Natalya Shatskikh from Russia feels at home every time she sees the towering metal red dragon that Scott Oldfield ’06 sculpted to greet sports fans outside the SUNY Cortland Stadium complex.
That’s because a sprawling park near his hometown of Lipetsk, a city of half a million people about 250 miles southeast of Moscow, features a massive fire-breathing, brassy, three heads of the mythical SUNY Cortland mascot dragon.
“It comes from old folk tales, the three-headed dragon,” said Shatskikh of Dryden, NY, one of SUNY Cortland’s nearly 225 non-traditional students, of his dueling ties across the world. “I know sometimes you think that in life things are somehow connected.”
The Child and Early Childhood Education major is the daughter of a teacher many of whose family members are college educated. She was 20 and enrolled in a teacher training program in English and French at Lipetsk State Pedagogical University 16 years ago when she left Russia for a summer program of cultural immersion in New Jersey. She never left.
“I really like being in America, the whole environment, being independent, making money,” Shatskikh said. “I had a friend from my hometown who took me under her wing in Ocean City, NJ, and I became a waitress.”
After numerous part-time jobs, moves and two failed marriages, she now lives in central New York, where she, her boyfriend and friends can help raise her daughter, Milana, a third-grader. Shatskikh has joint custody with her estranged second husband while their divorce continues.
She worked full-time for five years at the Cornell Childcare Center and continues to fill in while preparing to become a certified teacher.
“At the Cornell Child Care Center, I learned the specifics of American education, like paying attention to the individual needs of children,” Shatskikh said. “And having a child has helped me understand behavioral patterns and developmental stages.
“I felt ready to grow up, work in a public school and earn more money.”
She completes her student education in the fall of 2023 and graduates in December.
Since starting here last fall, Shatskikh has played piano, guitar, Native American flute or ukulele in class, using her musical talent to engage classmates as she leads demonstrations of teaching as part of a course assignment LIT 371.
“Other peers could learn from my example how to integrate music and instruments to explain the concept of phonemic awareness,” she said. “And the Native American flute was my initiative to create an atmosphere in the classroom for everyone.”
Shatskikh made the President’s List and is currently Treasurer of the Non-Traditional Student Organization (NTSO). His studies are supported by the Eda J. Kronman Fellowship for Non-Traditional Students and two stipends for future educators, the Angela Pace Fellowship and the Spina-Friedgen ’71 Fellowship. She recently attended a leadership retreat in Raquette Lake sponsored by the SUNY Cortland Alumni Association.
Now her biggest struggle is being nearly the only Russian-born student on campus and a magnet for her questions about the country’s war in Ukraine.
“The whole world is on Ukraine’s side and Russia is the aggressor,” said Shatskikh, who became a US citizen three years ago. “My whole family is still in Russia, so I’m conflicted. There is my Russian side, my American side.
“I wanted to hide that part of me that’s Russian,” said Shatskikh, who looks like a typical non-traditional American college student until she speaks Russian-accented English. “It’s bad for your sanity to hide who you are.”
Then a COR 101 program introduced her to a celebration of multicultural living and diversity, which led her to open up to the world with her talk on “The Strength of Diversity and the Sense of Belonging”. at the university’s diversity conference on November 5.
“I kind of have this understanding, this appreciation, for me, for my side of the story,” Shatskikh said. “The more I talk about it, the less power it has over me.
“I am validated. I am heard. I am seen and I am valued. In the end, you have to give yourself permission. You belong. After all the struggles, SUNY Cortland will support you even if there is all the struggles in the world. There will be conversations, people who are open to different perspectives.
“I don’t want there to be a single story about what Russians are like,” Shatskikh said. “This girl came from Russia so there is good in her, some hope for world peace.”
The university defines its non-traditional students as undergraduates aged 24 or older or, regardless of age, who may have dependent children, work full-time, have military experience or have interrupted their studies at one point. after high school.
The university will recognize these individuals from Monday, November 14 through Friday, November 18, during the celebration of Non-Traditional Student Week.
Stories of outstanding non-traditional students will be shared during the week. The week also includes a host of special activities, both on campus and virtually.