In Russian, the word for growth is рост.

At Virginia Tech, growth – or рост – represents the ultimate goal for the new Russian Flagship program.

The Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures launched the program this fall after earning a competitive grant from The Language Flagship, part of the National Security Education Program at the U.S. Department of Defense.

The Russian Flagship represents a major accomplishment for the Russian program in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and for Virginia Tech. The university is now only the eighth Russian Language Flagship school in the United States.

“We’ve had tremendous success in helping students achieve an extremely high level of proficiency in the Russian language by the time they graduate from Virginia Tech,” said Robert Efird, associate professor of Russian. “The Russian Flagship builds from this foundation and adds a degree of intensity beyond that of the normal undergraduate experience.”

The program’s primary goal is to help students reach a high degree of cultural competency and a professional-level proficiency in Russian, a language considered especially difficult to master for most native speakers of English. In the short term, Efird said the program aims to help students qualify for the capstone, spending a year completely immersed in the language.

In addition to coursework, program offerings include co-curricular activities, study abroad, and tutoring to help students develop the skills needed for a variety of careers in both the public and private sectors.

With applications open to students of all majors, the Russian Flagship program has already surged in popularity. “The level of interest from students has already exceeded our expectations,” said Efird.

Students who graduate with a Russian Flagship certification will carry a highly rated specialization recognized throughout the national security community as well as academia. The U.S. Agency for International Development, along with private companies such as Google and Goldman Sachs, have also sought to hire Flagship alumni, Efird said.

“It’s not just the linguistic skills that make these alumni attractive to employers,” he added. “The cultural competence, which the Russian program emphasizes from the beginning, is a major factor.”

Efird said the success of the Russian program is thanks in large part to its affiliation with the Project Global Officer, a Department of Defense initiative focused on helping future military officers improve their language skills, regional expertise, and intercultural communication skills.

The Russian Flagship program is designed to transcend the department and college. Along with engaging members of the ROTC programs and the Corps of Cadets, the program could benefit future engineers, biologists, and chemists. Many students who have already participated in the Russian program are double majoring in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, said Efird.

“Speaking more than one language is the norm in many parts of the world,” said Janell Watson, chair of the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures and a professor of French. “Achieving professional-level fluency in a second language enables our students to engage more fully as global citizens.”

The launch of the Russian Flagship program represents another milestone for the department and college. The department launched an Arabic major this fall following the success of its Arabic program.

For more information about the Russian Flagship program, visit the program website.

— Written by Andrew Adkins