Spotlight: Casey Connolly

Author: Joachim Castellano

Casey Connolly December 2013 Outstanding Foreign Language Student with her host family in Russia

December brings a general feeling of goodwill, a sense of community, and an awareness of blessings. The CSLC has been fortunate to be associated with a person whose highly accomplished, pied slate of academic achievement, extracurricular involvement, and outreach commitment has produced an outstanding student and citizen--with a very bright future. Albany, New York’s Casey Connolly, our December 2013 Spotlight, is a Notre Dame senior majoring in Russian and English and minoring in ALHN (Glynn Family Honors Program). Nominated by Dr. David Gasperetti, the Chair of the Department of German & Russian Languages & Literatures, Connolly delivers on academic achievements and eagerly participates in outreach efforts. I recently had the wonderful opportunity to get to know Connolly, our Russian language peer tutor, a little better. While we have tens of thousands visits by students, faculty members, and other guests in a typical year at the CSLC, we take notice of students like Connolly. We count our blessings.

Projects and Goals

What is your 3 to 5 year trajectory?
Next year I hope to return to Russian on a Fulbright Teaching Assistantship. I recently found out that I am a finalist for the Scholarship, and for that I owe many thanks to Notre Dame’s CUSE office. I spent most of last semester working with CUSE on the Fulbright, and they were instrumental in making sure my application was the best it could possibly be. I would definitely recommend that students interested in applying for the Fulbright take full advantage of the services CUSE has to offer, all of which can be found at

If I do not receive the Fulbright award, I plan to work for a former Notre Dame graduate as an English language instructor in St. Petersburg for a year or two. After this, I hope to return to the U.S. to attend law school.

What are your current projects?
I am writing two senior theses; one for English, and one for Russian. My English thesis examines Book III of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels in terms of both the satirical structure of the novel as a whole and of the Book’s internal unity. For my Russian thesis, I am translating two short stories and the introduction from Jakov Butkov’s Petersburg Summits. Butkov is a 19th-century Russian author whose works have never been translated into English. My translations will be accompanied by an article of introduction explaining the literary context and relevance of Butkov.

Foreign Language Experience

Casey at Neva River in St. Petersburg

Which foreign languages do you know and/or study? And, why?
Russian and Latin. My junior high school had a unique language program, wherein we could choose one of four languages to study: French, Spanish, Russian, and German. You would then study this language for one semester; for the second semester, you were assigned a random language. I choose French and was randomly assigned Russian. I fell in love with Russian and continued to study it throughout high school, where I also picked up three years of Latin. By the time I entered Notre Dame, I could not imagine life without Russian, and so I declared it as my major.

What has been your favorite part of learning a language at Notre Dame?
The Russian department at Notre Dame is small, so it is extremely close-knit. This has been great for my language-learning endeavors, because the professors really make an effort to be involved in my academic experience beyond the classroom-- such as encouraging me to join the Russian chorus, or opening their homes to students as a place to come together and discuss our mutual interest in Russian language and culture!

What has been your favorite language class and why?
I really enjoyed Professor Peeney’s Models of Exile course-- a literature course, taught in Russian, which examines themes of exile in Russian poetry from the 18th to the 20th centuries. It was extremely interesting, because previously I had only ever read Russian prose, and poetry presented a new perspective on Russian literature.

How do (or have) you use your language--here or abroad?
I used Russian extensively (almost exclusively) abroad--I studied in St. Petersburg during the fall semester of my junior year (2012), and neither my host family nor my university professors spoke any English. In the U.S., I have only used Russian in academic settings thus far.

What advice would you give to anyone learning a language?
Practice speaking as often as you can--and with a native speaker, if possible! I learned more about the Russian language in my four months abroad than I have in eight years of domestic study.

Smolny Cathedral in St. Petersburg with ACTR

International Experience

You mentioned St. Petersburg. Tell me more about living and studying abroad?
Yes, I lived in St. Petersburg, Russia during the fall semester of my junior year (4 months). I studied at the Russian State Pedagogical University at Herzen in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Describe the study abroad program.
I studied in St. Petersburg in the ACTR (American Council of Teachers of Russian) semester program. There were about 20 other students in the program--all from different universities around the U.S. Each of us was placed with a host family somewhere in the city; I lived with a grandmother in her 70’s, her daughter (a single working mother in her 30’s), and her 8 year-old granddaughter. We attended the University at Herzen in the center of the city; we were in small classes taught exclusively in Russian by Russian professors. We attended class 4 days a week, with the other day being reserved for a “cultural excursion,” such as a trip to a museum or a boat tour of the city canals.

What has been your most memorable or impactful experience regarding other cultures?
I think living with a host family in St. Petersburg was the most culturally influential experience for me; it really exposed to me a side of Russia I had never really thought about before. Divorce rates and poverty are both extremely pervasive in Russia right now, as I learned firsthand. Although my host family wasn’t poor, my host mother had to work very hard to support her mother and daughter, and observing her/the entire family’s efforts to make ends meet had a profound effect on me. It really made me better appreciate the opportunities made possible for me by my own parents.

University Experience

Talk about any mentors you've had at Notre Dame. Who are they and how have they encouraged and inspired you?
Professor David Gasperetti of the Russian department has been an excellent mentor since I first took his Intermediate Russian course in the fall of my sophomore year. He has always made himself available to meet with me at length to discuss academic interests, and has constantly encouraged me to pursue these interests. He oversaw a translation research project that I undertook during the Summer of 2012, and had a major hand in helping me determine a focus for my senior thesis. He is now my senior thesis advisor and has served as my primary recommender for various award and scholarship applications. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him!

Casey as a coxswain with ND rowing team

What clubs or activities do you participate in at ND?

  • Literacy Awareness Club of Notre Dame August 2010 - present
    President, August 2013 - present; Vice-President, January - May 2013
  • Notre Dame Pre-Law Society August 2010 - present
    Secretary, August 2013 - present
    As secretary, was responsible for all correspondence relating to the Society; compiled a newsletter to distribute to all paid and registered members of the Society.
  • Notre Dame Men’s Rowing Club December 2011 - March 2013 Varsity Coxswain
    Compete year-round; was chosen as top novice coxswain freshman year; coxed second varsity boat to a fourth place finish at ACRA National Championship Regatta sophomore year.

You're quite involved. How about any grants or awards.

  • Thomas Scholarship (2013--annual award distributed by the Russian department for academic excellence)
  • Dean’s List (Spring/Fall 2011, Spring/Fall 2012, Spring 2013)
  • Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society (Spring 2013 - present)
  • Glynn Family Honors Program Summer Research Grant Recipient (Summer 2012)
  • Honorable Mention--National Russian Essay Contest (Spring 2012)
  • Summer Service Learning Program Scholarship Recipient (Summer 2011)

Have you done any internships? Can you talk about them?
During the summer of 2013, I interned as a Youth Development Associate/Research Intern at the Family & Children’s Center in South Bend, Indiana. As Youth Development Associate intern, I worked primarily with the Boys & Girls Club Branch Director to plan, implement and evaluate activities for the Club’s summer program. I worked with children ages 5-16 from a variety of socioeconomic levels. I also participated in staff meetings and training. As a part-time Research Assistant for the Family & Children’s Center, I conducted research under the supervision of Caitlin Worm, the head of Marketing & Development at the Family & Children’s Center, on the viability of a Fatherhood Program in St. Joseph County. The Fatherhood Program is an initiative begun by local prosecutors in collaboration with the Family & Children’s Center and members of the law school faculty at the University of Notre Dame. The ultimate goal of the program is to encourage estranged fathers to pay child support and take a more active role in family life. The program is still in its very early planning stages, so as Research Assistant I collected and organized extensive data on similar programs in other counties. I was also able to shadow an attorney from the local prosecutor’s office and observe paternity and custodial disputes in court, which helped me find define problem areas on which to focus in my research. This experience also gave me greater insight into the possible living conditions of some of the children that I was working with at the Boys & Girls Club.

Community Engagement


Tell me about your involvement with the community--volunteerism & service, advocacy...
Through the Literacy Awareness ND Club, I have sought to foster literacy and love of reading in underperforming schools by volunteering with South Bend Boys & Girls Club, Robinson Community Learning Center and St. Joseph County Public Library. As vice-president of the club, I became club liaison for off-campus service programs and helped make executive decisions regarding club activities and budget. In my short term as president of the club, I have been working with ND’s Educlub to establish a joint pen-pal program writing to 4th and 5th-grade students in Bangladesh.

During the summer of 2011, I received an SSLP grant, which I used to study how the law affects troubled adolescents and children with special needs and/or mental health problems in full-time internship under Hon. W. Dennis Duggan (New York State Family Court, Albany County); I observed social welfare programs from an administrative side; worked directly with youth receiving treatment at various agencies; and completed a capstone paper incorporating experience with research on Catholic social tradition.

You're an all-around role model--and you obviously don't sleep much. Is there anything you do that's just for you or that you would like others to know?
I have loved to cook from an early age. When I was in Russia, I would often help my host grandmother prepare traditional Russian foods such as borscht, pelmeni, and blini. In turn, I taught her how to prepare some American foods, such as pizza, apple pie, and brownies. It was a great way to learn more about each others’ respective cultures!

Connolly is exceptional. We know that. Here is what Dr. David Gasperetti has to say about her:

Casey is one of our most accomplished majors. She started studying Russian in junior high school, and has excelled in our program to the point that the Russian faculty has already awarded her one of our two most prestigious honors for outstanding accomplishment in the major: The Thomas Scholarship. Casey studied abroad in St. Petersburg for a semester, has been active promoting literacy and a love of reading in St. Joseph County (often working with underprivileged children), and has been extremely efficient in making the most of her time with us. Casey is writing an honors thesis with me this year on a minor but important writer of prose fiction in mid-nineteenth-century Russia and has applied for a Fulbright ETA to Russia. In addition, in the summer between her sophomore and junior years, Casey came to me with a plan for an independent study to work on Vladimir Nabokov's Russian translation of Alice in Wonderland as a way of preparing for her senior thesis. In short, Casey is not only intelligent and hardworking but also quite self-motivated.