ever—all six UCIS academic centers were awarded Title VI grants by the U.S. Department of Education in 2022 is a result of our excellent teamwork, and it will further increase our collective capacity to achieve our goals. The stronger each individual unit of UCIS becomes, the stronger we are as a whole.