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The Slavist

  By Beth DeBoom
Photos by Lisa Hazlett
 

 

Lynne Ikach
Russian Professor Lynne Ikach chose
Cornell for its strong focus on teaching undergraduates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was in the early '90s that the ardent love affair with Russian studies became a fickle front on college campuses. The Soviet empire, once a seductive land of job opportunities, was in transition and tumult. Student affections—and aspirations—
switched en masse to the next big things—Korea, China, Arabic language.

Russia’s fall from student grace hit nationwide and at Cornell.

“The country was falling apart. The thrill was gone,” explained Lynne Ikach, associate professor of Russian at Cornell, who came to the Hilltop in 1992.

Ikach, whose heart has never wavered in its adoration for Russia, set about rebuilding the Russian division of the languages department, of which she is the head, and the only, professor.

Among her changes, a move that had marketing undertones: Ikach moved Russian 101 (“Beginning Russian”) from early in the year to Block 6–to give herself time to advertise, and students time to generate buzz. She also revived “Introduction to Russian Culture,” which had not been offered for a number of years, redesigning it as a course to fulfill the writing requirement. Then she packed it with high points: trends, films, art, music, the Romanov Dynasty, Ivan the Terrible, and literature, reaching into the rich past of Russia and connecting historic threads to what happens today.

Five years ago Ikach responded to student requests for Russian material other than literary works and created a course called “Readings from Contemporary Life.” Ikach pulled material from the Internet and debuted the course with articles about the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle and the Microsoft trial, along with daily news blurbs from the BBC Russian Service. From these pieces students learned vocabulary and advanced grammatical forms.

Ikach has been enamored with Russian culture since high school, when she took an elective course in which she read works such as Dr. Zhivago and Nicholai Gogol’s Dead Souls.

“When I read those I thought, ‘Wow, these are amazing.’ ” The books spoke to her, she said, adding sheepishly, “Corny, yes, I know.”

In college at Grand Valley State Colleges (now Grand Valley State University) in Allendale, Mich., she toyed with a theater major until a good teacher in her honors freshman literature course inspired Ikach with more Russian works.

It was the late ’70s and early ’80s, and back then Ikach aspired to the only job opportunities that seemed available for her major. She could be a college professor, but pictured herself as a government analyst. Academia, in the end, proved the greater pull.

She graduated magna cum laude from Grand Valley in 1982 and earned her master’s in 1985 and doctorate in 1997 in Slavic languages and literature from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

At home she is mother of Mark, age 8, and wife of Chris Coretsopoulos, a physical chemist at the University of Iowa. She cooks vegetarian and grows herbs. Chris and Mark tinker with high-tech toys. Ikach counts 40 microscopes in her home, with lasers in the basement.

At her home away from home, Ikach feels she’s found a fitting place to land, a college where teaching is the primary focus. “I love being here. It feels like the right place for me,” Ikach said.

 

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