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Why Michigan?

For over 50 years, the University of Michigan has been training Russian, East European, and Eurasian specialists.

Many alumni from CREES and other degree programs have gone on to have distinguished academic careers; 10 have directed area studies centers at major U.S. universities. CREES-affiliated University of Michigan alumni have also pursued careers in the following fields:

  • Government - CIA; Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State Departments; NSC; NSF; U.S. Army; U.S. Forest Service
  • Non-profit sector - American Councils for International Education, CIEE, Human Rights Watch, IREX, Kennan Institute, NDI, Open Society Institute, Oxfam
  • For-profit sector - Citigroup, GM, Merrill Lynch
  • International organizations - EBRD, OSCE, United Nations, World Bank

Are you curious about the career possibilities that a degree in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies from the University of Michigan provides? Here are examples of what a few alumni have done since leaving U-M, including insights for current and prospective students on what to do with a REES degree.

Mike MacQueen (photo:

How can your Michigan REES M.A. degree be useful?

Here's Mike MacQueen's answer: "The broad exposure to East European culture, politics, economics and history in my REES M.A. program provided a solid foundation for my past work focusing on the investigation of WWII crimes in Poland, Belarus and the Baltic States. I am still drawing on this now as I investigate crimes committed during the wars in the former Yugoslavia. Moreover, over the course of my career, I have relied on connections and contacts made during my REES studies. When making a recent hiring decision, I’ve also have had the satisfaction of knowing that the candidate with a Michigan REES background was someone with a solid and sound background."

Mike MacQueen (M.A. REES '83) used his language and area studies training during his 20+ years at the Department of Justice, most recently serving as chief of investigative research in the Office of Special of Special Investigations. In 2008, he moved to Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the Department of Homeland Security, where he continues to work on Balkan cases. Read more about Mike's work in The New York Times and Newsweek.

Jill Dougherty (BA Slavic Languages and Literatures '70) began working at CNN in 1983, where she was a foreign affairs correspondent and Moscow Bureau Chief from 1997-2005. After leaving the network in 2013, she has been a fellow at Harvard and the Kennan Institute.

Dougherty delivered the keynote lecture, "Found in Translation: My Life, Thanks to Michigan," during the International Institute Bicentennial Symposium in March 2017. Watch the full video here, or see below for her reasons for choosing to study Russian at Michigan.

Alexandra Jason (MA REES ’16) applies her REES skills at the Ukrainian Emerging Leaders Program, Stanford University

After earning my REES MA at the University of Michigan through the Concurrent Undergraduate/Graduate Studies Program, I now run the Ukrainian Emerging Leaders Program at the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford University. This program invites three mid-level practitioners from Ukraine to study democratic development and institution-building at one of the best universities in the U.S. The hope of the program is that alumni will return to Ukraine and implement a project that will have positive effects on Ukraine’s democracy and perhaps the region. So far our alumni have been elected to the Ukrainian Parliament, conducted public administration reform, and played an instrumental role in campaigning for political prisoners in Russia. In my role, I have often drawn upon my Ukrainian-language proficiency, which I acquired through Michigan’s stellar language program, and the professional skills and connections I made while completing a CREES-supported internship in summer 2016.

One of the best parts of working with this program is getting to see what our alumni are implementing on the ground. In Fall 2019 I traveled to Kyiv to support a parliamentary training program for newly-elected Members of Parliament (MPs) developed by two of our alumni—Ivan Prymachenko, an expert in the education sphere, and Oleksandra Ustinova, an anti-corruption activist turned MP. With over half of Ukraine's parliament being elected for the first time, the idea was to create a training on best practices in democratic development and the rule of law for them. The training included 40 MPs from Sluha Narodu, Holos, and Batkyvshchyna. Due to the success of the program, we are planning to return to Kyiv in May 2020 to implement a similar training. It has been a great pleasure and honor to have the chance to meet the activists and practitioners I have gotten to know through this program, and to support their work.

Eoin Power (MA REES ’15) on the various ways the REES MA has helped him in the private sector

Working as a strategy consultant in the aerospace and defense sector, I don't always have a reason to use the region-specific knowledge I acquired with CREES (though the exposure to Polish politics I got from the program has been extremely useful while helping explain the dynamics of Polish defense procurement to clients), but I use the higher level skills it helped me develop on a regular basis. The fieldwork I did for my thesis work taught me how to be comfortable meeting with government officials, and the process of writing my thesis taught me how to organize and make sense of a lot of information in a short period of time. I don't currently work in or on the region, but I can't imagine having not done the REES MA.

Joy Ziegeweid (Certificate REES ’06, MUP Urban Planning ’06) puts her Russian language skills to use in urban planning and law

I earned a BA in Russian and East European area studies from Macalester College in 2001. At Michigan, I pursued a Master’s degree in urban planning concurrently with my certificate in Russian and East European studies. I wrote my urban planning master’s thesis on the introduction of public-private partnerships to the municipal water sector in Russia. The intensive, high-level language classes I took ensured that I could conduct much of my thesis research in Russian, and CREES faculty were instrumental in helping me develop and write an interdisciplinary thesis. After graduation, I won an Alfa Fellowship for early-career professionals and spent three years in Moscow working at the Moscow office of British consulting firm Mott MacDonald, where I worked with teams advising clients on a variety of infrastructure projects. I was often an important cultural link between my Western and Russian colleagues, and my Russian-language skills were invaluable.

While in Moscow, I also volunteered with the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy, screening asylum seekers for referral to the U.S. Embassy. This experience sparked my interest in humanitarian law, and in 2009, I returned to the United States to study law at Columbia Law School. I graduated in 2012 and won a Skadden Fellowship, a two-year public interest fellowship that allows recent law graduates to implement a project to provide legal services to under-served communities. During my fellowship, I worked at Sanctuary for Families, a nonprofit in New York, where I represented Russian-speaking immigrant victims of domestic violence and trafficking and conducted extensive outreach to the large Russian-speaking immigrant community in the New York metropolitan area. I am currently the supervising immigration attorney at the Domestic Violence Project of the Urban Justice Center. I continue to represent Russian-speaking clients and work closely with other service providers in New York to ensure that Russian-speaking immigrants are connected to legal and social services.

Edwin Paxson (MA REES ’93, JD Law ’92) on using Russian Studies after graduation

Edwin Paxson received a dual graduate degree in Law and Russian and East European Studies from the University of Michigan in 1993. He gave a CREES Noon Lecture on April 4, 2012 titled, "Beyond the Tower: What Happens When Your Grad School Application Essay Comes True." To hear his reflection on the trajectory of a Michigan grad over the last 25 years, as experienced through a Russian studies major and subsequent legal career, watch the video.

Edwin Paxson earned baccalaureate degrees in mathematics and Russian civilization at the University of California, Los Angeles. At the University of Michigan, he pursued an M.A. in Russian and East European Studies concurrently with a J.D. degree, and also served as articles editor for the Michigan Journal of International Law. Upon graduation, he relocated to Russia, first joining the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative as they worked on the implementation of new Russian bankruptcy law. Paxson then became a consultant for the International Finance Corporation, overseeing legal aspects of IFC's land reform program in six provinces of Russia. He then spent seven years with Davis Polk & Wardwell, a premier international law firm. In 2003, he returned to the International Finance Corporation, where he currently serves as Global Lead Counsel for Manufacturing and Chemicals.

Martha Loerke (MA REES ’90) offers career advice for area studies students

Martha Loerke (MA REES '90), director of Scholarship Programs at the Open Society Institute/Soros Foundations, came to Ann Arbor to share her insights on career opportunities.

Her own career has included work as program coordinator for Senior Fulbright Fellowships at the Council for International Exchange of Scholars and as program manager for Muskie/Freedom Support Act Graduate Fellowships at the Institute for International Education. In 1994, she became deputy director of Network Scholarship Programs at the Open Society Institute/Soros Foundations; in 1995, she was appointed director of this OSI department. In this position, Martha oversees OSI programs offering 800 humanities and social science scholarships annually in over 30 countries via open, merit-based competitions. She directs offices in New York and London, and coordinates global program administration with 30 local partners. Although she focused primarily on countries of the former Soviet Union during her career with CIES, IIE, Fulbright, and the Open Society Institute, her work is currently expanding to include Burma, Cambodia, and Laos; as well as Palestine, Turkey, and Afghanistan. She is also starting to look at climate change fellowships for Sub-Saharan Africa.

Listen to her CREES Brown Bag lecture (February 4, 2009) on "Career Paths and Opportunities for Students Specializing in Area Studies" audio

Stephanie DeGroote (BA REES ’85) talks about journalism career in Moscow

Following completion of her BA in REES, Stephanie DeGroote traveled to Moscow, where she worked as a free-lance journalist and with ABC News and witnessed the final years and break up of the Soviet Union. 

Currently a producer with Sky News in London, she returned to the University of Michigan this year as a 2008-09 Knight-Wallace Fellow. During her visit, she gave a CREES Brown Bag lecture on January 14, 2009.

Listen to her lecture, "Fear and Loathing in Moscow: Covering 11 Time Zones and 15 Republics during Times of Great Change, 1989-1995" audio

Visit our Alumni pages to read more about what students who completed REES or related degrees at the University of Michigan have done since graduation.