First-Year Student Bios
Eric Damiana graduated from Goucher College with a major in Russian in 2010, and immediately went into the REECAS program. He studied human rights and American-Russian relations while abroad at Smolny Institute in Saint Petersburg, Russia in 2008. He is interested in gender and sexual identity in Russia from a historical vein, and problems of human trafficking in Eastern Europe in a more contemporary context. His true love, however, is language itself, and he aspires to work in translation at some point after graduation. He also appreciates nonverbal communication, and as a result spends more time in the Seattle tango community than his coursework should allow.
Anna Grant has had a lifelong interest in the Baltic region, learning Latvian during elementary school and spending her childhood summers at Latvian camp. In 2005, Anna graduated from Pacific Lutheran University with a B.A. in Political Science – International Relations and a minor in French Language and Literature. During her undergraduate years, Anna traveled and worked over the summers in the Baltics, the Balkans and Central Europe. After graduation, Anna spent nearly two years living in China, Turkey and Kyrgyzstan. Upon returning to the U.S., Anna has become an active member of the Latvian community in Seattle. At the University of Washington, Anna is studying international public policy at the Evans School of Public Affairs and Baltic Studies at the Jackson School of International Studies. Anna is most interested in the nexus between international relations and international development in the Eurasia region. In her free time, Anna enjoys cooking southern Italian cuisine, driving fast, running, skiing, painting and spending time with her husband and pet rabbit.
Jessie Jenkins is currently a Masters Student at the University of Washington, in the Jackson School REECAS program. She graduated from the University of Washington with a B.A. in European Studies, with a focus on Russian security and Nuclear issues. In the REECAS program she intends to focus on Russia and its security, nuclear relations in the Middle East, specifically Iran. She has traveled abroad widely from South East Asia, Turkey, and Russia. She speaks Russian fluently and has a year of French. After graduate school, she intends on working for the State Department or some other government agency.
Originally from Texas, Vivian Lee spent most of her early years in Hong Kong and Vancouver, Canada. She became fascinated with Russia when studying the 1917 Russian Revolution for her A-Level exams. Returning back to Texas, she graduated with a BA in History from the University of North Texas in 2010. At the REECAS program she plans to study Russian history and political science, in particular foreign and military policies of the Soviet Union. She speaks Chinese, can read elementary French and Spanish, and is learning Russian. Although she frequently complains about the travelling, she really is fond of visiting new countries, experiencing new cultures, meeting interesting people, and learning about the odd fact now and then.
Laura Lucht discovered Russia while reading Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov on the school bus in the ninth grade. After earning undergraduate degrees in Linguistics and in Russian & Soviet Studies from U.C. San Diego, she decided to take her learning outside the classroom before pursuing graduate study. In this quest for life experience, she worked for two years on a sociolinguistic survey of minority language communities in Azerbaijan, and served for three years as an academic counselor at a private university in California. She now weaves together her academic and professional interests by considering scholarship as a force in ancient, recent and modern migration throughout the Silk Road region. She hopes that her current study of Kazak language will open future opportunities to facilitate student and scholar exchange to and from Central Asia.
Catherine Mangum graduated with distinction from Sonoma State University in 2007 with a BA in Global Studies, minor in German and a concentration in Eastern Europe. There, she primarily studied Russia and Germany during WWII and volunteered with the Alliance for the Studies of the Holocaust, an educational non-profit. After graduating, she took a position teaching English at a private language center in Saint Petersburg, Russia. While there, Catherine was particularly intrigued by the different business expectations of those who had grown up under Communism in contrast with those who had not. She intends to focus her studies at the Jackson School on post-communist business culture in the former GDR and Russia. After graduation, Catherine hopes to work with companies that do business in Eastern Europe, specifically building better business relations with Russia.
Aleksander Schilbach grew up as Sascha,a first-generation American hailing from Mukilteo, Washington. Strangely befitting of his first name, Sascha developed a fascination with all things Russian from an early age despite not having any Slavic heritage. While still a student at Willamette University, he studied Russian language at Tavrida National University in the Crimea, Ukraine, and Eastern European politics and economy at the University of Tartu’s EuroCollege in Estonia. He graduated in 2010 from Willamette University with a BA in International Studies with a focus on Russia and a BA in Russian Language. After a dicey situation in the Crimea involving Stalin-era flat, his botched attempt to fix a natural gas-powered hot water heater and his enraged Ukrainian host mother Luda, Sascha became interested in Russian energy security in Eastern Europe. Having arrived at the Jackson School after spending the summer working on Sakhalin Island, Sascha will focus his studies on Russian energy security and Russia’s Arctic policy. If he is not drinking espresso or studying, you’ll find him cleaning his bilge and tinkering with the sailboat he calls home.
Haley Sides grew up in Raymond, WA. After serving four years in the U.S. Air Force, she returned to college and earned her BA in Russian and Eurasian Studies at The Evergreen State College. During her last summer as a student at Evergreen, Haley traveled to Central Asia as part of an in-depth study of the history, culture, geography and politics of this fascinating region. This invaluable experience solidified her decision to pursue her Master’s degree in Russian and Central Asian Studies. Haley is interested in human rights activism and the relationship between environmental degradation and conflict within Central Asia. In her free time, she loves to read Russian literature and poetry, spend time with her five-year-old daughter, kayak, play volleyball, and to attempt, time and again, to master the art of cooking plov.
John Simeone grew up in the Hudson River valley of New York state. Prior to college, John spent an academic year living in Vladimir, Russia (2002-2003). In 2007, he received his BS degree from Cornell University in Natural Resources and Development Sociology. In 2008, John enrolled in Middlebury College’s Summer Language School for Russian, and in June of 2010 he was the Resident Director for an ACTR (American Councils) 'Golden Ring' program in Vladimir. In the REECAS program, John plans to focus on environmental economics and sustainable development in post-Soviet Russia. His non-academic interests include walking in the woods and mountains, backcountry skiing and snowboarding, and playing the Scottish Highland Bagpipe and Irish flute.
Suzanne Skaar graduated from The Evergreen State College in 2000. While at Evergreen, she focused on Eastern European Studies and Print Media. After college, she worked in the field of education in various roles, including teaching ESL in Japan. She is excited to be back in school and studying Russia again. Currently, she is the Research Assistant for the UW Center for Human Rights. She would like to continue working on Human Rights after graduation.
Anne Thorsteinson is originally from Juneau, Alaska and graduated from the University of Washington in 2006 with a degree in Russian Language and History. After teaching English abroad in Budapest, Hungary and traveling through Eastern Europe, she returned to Seattle to work in the travel industry, designing private tours to Russia and the former Soviet countries. She plans to perfect her Russian language skills and to study economic and natural resource management issues in Russia and Central Asia while in the REECAS program.
Irina Vodonos is a native of Moscow, Russia. She received her BA degree from Barnard College and is pursuing an MPA from the Evans School of Public Affairs in addition to her REECAS studies. Irina’s past work experience includes stints at Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Society and Medicine and at the Rainforest Alliance. She currently works as a grant writer at WACAP (World Association for Children and Parents), a non-profit adoption and child welfare agency. When not studying or writing grants for WACAP, Irina can be found teaching Russian cooking classes, reading, gardening, or hiking. Her research interests focus on policies and programs affecting children with academic difficulties and learning disabilities in the Russian Federation.
Elizabeth Zherka is a UW alumna, having earned her Bachelor of Arts, Cum Laude, in European Studies from the Jackson School in 2008. Her minor was Women Studies and she received a Certificate in European Union Studies from the Center for West European Studies. Elizabeth is a dual citizen with the UK and the US, and has traveled extensively in Europe. Elizabeth will continue to use her fluency in French in her studies, and is enrolled in first year Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian in her first quarter. The geographical focus of her MAIS will be the Balkan Peninsula, and she will be studying the work of NGOs and the role of women in the Yugoslav successor states.