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Wheaton junior honored at Davis Center Colloquium

Every year, Wheaton students present research alongside students from Harvard and Wellesley colleges at the annual Undergraduate Colloquium on Russian and Eurasian Studies, hosted by Harvard’s Davis Center.

At the 19th annual gathering on April 11, an award was given for the first time to the top presenter, in honor of the center’s founder, Kathryn Wasserman Davis P’60, mother of Wheaton Trustee Emerita Diana Davis Spencer ’60. Davis died last spring at the age of 106. The award recipient was Wheaton student Rosetta Berger ’15, an English major and Russian minor from Belchertown, Mass., who discovered a linguistics rule that may explain how loanwords from the Scandinavian languages were transferred to the Russian lexicon during the ninth and 10th centuries.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Russian Studies Tom Dolack said he was impressed by Berger’s project because she had to do much of the research on her own.

“Rose has had to take her training in other languages and apply them to Slavic languages largely independently. I had some training in Old Russian and could help her a little bit or direct her to references, but basically this has been independent work,” Dollack said.

Despite the complicated nature of her topic, Berger was able to present her findings clearly and handled tough questions from faculty judges with aplomb.

“The research is important because there's been an assumption in Russian linguistics that foreign words are assimilated in a certain way, and Rose has found an example that contradicts that assumption,” he said. “Her examples are currently from the distant past, but she is on to something that could have larger repercussions for Russian linguistics.”

Berger, who plans to study linguistics in graduate school, said she was “incredibly surprised and very flattered” by the award.

“This project was a lot of hard work, so it is affirming to have such a distinguished panel of scholars recognize my efforts,” she said. “I am extremely honored to be acknowledged with a prize in memory of Kathryn W. Davis, who was an inspiring woman and a true role model who made such a positive impact on the world.”

Berger was one of six Wheaton students who presented research at this year’s colloquium, along with two from Wellesley and four from Harvard.

Maria Smerkovich ’14, an international relations major from Israel—with family ties to Russia—shared her research on Russia’s involvement in the Syrian crisis.

“Ultimately, I concluded that Russia's actions are motivated by their long-standing alliance with the Assads and the desire to avoid regime change in Syria, that will likely bring a Sunni radical party to power. Russia is concerned about Syria becoming a breeding ground for Islamist insurgency, and about spillover,” Smerkovich explained.

Other presentations from Wheaton students:

• Floriane Murphy Borel ’14, from France, a major in international relations and an economics minor, discussed how membership in the European Union has impacted post-Soviet states and the effect EU expansion has had on the Kremlin’s relationship with former satellite states.

• Nicholas Cicchinelli ’14, from Albany, N.Y., a double major in international relations and Russian studies and recent Fulbright award recipient, shared his research on the issues surrounding civil liberties in modern Russian political discourse, with a focus on freedom of speech and the country’s law banning propaganda that supports “non-traditional relationships.”

• Thomas Crane ’14, a Russian studies major from Edina, Minn., presented a paper comparing the works of authors Lewis Carroll and Nikolai Gogol and examining how the themes of their work reflected their respective cultures.

• Renée LeBaron ’14, an international studies major from Brooklyn Park, Minn., discussed the identity crisis in contemporary Russia based on changing ethnicity, religion and modern ideology and the implications it has for the future of Russian society and foreign policy.

Jeanne Wilson, Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of Russian Studies, Professor of Political Science and coordinator of the International Relations program at Wheaton, is a research associate at the Davis Center and has been involved with the event since it began.

“The colloquium is a wonderful opportunity for Wheaton students to present their research in a professional setting as well as to interact with students from Harvard and Wellesley,” she said. “This year's colloquium, as always, was an intellectually stimulating and rewarding event that displayed our students engaged in their own research in a creative and engaging manner.”