September 1, 2023

Students sit in a circle at the STARTALK camp.Under the leadership of Alla Kourova, the UCF Department of Modern Languages and Literatures has further developed a program inspiring students to pursue language careers in both the private and public sector. The revised curriculum for the Russian-language STARTALK program adds a federal government workforce development component and encourages transformational experiences for high school and college students.

The free program, How Words Shape People: Understanding Business Russian Through Proverbs, is a federal grant program funded by the National Security Agency (NSA) to increase the number of U.S. students learning Russian.

For seven years the program consisted of three weeks of intensive summer day language camps at UCF Global with post-program language and cultural events. In 2022, Kourova received a new two-year grant to develop a new curriculum for high school and rising freshmen college students at the intermediate level, and she has received the grant again in 2023. With the assistance of Lead Instructor Irina Pidberejna and Co-Lead Instructor and Technology Specialist Michelle Verbitskaya, Kourova is developing online modules and educational materials for current and future use in Russian language classes online and face-to-face at any university across the nation.

While the STARTALK camps that have been offered for the past seven years have been highly successful, the $350,000 grant from the NSA will allow students to advance to intermediate proficiency in Russian.

Following a semester of online learning, the high school seniors and college freshmen enrolled in the inaugural program completed the residential summer camp held at UCF Global this summer. During the three-week camp, students from across the country immersed themselves in Russian culture through writing, speaking and reading the language.

Students received quality guidance and instruction throughout the duration of the summer camp from Kourova and her team. Every day of camp started with a morning exercise, before beginning the day of learning with themes like “Day of Knowledge,” “Russian Hospitality” and “Summer Solstice.”

With the in-person portion of the training complete, STARTALK students will complete their online training with weekly, hour-long online sessions through May of 2024 for the first group and May 2025 for the Pilot group. At the end of the program, participants who successfully pass the culminating exam receive a certificate of completion, which they can include on their resumes – a particularly useful advantage when applying for jobs with the federal government.

Online registration for the 2024 STARTALK program will open at the end of September. Interested students are encouraged to visit and can also reach out to Alla Kourova for more details.