Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon

Three students place at National Post-Secondary Russian Essay Contest

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Three second-year Russian language students from the Sylvania Campus were honored by the American Council of Teachers of Russian (ACTR) for essays they wrote as part of the 17th annual National Post-Secondary Russian Essay Contest. This year, 1,415 essays from 79 universities, colleges and institutions across the nation were submitted to the yearly writing contest.

Gabriella Hoffman earned a silver medal, and Rochelle Teeny and Hope Ovcharenko earned bronze medalists in the second-year category for non-native Russian speakers. They were the only community college students who won awards, competing against students from top universities.

“This is an extremely high honor,” said PCC Russian language instructor Kristine Shmakov, who is also chair of the World Languages Program. “It is really impressive because we are the only community college that is listed with these other prestigious schools. I think it is really good to see that PCC has students who can achieve high levels of proficiency for second-year students. This award really shows them (students) what they can accomplish. We have incredible students.”IMG_2486

In 1999, the ACTR launched the National Post-Secondary Russian Essay Contest, which has become the signature Russian language contest for university students across the country. Students who attend an accredited college and university were invited to participate in the proctored exam.

This year, seven students from Portland Community College participated in the writing contest. Participants were given the prompt of describing an incident that changed their life. They were allowed one hour to write the essay in Russian without books or notes, which was later judged by professors in Russia.

Judges evaluated essays according to content (the ability to express ideas in Russian and communicate information about the topic) and length, lexicon, syntax, structure (grammatical and orthographic accuracy), and originality or creativity.

The three students used personal experiences to write their essays. Second-place winner Hoffman talked about meeting her husband while studying in her home country of Hungary. Teeny discussed an encounter with a person who worked for NASA in high school, which resulted in her studying science. Ovcharenko wrote about becoming a nurse but when she heard her Russian husband and his mother talking in their native language, she knew she wanted to study the Russian language.

“The most difficult part was that we could only use a pen and white out and we had one hour and that was it,” Hoffman said. “You don’t know how much you can write in one hour and how many mistakes you are going to make.”

Each student received a certificate and the awards were announced in the ACTR newsletter and its website.

“I have strived to create a program that pushes students,” Shmakov said. “It is validation that we have a really strong program. Each year I get incredible students who surprise me with how well they do and what they are able to accomplish when given the opportunity.”

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