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By MIKE McINALLY
Take a close look at Anastasiya Korovskaya’s resume, already impressive for a woman of 25.
The resume includes fundraising for orphanages in her native Ukraine, and stints volunteering at an elementary school and a children’s hospital in Portland, where her family settled when she was 5. She’s worked as an intern in the office of a United States senator and as an executive assistant at the Boys and Girls Club in Portland.
She’ll add another line to the resume this spring when she graduates from Oregon State University with a degree in political science. Her next stop is Washington, D.C., where she’s finished an internship at the American Enterprise Institute and debating between graduate programs in security studies at Johns Hopkins University or Georgetown.
The resume suggests a young woman with a world of interests: As a political science student at OSU, she’s tracked legislative bills on education. Before she started at OSU, she learned, from the ground up, about nonprofit organizations and the work that they do. And she’s tracked international relations – which hit home for her in a powerful way in February, when Russian forces invaded Ukraine.
So it’s understandable that she feels pulled now toward pursuing some sort of career in international relations, perhaps with the federal government or a nonprofit think tank. Her graduate studies will help with that goal. But her resume suggests that other interests eventually also might come into play.
People who have worked with her over the years think anything is possible in Korovskaya’s story.
“She’s a very intelligent young lady,” said Lloyd Tolle, a retired Portland executive with decades of nonprofit experience, who served as a mentor to Korovskaya.
And Andrew Edwards, her academic adviser at OSU, sees a bright future as well: “She’s trying to get into things that really can make that change rather than just seeing a problem and feeling bad about it.”
Added Tolle: “She’s fulfilling the American dream, as it should be.”
And, just like so many stories about the American dream, it starts overseas.
Korovskaya was born and spent her first few years in Chernivsti, a small town in western Ukraine. Her father, Aurel, sold cars. Her mother, Tatyana, worked as a nurse. But an uncle had immigrated to Portland beforehand, and he invited Korovskaya’s family to follow suit.
So in 2000, Korovskaya, then 5 years old, and her family moved to Portland. She started school at Alder Elementary in Portland, “not knowing much English, obviously.” Because her parents worked during the day, she spent after-school hours with her cousins. Ironically, that involved a language issue as well: Because her cousins hailed from a different Ukrainian town, one on the border with Romania, her cousins only spoke Romanian. “When I went over to their house to be watched, none of them understood me. So I actually picked up the Romanian language being around them and still now and then speak it with my dad.”
Beginning in third grade, she started attending a private school, Portland Christian Academy. But the weekends were reserved for additional schooling at the Ukrainian School of Knowledge. “We’d have Ukrainian textbooks, we’d have writing class,” Korovskaya said. “We’d have to memorize poems. We had math class in Ukrainian. We had a music class so we would sing songs in Ukrainian. … It was great.”
The family frequently returned to Ukraine during the summers, and Korovskaya has vivid memories of those excursions – two to three-month trips in locations with no internet, dubious roads, milk provided by the neighbor’s cow. “It was a really fun childhood,” she said, and she’s not being ironic.
Her relatives also volunteered on behalf of the area’s orphanages, and on those summer trips, Korovskaya became increasingly aware of the horrific conditions there. She said that even the small town where she was born has more than a dozen orphanages, and conditions in them often are bleak. “Some of these kids sleep on iron-rung beds, they do manual labor,” she said. The facilities don’t have enough staff. Children in them don’t get much education.
Years after those summer trips, Korovskaya took it upon herself to build on the work her parents did on behalf of those orphanages. Drawing on the business knowledge that she had picked up in classes at the University of Portland, she launched her own nonprofit organization, Good Heart, in 2016.
The charity raised money for various projects at Ukrainian orphanages. “We have a pretty strong community of folks here who immigrated from Ukraine, and they also pitch in with a hundred dollars or so, and the next thing you know, we’re able to provide (the orphanages) what they need,” she said. Goodheart Charity raised money for an oven at one orphanage. The organization raised money to buy real beds, with mattress pads, at another orphanage.
She’s proud of that work. But she eventually turned over Good Heart to a cousin, and the nonprofit has since dissolved. She started looking for ways to help out around the Portland area. But that’s getting a little bit ahead of the story.
Here’s something you might notice about Korovskaya as you talk with her: She’s not afraid to ask questions.
In the course of a pair of interviews for this story, Korovskaya, a 25-year-old political science major at Oregon State University, frequently turned the table on an interviewer to ask questions: What’s the best course for education reform? What’s the best way to inoculate Americans against misinformation? And it’s not just a way of making small talk or deftly deflecting another question: She really wants to know what you think.
After Korovskaya graduated from high school, she started taking finance classes at the University of Portland. After a year and a half, she started asking herself some tough questions: “I didn’t see myself using that degree,” she said – at least not in the light of what she wanted to do with her life. “I had a really good scholarship going there, and I kind of left it all. … You’ve got to find your passion, right?”
So she started volunteering around Portland: At an elementary school. At Randall Children’s Hospital.
One day, she was driving by Alder Elementary School and noticed a new facility in the area. As it turned out, the new structure was the CareOregon Boys & Girls Club – and, coincidentally, it was right across the street from the apartments where her family had lived for their first five years in Portland. She applied for a job at the club and landed it – and this product of private schools got a firsthand look at the challenges facing children in the United States. “Not that I lived under a rock, but I was like, ‘OK, this is the harsh reality, and this is in America and this should not be the case. Kids should have food every day. Kids should have good-quality education.’”
She worked her way up through the Boys & Girls Clubs of Portland Metropolitan Area and eventually started working at its headquarters. She was assigned to provide administrative support to a committee on which Tolle, the longtime nonprofit executive, was serving.
And that’s when Tolle started noticing the young woman with questions.
After meetings, Korovskaya would pepper Tolle with questions about nonprofit management and governance: Why was something done in a particular way? Was there another way?
“It was just interesting the questions she would come up with and our conversations afterward,” Tolle said.
The conversations led to Tolle serving as a mentor to Korovskaya – and the more he learned about his mentee, the more impressed he was. “The more I’d ask, the more I’d find out.”
“Lordy, for a woman of that age,” he marveled. “Holy cow, I never did that at that age.”
The job at the Boys & Girls Club fizzled out during the coronavirus pandemic. But Tolle and Korovskaya kept meeting occasionally for coffee, and he encouraged her to go back to college.
“You’ve got to get the education,” Tolle said. “You’ve got to go show that you can go accomplish something. And you’ve got to be able to get the experience to do it. And then you’ve got to get the exposure. She was actually doing it in reverse order.”
Korovskaya reapplied to the University of Portland and was accepted. But her heart wasn’t in finance anymore – she was pulled in the direction of public policy and political science.
Tolle wasn’t surprised: “I think the political science aspect of her interests, it was always number one, even though she may not have admitted it to herself. It was pretty clear in her conversations and discussions with me.”
She did a Google search for best online colleges and universities and found that Oregon State rated highly. She first enrolled at OSU as a finance major because she didn’t want to lose the credits she had earned at the University of Portland.
But the switch to politics already was in motion: At about the same time, she started an internship with U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, working on issues such as economics and banking, climate and energy, and foreign policy.
Shortly thereafter, she changed her major at OSU.
Edwards, her adviser at OSU, spends plenty of time talking to students who are changing their majors about the reasons driving the change. He said Korovskaya’s switch was logical: “Given what she was interested in, it just made a lot of sense. … If you’re interested in making political or policy changes, political science is a good fit for that.”
And Korovskaya found that the online nature of her OSU classes expanded her horizons: “A lot of the students in the online classes, they’re from different parts of the world. There are kids taking these classes in China, or South America or wherever.” And they all get a chance to share thoughts about issues in a safe environment – “another opportunity to get a global perspective or to diversify your perspective on an issue,” she said.
And a global issue that grabbed the world’s attention – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – also has fueled her desire to work in the international arena.
Her reaction to the invasion? “Disbelief, honestly,” she said. “I think it was a big shock for the people actually on the ground.” She is trying to keep tabs on the situation through Telegram and various open-source channels, which feature content – sometimes graphic content – that doesn’t always get shown in mainstream media. “It definitely gives you a sense of scale for how dramatically things are being destroyed. It’s very heartbreaking because I know it will take a very long time for the country to rebuild itself.”
The invasion did solidify her desire to focus, at least for the time being, on international relations. Maybe she can be a voice to help unify trans-Atlantic partnerships. Perhaps her security studies will open other possibilities. For now, her interest in education and children’s issues will have to take a back seat: “The children’s aspect is something that I’ll always be involved with and will volunteer in various capacities,” she said. “But I don’t see that as being my professional career path moving forward.”
However it plays out, people who have worked with her along the way have no doubt that Korovskaya will succeed.
“She’s a talented young lady and the future is unlimited for her,” Tolle said. “Her dilemma will be she will get frustrated because it doesn’t happen fast enough. That will be her frustration. We talked about that at length. … Just be patient, my friend. Be patient.”
Added Edwards, her OSU adviser: “I was about to say I think she’ll go into politics in some way, and I think she can, but she could throw a curveball at me and just end up in something completely different. But I know it’ll be something that’s going to create a change.”