Alumni Perspectives

Robin Swearingen

Robin Swearingen

"CREEES has played a hugely impactful role in my life. Participating in the program allowed me to spend a year delving deeply into Central Asian history and develop a deeper understanding of how the five former Soviet 'stans came to be the way they are today. It was also an extremely meaningful and worthwhile experience to be able to make major strides in my Russian and Persian language proficiency."

On the occasion of our 50th anniversary, we asked alumni to reflect on their time at CREEES and the impact it has had on their lives since. In their responses, our alumni shared fond memories of faculty, stories of the area studies community, travel tales, family updates, and developments in their professional lives. Read their reflections below:

CREEES students at commencement

Sean Loosli (‘10)
"I entered the CREEES program in a period of relative calm in US-Russia relations. Medvedev was President, and even visited Stanford the following summer. Hopes were high for the Obama administration's reset with Russia. Since then, suffice it to say that politics in both the USA and Russia have become more heated, and US-Russia relations have gotten much more complicated. 

Although my career has not been tied directly with Russia (I have worked in the private sector in Silicon Valley since graduation), I have returned to Russia multiple times. I have visited old friends and made new ones. I was in the stadium to watch the Russian national team play the World Cup quarter final in Sochi. I have continued to foster relationships with friends throughout Russia, greatly enabled by Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, and other technologies. My understanding of Russian literature, history, and politics have made these friendships richer. In conversations in both hemispheres, I have tried to dispel stereotypes about both countries. I hope for continued societal improvement in both Russia and the USA, and between these two countries that I love. I hope that my small person-to-person interactions have made a contribution to these ends. And 900 pages in, I hope that I will finally finish reading War and Peace after multiple previous attempts." 

Robin Swearingen (‘14)
CREEES has played a hugely impactful role in my life. Participating in the program allowed me to spend a year delving deeply into Central Asian history and develop a deeper understanding of how the five former Soviet 'stans came to be the way they are today. It was also an extremely meaningful and worthwhile experience to be able to make major strides in my Russian and Persian language proficiency. Since moving to Washington, DC directly after completing my [degree] I have used both [Russian and Persian] for work-related assignments as an int'l development and global health program manager. My education at CREEES has enriched my life in both personal and professional ways. I feel very lucky to have been selected for this program and for my FLAS Fellowship. Special thanks to Dr. Jovana Knezevic and Dr. Pavle Levi for their dedication to supporting students with their post-CREEES career paths and/or continuing education.

Ian McGinnity (‘15)
The CREEES program has many strengths, but perhaps none more so than the lasting sense of community it builds. This is particularly difficult to accomplish in one academic year. However, the richness of experience that the program’s participants, faculty, and staff bring to the table binds us all in a shared pursuit of bettering our understanding of the region. On a personal note, CREEES broadened my perspectives, deepened my regional knowledge, sharpened my linguistic skills, and prepared me for a career devoted to the Eurasia region. Most importantly, it provided me with the opportunity to connect with incredible mentors and forge lasting friendships. From sharing a beer with CREESniki at the Treehouse five years ago, to doing the same in Ukraine, Russia, Estonia, Armenia, and Washington, DC since I left Stanford, the interpersonal bonds the program creates defy geographical and temporal boundaries. 

Uve Poom (‘16)
My studies at CREEES and research on Ukraine have paved the way for fascinating career opportunities. I'm particularly delighted that my work since graduation contributes to the socioeconomic development in the REEES region. 

Laura Marti (‘16)
CREEES allowed me an opportunity to explore my interests at the intersection of history and science. The program afforded me time to grow both as a student and as a person. The critical thinking and communication skills I developed during my time with CREEES have continued to serve me well as I enter the medical field. 


Ivan Jiang (‘17)
I really enjoyed my time at CREEES and I have never regretted my decision to join the program. It offered me access to a diverse range of relevant courses on the region, sharpened my research skills, and enriched my regional knowledge in the shortest amount of time possible.

Persia Goudarzi (‘18)
It was an amazing one year at CREEES. The program was unique in that it gave me the opportunity to explore and delve into a myriad of different topics. The Soviet & Eastern Cinema class was the most memorable class, and the Friday seminars were the most fun part of the academic life. I was able to take classes at different departments and schools which brought so much variety and intellectual excitement to my experience.  I built life-long friendships and connections with people from different fields, backgrounds and positions.

Hristiana Petkova (‘18)
CREEES gave me access to better professional opportunities in D.C. My current supervisor informed me that my Russian and East European regional studies helped me stand out from other applicants. I am eternally grateful for my time at CREEES, and wish current CREEESniki the best of luck in their future endeavors! Jovana, Pavle, Zhenya, Margarita, Dr. Holloway, and the rest of the CREEES faculty - thank you for all your help and attention! I am forever grateful. 

Amber Frankland (‘18)
The CREEES program bolstered my Russia and Eurasia regional studies credentials, which were instrumental in finding my first full-time position. I greatly miss the intellectual rigors that came with learning a new language (Kazakh) during my time at Stanford, and I hope that my career path will lead back to the study of Central Asia. 

Jake Zawlacki (‘19)
My time at CREEES was valuable. The flexibility of the program allowed me to investigate wide-ranging subjects including Kazakh animation, Soviet history, Central Asian music, and Slavic folklore. These courses expanded my academic interests and gave me the confidence to engage with the obscure. I look forward to coupling my personal experience in Central Asia with my academic foundation from CREEES to write fiction that investigates topics of the region. Without the faculty, fellow students, and academic rigor of the program, I would not have become the sharpened academic, and clearer thinker I am today.

Madelaine Graber (‘19)
I immensely valued my time as a student with CREEES. As an undergraduate at Stanford, I was able to become familiar with the department, participating in seminars and taking classes with many of the CREEES students. When I was a sophomore, I remember speaking with Jovana Knezevic about my goal: I wanted to be an MA student with the program. I was so excited about the prospect of exploring my interest in Russia and in psychology, and I knew the program would be the right fit for me as I participated in more classes and seminars within the department. When I was accepted, I knew that the advisors and staff would be supportive—I had already had direct experience with that—but I couldn't have known how much this program would have solidified my professional goals. I was always so grateful for the support I received and how much flexibility I was afforded while working through what kind of curriculum I wanted to construct for myself. I felt like I could genuinely pursue those topics I found interesting while also attaining a well-rounded education in a number of subjects relating to the region. The MA thesis was particularly helpful for me; I got to spend time researching how psychiatric diagnoses could be used for political gain in the Soviet Union. This was something I had a degree of exposure to, and for years I had been trying to find a way to merge my interest in Russia and in psychology. This project was so enlightening that I spun my Fulbright project off this work and now intend to work in an area of law that I was introduced to while conducting research for my thesis. I am incredibly grateful I got to not only spend my undergraduate years as a part of this community, but to have been a part of the MA cohort. It was a hard year-long program—no doubt about that!—but it is still one of the most rewarding and important things I have done.


Sarah Cameron (‘02)
CREEES was instrumental to my career.  Thanks to my CREEES coursework, I became fascinated by Soviet history, and I gained numerous professional contacts who helped me apply to PhD programs.  I am now an associate professor of history, specializing in the Soviet period, at the University of Maryland, College Park.  I am also thankful for my wonderful CREEES cohort, and I keep in touch with many of them. One of my CREEES classmates was even a bridesmaid at my wedding and still remains one of my closest friends.

Nathan Barrick (‘03)
I often think about the experience at CREES Stanford, I remember many details about the office and location and dropping by between classes. I have been privileged to remain engaged with some students and faculty from my time there -- and I'm frequently telling stories about getting a Master's at Stanford. One of my fondest memories comes from conducting the Oral Comps Exam and having the honor to be questioned by Professor Lazar Fleishman because I had taken Russian poetry each quarter of my coursework. My love for the Russian language and engagement with Russian poetry continues to this day. I will never have the mastery Dr. Fleishman has and I think most of what he taught me about Russian poetry is more resident in my heart and soul than it is in any particular details of the grammar and biographical insights to many Russian poets. It might seem strange to some that a former Army officer looks back nostalgically on the Russian poetry experience, but having Dr. Fleishman on my final panel was a distinct privilege and I wear it as a badge of honor. Thank you, Dr. Fleishman, Drs. Jack and Nancy Kollman, Dr. Mary Dakin, AMB Mike McFaul, Dr. Gail Lapidus, and so many others!

Benjamin Peters (‘05)
I thank CREEES for the area studies training I later needed to become an interdisciplinary scholar in my field--and for the exquisite teachers, mentors, and friends! 

Raymond Kimball (‘05)
CREES, as well as my Stanford experience as a whole, broadened my thinking in ways that I continue to appreciate 15 years on. My cohort was a whole range of different perspectives that I would have never otherwise encountered. My professors opened my eyes to a dizzying range of possibilities for intellectual and social discourse. I am profoundly grateful for the experience. 

90s grads

Karin Elliot Whitney (‘90)
My life since I was a CREEES student has been very closely linked to my education. I have worked as a Russian Language interpreter in various capacities throughout my entire professional life since graduation from CREEES and also the Monterey Institute of International Studies. 

Jon Nighswander (‘92)
My time at CREES was a short period in my life but still looms large in my life experiences. From Stalinist architecture to development economics to the writing of Andrei Bely, it was an amazing multidisciplinary education that is still paying dividends. 

Misha Kuchkovsky (‘94)
Studying at CREES with Professor Wayne Vucinich was one of the great personal and academic experiences of my life. It started my lifelong interest in Yugoslav history, art and culture that continues to this day. I was a kid, but he treated me as a friend and colleague- treating me to lunch, spending long hours talking to me and inviting me to his parties. In fact, he always called me a dilettante but coming from him it always made me laugh and seemed like a compliment. He taught by teaching us, not trying to humiliate or destroy us, but egging us on towards knowledge. He never had to prove his intelligence to us. He was there to teach us. I hold him up as my model of how to treat and educate others with patience, care and respect. I think of him often and miss him. 

80s grads

Aniko Fulop Somogyi (‘83)
One of my favorite memories is being invited to Professor Vucinich's home for dinner along with other grad students in 1983. It was such a wonderful evening and a great time to chat and share stories over a delicious dinner! I can still hear Professor Vucinich's voice as he was sharing and I can remember his mannerisms and delightful way of explaining things. Following the completion of the MA degree in Russian and E. European Studies (as part of a Stanford co-term program with BA in International Relations in 1982) I ended up working at Microsoft in their international departments. I always had something to do with international relations, working with Microsoft's international subsidiaries and traveling to countries such as Hungary for Microsoft business. I particularly enjoyed helping grow Microsoft PowerPoint's international versions while managing the operations of the PowerPoint team's Graphics Business Unit. 

Kate Brown (‘88)
I had a wonderful time at CREEES, both the friendships made and the opportunity to further explore my particular interest in the Soviet economy - an interest stimulated by an undergraduate semester at LGU, during the period of Glasnost and Chernobyl. While I left academia for business (primarily media businesses), I did return to Russia for a period in late 1991-1995, working for the EBRD on project financings in places ranging from Arhangelsk to Sakhalin.  And now, full circle, having returned to my home town of New Haven and working at Yale University Press, I am occasionally reminded of those fond memories of CREEES and Hoover via some of the books we publish. 

Christopher Hanson(‘89)
I got back to the Soviet Union in time to see the system fall apart. It's always been a reminder that no empire is forever, and that the United States as a polity may disappear.

Amy Kellogg (‘89)
I am part of the last class to graduate CREES before the fall of the Berlin Wall. In 1986, a couple years before arriving at Stanford for my M.A. program, I spent a semester of my junior year of college at Leningrad State University. That time was all about “glasnost” and “perestroika” but still, I never imagined Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms would lead to the demise of the system. It never occurred to me that Sovietology might become exclusively the study of history and events past when I embarked on my program at Stanford in 1988. 

Still, I was aware that those were particularly exciting days to be a student of Russia. I was focused on history and literature at CREES and remember especially fondly the intelligence, clarity and kind attention of Professors Terrence Emmons, Norman Naimark and Nancy Kollman to whom I looked with awe. They were inspirational figures for me. Professor Emmons, against his better judgement, let me choose a period in Georgian history for my thesis and I was grateful he let me go a bit off-piste. I discovered lots to keep me busy in the Hoover archives and found the atmosphere so rich and stimulating  that I contemplated continuing on for a PhD, but at some point changed course.

I learned excellent study habits at CREES and solidified my language skills and knowledge of the USSR and even though I did not pursue studies further than my Masters, the degree was worth getting a hundred times over. It was one of the best experiences of my life. I launched my career as a foreign correspondent in Moscow in 1999 for Fox News after a long detour from the subject matter that was dear to my heart. I got to employ my CREES education on the job (and still do), and got the job because I had the qualifications I earned at Stanford. 

Though I was only in Russia for a year on that assignment, I go back regularly for work. I was there for the last months of President Boris Yeltsin’s reign and his shock New Year’s/Millennial Eve handover to then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Red Square was wild that night and there commenced an interesting journey with Vladimir Vladimirovich that I don’t believe anyone at the time imagined would last quite so long. Here we are 20 years later!

I was fortunate to have the chance to travel the country widely in that year of my posting and do all sorts of features on life and news in many regions. It was actually a rarely peaceful time in the international news cycle and that afforded me the chance to travel to Lake Baikal and do a story on fishing, to Chernobyl to report on the closure of one of the last reactor and reflect solemnly on what had been, and to St. Petersburg to do a slow-moving piece on White Nights. There were many stops in between. And I had many opportunities to interview everyone’s favorite analyst in Moscow, Michael McFaul, back when he was at the Carnegie Moscow Center.

So it all comes full circle. I do hope to get back and visit one day before too long. 

Yumiko Murakami (‘89)
I was a foreign student from Japan, studying at CREEES from 1987 to 1989. I must admit I don’t remember much about my classes, other than the fact my English was so poor that I barely understood anything. What I remember vividly, however, is how patient and supportive all my professors were to me. The best part of my two years at CREEES was that I met people who have turned out to be my life-long friends. Since our days at Stanford, my classmates at CREEES and I have worked and lived in dozens of different countries, but we have always managed to stay in touch and nourished our friendship over the past 30 years. Thank you, CREEES, for the wonderful experience I had.

Madelaine Graber

Madelaine Graber, '19

"I immensely valued my time as a student with CREEES. When I was accepted, I knew that the advisors and staff would be supportive—I had already had direct experience with that—but I couldn't have known how much this program would have solidified my professional goals. I was always so grateful for the support I received and how much flexibility I was afforded while working through what kind of curriculum I wanted to construct for myself. I felt like I could genuinely pursue those topics I found interesting while also attaining a well-rounded education in a number of subjects relating to the region."