When I was 4 years old the Soviet Union fell. This has influenced me a lot. My personality was formed at a time when no one knew what was going to happen the next day. I had to learn how to adapt and survive the uncertainty. There was the time in the mid-90s when my parents did not have enough money to give to me any allowance. I made my way by selling cucumbers from our garden. It may sound funny, but it taught me how to be hardworking and bring creative ideas in the process of doing work. During this period, the whole of Russia had been torn apart with doubts and double meanings. School history books had been rewritten four times while I was in middle and high school. It was quite difficult to see the truth and have faith when the information presented to you is so easily manipulated. It helped me to learn how to think critically and form my own opinions about societal things going on.
My university time has completely transformed me in the sense of being more empowered to change people’s lives for the better. In my sophomore year of college in my Russian alma mater, I became the president of the organization I created myself to empower others to do useful things for the community. I found the sponsors from universities and local foundations and collaborated with more than 10 community organizations. It was a helpful exercise in persuading people to believe in the ideas that I truly believed in. In one year, I had created a fully running organization where 100 volunteers implemented more than 15 projects for the university and the community. We were honored with our region’s “Best Youth-Led Organization” Award. Moreover, I am proud to admit that now the organization, by which I was so challenged and impassioned was chosen as volunteer preparation center for Sochi 2014 Olympic Games in Russia. This is where my interest in community organizing, non-profit management is from.
A new interest in evaluation as a part of non-profit management sparked when I was working on my Bachelor of Social Work degree, and my colleagues frequently asked me how I know that I am doing good or how helping one lonely grandmother get on welfare can make a difference. I did not have an answer at that time. I got frustrated. I even thought of changing my major to something more quantifiable like Business Administration or Statistics where you can be accountable for the results you produce by money you make or reports you write. In order to find a solution I applied to MSW program in the US and received the prestigious Fulbright award.
The Fulbright Graduate Scholarship was another great experience in my life. I was honored with an award and new captivating task at the same time. I moved to the USA as a Fulbright fellow and got my Master’s degree in Social Work with a concentration in Organizational and Community Practice at MSU. Studying in a completely new educational system, led me to many other challenges as well: coming to new country with one piece of luggage, adapting to a new culture, meeting new friends, and continuously satisfying my curiosity about the world.
After returning back home and working in the practical field, I acutely recognized the shortage of the research data in macro social work as well as the importance of the ability of non-profit agencies to make a social impact with the help of evaluation and evidence-based decisions. Therefore, I turned into the path of developing knowledge and creating strong evidence base for social programs. That’s how I chose to apply for the PhD program in my what I already can call my American alma mater.
I’ve become particularly interested in issues of child-centered evaluation. I was honored to be a recipient of College of Social Science Research Scholarship. The scholarship supports my research on the ways Russian nonprofit organizations adapt new approaches to management based on the principles of the UN Convention on the Right of the Child including, for example, children participation in decision-making, selection of program performance measurement that fits child development period and program goals to protect the best interest of a child etc. After receiving this scholarship for two summers, I am working towards conceptualization of what can constitute child-friendly nonprofit organization as it was done with child-friendly businesses, health care, criminal justice, public administration, urban design, education, legislature and media.
I am thankful for the opportunity to be a part of MSU and Schools of Social Work because it provides me a chance to use the best academic resources and great faculty expertise in developing my own research path and academic identity. The School supports my holistic development through a variety of channels and opportunities for networking, presenting my work, supplemental research funding and developing teaching skills.