Humans of Flagstaff: Masha Kostromitina

The first words that Graduate Student Government President Masha Kostromitina learned in English might surprise you. The Ph.D. student in applied linguistics, who plans to graduate in May, came to Flagstaff from her hometown of Penza, Russia, via Bonn, Germany. She talked to The NAU Review about how she came to love language, why she got into GSG and how she spends her days off. 

What brought you to NAU? 

When I was studying to get my MA in English linguistics at Bonn University, I was looking for study abroad opportunities. I came across the applied linguistics/TESL program at NAU. I didn’t know much about the field at that point, but I really appreciated the practical focus of the program on teaching English to speakers of other languages. I also recognized the names of some professors who were teaching in the program at the time. I reached out to a few of them to find out more about the program, and I was completely overwhelmed by the welcoming attitude and support I received from the NAU faculty. Little did I know, the NAU applied linguistics/TESL program was one of the best programs in the country. While it was a tough choice to move across the ocean to study at NAU, it was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. And as a bonus, I got to live in Flagstaff! 

Masha and her colleague Kevin Hirschi presenting at a conference at NAU
Masha and her colleague Kevin Hirschi presenting at a conference at NAU

Tell me about your research. 

My research centers around ways to help second-language English learners be successful in global communication. For my dissertation study, I have developed an online instructional platform that offers English learners an opportunity to practice their interaction skills, specifically their use of intonation in making requests to professors, advisors, and employers. I am hoping that the platform will be effective in helping learners improve their interactional competence. Once I defend my dissertation, I am planning to make the instructional platform available for English learners and teachers across the globe. 

Why did you decide to get involved with GSG? 

This is my third year on GSG. Back in 2020, right at the beginning of the pandemic, I took my first GSG position of the College of Arts and Letters representative. That was such a difficult time for academic communities. I wanted to make sure that the voices of graduate students at NAU were heard in the midst of uncertainty and heightened stress levels. In addition, as an international student, I wanted to ensure that this population of graduate students of NAU were well-represented in GSG.  

Tell me about a significant childhood memory and how it has impacted your life today.

Masha and her cat Ramses
Masha and her cat Ramses

One significant childhood memory that probably defined my academic career and professional path happened when I was about 6 years old. My grandma gave me a Russian-English dictionary for my birthday. It was a tiny red book that fit in my backpack pocket. When my grandma gave the dictionary to me, she asked me to translate the phrase “I love you” from Russian into English. That was probably the first time I got so enamored with the English language and just the concept of learning foreign languages overall. 

What did you want to be when you grew up? 

With my passion for foreign languages, it is probably not surprising that when I was little, I wanted to be an ambassador. I was just really excited about interacting with people from different cultures and learning from them. Later on, in middle school, I also wanted to be an interpreter. 

What have you been most proud of recently?

Masha and her husband Kyle at the top of Angels Landing in Zion National Park
Masha and her husband Kyle at the top of Angels Landing in Zion National Park

I think just making it to this point in my graduate career is something I’m extremely proud of. For the past six years, I have been working toward my Ph.D., and I am so proud that I’ve made it this far. Being a graduate student (especially a Ph.D. student) is no easy task, but I’m proud that I persisted, and now, my dissertation defense is less than two months away. I’m also proud of an article I’ve recently published with my adviser, Okim Kang, and a program alumna.  

What is your favorite way to spend a day off? 

I’ve never really thought of myself as an extremely outdoorsy person, but when you live in Flagstaff, that’s what you do. So, my favorite way to spend a day off would be hiking or camping somewhere in the Coconino National Forest. I especially enjoy going to the End of the World spot, about an hour from Flagstaff. There’s an amazing view of Sedona that opens from that spot, and I just love to visit that place to find some peace and quiet and to ground myself. 



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