November 2020 Alumni Profile

David McVey, MAs in Slavic and East European Studies and Geography, Class of 2006

David McVey

David McVey

 What was your focus or research interest when you studied at OSU?

I graduated from the master’s program at OSU’s Center for Slavic and East European Studies in 2006. I was glad that the center allowed me simultaneously to work toward a second degree in geography. Geography has always been my passion, and geographic thinking has informed the way I approach research and analysis. It’s a frame of mind that provides a novel outlook on any problem. As a pre-MA student, I was even able to publish an article in a peer-reviewed geography journal with the help of the Center’s personnel, Dr. Halina Stephan and Dr. Jason Vuic. I greatly appreciated the Center’s interdisciplinary approach to area studies, which permitted me to chart my own course to a graduate degree.

How has your CSEES MA helped you throughout your post-graduate life?

I value the foundation CSEES helped me lay for my future career, particularly outside academia. The research and writing skills I developed in classes in the program contributed to my success as a contracted immigration assistant for United States Citizenship and Immigration Services at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. In addition to working as a simultaneous translator for refugee interviews, I served as the primary point of contact for all congressional and legal immigration inquiries. I researched file archives, online databases, and other manuals to collect the materials necessary to respond to often aggressive demands from congresspersons and attorneys concerning their constituents and clients. Owing to the writing guidance that I had received in CSEES courses, I was able to compose expedient, detailed, professional, evidence-based replies and provide accurate, logically presented information to represent my office.

If you are a traveler, what is one of your favorite trips you have taken?

When I was working in Moscow, I took a close friend on a tour of the three Baltic countries: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. He wanted to see something of Russian culture but was hesitant about traveling to Russia proper. Estonia and Latvia have significant Russian-speaking minorities, so we were able to immerse ourselves in a diverse environment of related, yet distinctive cultures, including Russian. We sampled the local cuisines, including zeppelins, gray peas, and pickled herring for breakfast. We filled our cameras with photographs of spectacular architecture, including the particolored doors and gates of old-town Tallinn and the art nouveau facades of central Riga, many of which were designed by Mikhail Eisenstein, father of the renowned Soviet director. We wore out our feet in captivating museums, mesmerized by innovative displays in the Kadriorg Art Museum and immersive, avant-garde exhibits at the Vilnius Contemporary Art Center. We even got to know some locals while we traveled by plane, train, and bus. When our flight from Tallinn to Vilnius was cancelled, an affable business traveler at our gate welcomed us into the frequent-flyer lounge on his account, and we spent a few hours chatting with him. I encourage anyone with a background in Russian to explore this fascinating corner of Eastern Europe, where you will be amazed at every turn, and where your knowledge of Russian will only serve as a bonus.

October Alumni Profile: Jared Dye

Jared Dye

Jared Dye, MA in Slavic and East European Studies and Master of Public Affairs Class of 2017

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I work for CD Projekt RED as an English adaptation specialist. CDPR is a Polish video game studio responsible for the Witcher video game series, GWENT: The Witcher Card Game, Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales, and the highly anticipated Cyberpunk 2077.

Tell us how you got there.

During my final year of the dual CSEES MA/MPA, a recruiter from CDPR reached out to Dr. Daniel Pratt to ask whether there were any OSU students with knowledge of the Polish language and culture who might be interested in applying to the English Adaptation Specialist role in Warsaw, Poland. I immediately leapt at the chance to work on video games and live in Poland. After I applied and passed a couple translation tests, they made me an offer and I moved to Warsaw right after graduation.

How has your CSEES MA helped you throughout your post-graduate life?

Since completing the CSEES MA, I’ve only had one job and that’s the one at CDPR. Because most of my responsibilities there fall in the realm of adapting written Polish to English, my language studies at CSEES in both Polish and Russian have obviously proved useful. Also, because language translation/adaptation requires strong writing skills and precision, working on my MA thesis, MPA capstone, and various papers in my other coursework helped refine my writing skills from a more technical perspective.

What was your focus or research interest when you studied at OSU?

In a nutshell, my language and region specializations focused on Poland and Russia, while my subject areas primarily centered on environmental and energy issues (especially in the last two years of my three-year program). My MA thesis detailed the history of energy use in Russia and the ongoing development of renewable energy in the country, particularly with regard to wind power. My MPA coursework followed a highly predetermined trajectory, but when given the chance to select a research subject for a paper or project, I always selected either Poland or a location within Poland. My capstone, for example, focused on the development of renewable energy production in Poland and the policy framework supporting it.

If you are a traveler, what is one of your favorite trips you have taken?

I’ve been fortunate to take several trips around Europe since graduating from OSU. For major destinations, I would say Rome was a favorite of mine because of the cuisine, coffee culture, and ancient history scattered all across the city. More off the beaten path, Vilnius was a pleasant surprise for me. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but the quaintness and comfort of the city really drew me in. As for within Poland (besides Krakow and Warsaw, which are both great cities), I loved Wroclaw. Their market square, church island, and zoo were all fantastic must-visit destinations worthy of any major European city.

Bonus Fact

Nikki Freeman and I got married in November 2019. She’s a PhD candidate in the History Department, and we met in Polish class at OSU.

September Alumni Profile: Conrad Rinto

Conrad Rinto, MA in Slavic and East European Studies Class of 2017

Conrad Rinto

Conrad Rinto

Where do you work and what is your current position?

Currently, I am serving as the Bilateral Affairs Officer at the US Embassy in Budapest. In this position, I help develop and coordinate joint training events between the Ohio National Guard and Hungarian Defense Forces.

How has your CSEES MA helped you throughout your post-graduate life?

One aspect of the CSEES MA that has helped me in my post-graduate life is taking the research skills that were developed for CSEES and applying them to my profession.

If you are a traveler, what is one of your favorite trips you have taken?

Perhaps one of my favorite trips I have taken was to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The spring before traveling to Sarajevo, I was fortunate to have enrolled in Slavic 4250H, The City of Sarajevo. It was wonderful visiting a place that I had recently learned so much about. I am uncertain if anyone has ever been as excited to visit the Holiday Inn Sarajevo as I was.


Nicholas Seay Participates in American Councils’ Eurasian Regional Language Program

By Nicholas Seay

Nicholas Seay, a second-year PhD Student in the Department of History spent two months this summer learning Tajik through the American Councils Eurasian Regional Language Program (ERLP). The ERLP program provides high-quality language instruction and specially designed cultural programming for students studying the languages of Central Asia, the South Caucasus, Russia, Ukraine, and Moldova. Languages available to study include Armenian, Azerbaijani, Turkish, Georgian, Chechen, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Romanian, Bashkir, Buryat, Tatar, Yakut, Persian (Dari, Farsi, Tajik), Pashto, Uzbek, and Ukrainian.

Karakul Lake, Tajikistan

While the COVID-19 pandemic led American Councils to cancel in-person language learning programs, the majority of classes were still offered online. “The ability to continue to work towards the language skills necessary for my research while ensuring that students, staff, and instructors had the opportunity to work safely during the pandemic made this a unique opportunity. I am very happy to see American Councils working so hard to ensure that all programs are carried out safely,” Nicholas explained. In both Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 American Councils programming will continue to operate online.

Nicholas Seay Giving an Uzbek Language Presentation

Nicholas first traveled to Tajikistan in 2017 as part of the State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship program for the study of Persian. Iranian Persian (sometimes called Farsi) and Tajik Persian are closely related. While Iranian Persian served as Nicholas’ initial encounter with Persian, his research interests in the history of cotton production in Soviet Tajikistan have led him to redirect his focus towards Tajik. As Nicholas described, “One advantage of studying with ERLP was the ability to study the specifics of the Tajik language and begin to understand regional dialects within Tajikistan.”

In the future, Nicholas hopes to combine his Russian and Tajik language skills in archival and oral history work in Russia and Tajikistan. His summer online studies were partially funded by support from the History Department at Ohio State and with the support of a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship from the U.S. Department of Education. Nicholas will be hosting a virtual information session on October 5th at 3:00 PM for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students interested in pursuing similar opportunities with American Councils ERLP and related programs. To RSVP for this information session, follow the link here.

Philip Kopatz’s Fulbright Experience

By Philip Kopatz

September 7th, 2019: I had been in Kharkiv, Ukraine on a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) for a week and was finally getting my teaching schedule. I had been assigned to the history faculty and my advisor told me “Your first class is on Monday. You’ll be teaching by yourself which is nice since you won’t have to report to anybody.” I replied in utter disbelief, “You know I have no teaching experience, right?” He calmly replied, “You won’t have anybody breathing down your neck.”

Man standing on a rock at the beach

Sunrise in Odesa

I spent the weekend frantically googling lesson plans and ideas. The two-day seminar on teaching at the orientation did not prepare me for this! I strung together a semi-coherent lesson plan and walked into the classroom on Monday not knowing what to expect. When I asked the history professors about the level of the students’ English, they laughingly replied, “not great.” The classroom had about 20 students of mixed levels. Some could not understand or speak English, some were advanced, and most were somewhere in the middle. The class went better than expected, but I knew I needed help. I pulled aside one of the advanced students, and to my pleasant surprise, it turned out she used to be an English teacher. With her help, I learned how to write lesson plans centered around fun and engaging activities such as “guess the lyrics” or video comprehension. Although the numbers dwindled throughout the semester because my class was optional, I found a core group of students who were motivated and saw a dramatic increase in their English proficiency over the next seven months.

Once I figured out how to teach, I turned my attention to “what should I do outside of the university?” As if she read my thoughts, a Ukrainian Fulbright alumna messaged me on Facebook to introduce herself and mentioned that she had an English school for lawyers and would love to have me. Two or three times a week I would spend evenings there talking to her students about topics from education in the U.S. to holiday traditions. It was refreshing to be surrounded by people who genuinely wanted to learn English as opposed to many of the university students who only studied English to pass the exit exam for graduation.

But Fulbright is not completely about working; it is about cultural exchange and immersion. With eight other ETAs across Ukraine, we took the opportunity to travel as much as possible. From the beaches of Odesa, to the baroque and Renaissance inspired architecture of Lviv, I immersed myself in Ukraine. There are numerous stories I could write about, but I’ll leave it off with my last trip in March before COVID changed our lives. My Ukrainian friend, who had never been west of Kyiv, and I jumped on a train to western Ukraine to visit some of my Fulbright friends and do some sightseeing for the weekend of March 6th. We did the normal things while traveling: ate good food and saw some cool sights. But we also did some extraordinary things: one day we were visiting a Soviet prison in Ternopil and heard the experiences from a man who spent eight years in that small prison cell, and the next night we were drinking wine on the shores of the Dnipro river in Kyiv.

Students cooking

Making Vareniki and Borscht in Lviv

In the words of the late Fulbright director in Ukraine: “you need to have patience and a sense of humor here.” Those words could not be truer. Living in another country, even if its government sponsored, requires one to be flexible and adaptable. Most of the time things will not go how you planned or imagined, but if you just go with it and enjoy the process, you may just have the best experience of your life.

August Alumni Profile: Dr. Sunnie Rucker-Chang

Sunnie Rucker-Chang, MA in Slavic and East European Studies Class of 2001

Sunnie-Rucker Chang with students

Sunnie Rucker-Chang (right) with study abroad students in Croatia

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I am an Assistant Professor of Slavic and East European Studies and director of European Studies at the University of Cincinnati.

Tell us how you got there.

I was a lateral hire from Florida State University, where I also worked as an Assistant Professor from 2012-2014.

How has your CSEES MA helped you throughout your post-graduate life?

My CSEES MA has helped and continues to inform the way that I approach my scholarship and teaching in an interdisciplinary manner.

What was your focus or research interest when you studied at OSU?

I focused primarily on Slavic languages and literatures, but as an MA student I also took classes in history and linguistics.

If you are a traveler, what is one of your favorite trips you have taken?

It is difficult to specify one trip as my favorite, so I will highlight two: one of which was when I took a group of students abroad to Croatia, Serbia, and Hungary in 2018 and the other is when I first traveled with my children to Europe (Hungary, France, and Germany) in 2017.

What are your future plans?

I am currently in the process of going up for tenure, so I hope to be promoted to the rank of Associate Professor by the summer of 2021.

Bonus Facts

In March 2020, together with her husband Felix B. Chang, Sunnie published the book “Roma Rights and Civil Rights: A Transatlantic Comparison”.

Sunnie is also a PhD graduate of the Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures (2010).

July 2020 Alumni Profile: Emma Pratt

Emma Pratt, MA in Slavic and East European Studies Class of 2011

Emma Pratt

Emma Pratt in Lechkhumi, Georgia

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I am an Invited Lecturer in English at the International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University (ISET), as well as a freelance editor.

Tell us how you got there.

After graduating from CSEES into a tough job market (the previous recession), I moved to Georgia as a volunteer English teacher. My intention was to improve my language skills and cultural expertise. One of the things that I found I love about Georgia is that employers are often willing to take a chance on someone young and bright, but inexperienced. I was hired from my volunteer position into a full-time teaching job for the government, and a little later a friend tipped me off that ISET was starting a Bachelor’s degree program, and they needed someone to plan and execute the new English curriculum. ISET’s reputation for academic rigor and our famous family-like atmosphere made me eager to apply. They liked my teaching demonstration and gave me the position; I have worked there since, seeing the program grow. Next year our first cohort will graduate.

How has your CSEES MA helped you throughout your post-graduate life?

Most Georgians have never encountered a foreigner who studied Georgian formally and speaks (relatively) grammatically. The language skills I acquired at CSEES always endear me to new acquaintances in Georgia. My knowledge of Georgian/Russian/Soviet history and literature has helped me understand some of the background of situations I am walking into and given me a better understanding of current events.

What was your focus or research interest when you studied at OSU?

My primary interest was democratization and post-Communist transitions and my thesis was on the 2010 amendments to the Georgian constitution. One of my favorite things about the program at CSEES was that I was able to study broadly. I also enjoyed a number of literature, history, and international studies courses.

If you are a traveler, what is one of your favorite trips you have taken?

It’s impossible to choose a favorite, but my most recent trip to Kyiv was wonderful. I was visiting family who live there, and it was a great balance of seeing the tourist attractions and relaxing with my relatives.

What are your future plans?

My previous future plans were derailed by Covid-19 closures and delays, so I’m waiting until there is some clarity about the situation and timelines before regrouping. I think I will be ready to return to the US in the medium-term and I’d like to continue working in higher education.

Margarita Nafpaktitis, MA in Slavic and East European Studies Class of 1994

Margarita Nafpaktitis

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I work at Stanford University Libraries as the Curator for Slavic and East European Collections (and Modern Greek).

Tell us how you got there.

I came to Stanford Libraries in 2016 after 5 years as Librarian for Slavic Studies at UCLA.

How has your CSEES MA helped you throughout your post-graduate life?

My CSEES MA was, in retrospect, the ideal preparation for what I do now. Librarians are supposed to know at least something about a lot of things, and the interdisciplinarity of my area studies degree made me a confident generalist within the larger field of Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies. The historical, political, cultural context I gained by taking a broad range of courses made me a better scholar of literature than I would have been without it, and now, it makes me a better librarian.

What was your focus or research interest when you studied at OSU?

Early 20th-century Russian literature (prose fiction).

If you are a traveler, what is one of your favorite trips you have taken?

Recently, a 3-city collecting trip to Ukraine: Kyiv, Odesa, and Lviv.  Each city has its own distinct character and history, and they’re all wonderful cities for walking in. My job has also provided opportunities to travel to Poland (Warsaw and Wroclaw), Czechia (Prague), Germany (Frankfurt), and Russia (Moscow) for conferences and collecting.

What are your future plans?

It’s kind of hard to think about the future in these times, somehow, isn’t it…? I love my job at Stanford, helping students, researchers, and faculty with their research, along with truly splendid colleagues, and I’d love to still be working there 10, 20 years from now.

What inspires you?

I’m motivated by opportunities to help others achieve their goals. Creativity and wit in pretty much all forms are also energizing (especially in book arts, literature, photography, gastronomy, mixology, music, and sewing). Learning about the ways that other people do good in and for the world (even or especially when it’s difficult and thankless) is also inspiring and keeps me hopeful, even in uncertain and unsettling times like these.


New CSEES News Series: Alumni Profiles

CSEES is excited to launch a new monthly series featuring alumni profiles. The Master of Arts in Slavic and East European Studies welcomed the first cohort of students in autumn quarter 1988, who then graduated in 1990. Since that first cohort, CSEES now has over 165 alumni scattered across the globe in all sorts of different career paths, including academia, government agencies, the military, non-profit, public companies, and think tanks. Over the years, the MA program has evolved and added its first official dual degree in public affairs in 2008. Our aim with this new series is to strengthen the connections between our network of alumni. We hope that this will be a way for alumni to reconnect with each other, learn about more recent graduates, and share their work and achievements. If you would like to be featured, please email Eileen Kunkler, the assistant director, at

To start the series, we will hear from a 1994 CSEES graduate, Margarita Nafpaktitis.

How to Pass the Time in Quarantine

From baking to reading, gardening to yoga, more time at home has led to more time for hobbies and new ways of working and going to school. This week in Notes from the Field, we asked our participants what they are doing to pass time while in empty classroom

Tatiana Shchytssova, Vilnius, Lithuania

I spend a huge amount of time playing the role of teacher for my 8 year-old daughter. Her school in Vilnius uses a model of distance-learning that assumes that teachers will send new materials and tasks via email every day, and it is the parent(s) responsibility to supervise the education process. Therefore, my larger problem is how to find time for doing my professional work at home.

Jesse Smeal, Rome, Italy

I have two restaurants/cafés. We are able to do home deliveries. It’s not much and only amounts to about 2% of my normal revenue, but it’s something. My wife and children pass the time with school, homework, housework, playing games, and watching TV.

Jessie Labov, Budapest, Hungary     

We have relocated to a small house near Lake Balaton, in one of the most charming villages in Hungary (population 300), where we teach online, homeschool our kid online, take care of the garden, cook a lot, occasionally order pizza, and go on daily hikes. The house belongs to some friends who are stuck in Germany and can’t come here. We do not set foot in the village out of respect for many of the residents who don’t want us here.

<< Check back tomorrow for another set of responses from Tbilisi, Kyiv, and Moscow!