Natalya Timoshkina

“I wanted to work more closely with women. I felt like I needed a solid theoretical education on women’s issues.”
Natalya Timoshkina
Natalya Timoshkina

Natalya Timoshkina arrived in Ann Arbor in late August 1994 after a long journey from Moscow, Russia. She was in town for a fellowship for mid-career journalists, but her life would soon take a different direction. “It was a point in my life where I felt at a crossroads,” she remembers. “I wanted to work more closely with women. I felt like I needed a solid theoretical education on women’s issues.” In the Soviet Union, however, the path to such a career was uncertain: women’s studies and social work did not yet exist as professions in Russia. Natalya soon began to dream of changing that.

“I was literally walking down Liberty Street in October 1994 when I saw the sign, ‘Center for the Education of Women,’ and I thought, ‘Wow! This is interesting,’” Natalya recalls. “I walked into the cozy, comforting warmth of the Center – and my life changed forever. As I looked through the CEW materials and talked to the staff, and learned about the many programs and services offered by the Center, ideas were crystallizing in my head. ‘This is what I want to do with my life,’ I thought. ‘This is exactly the kind of work I want to be involved in.’” The CEW staff pointed Natalya toward the School of Social Work, to which she soon returned as a student in the Master of Social Work degree program.

As an international student, Natalya faced considerable challenges, especially financial ones. During her first semester at the University of Michigan, the private company that had agreed to sponsor her studies went bankrupt, and Natalya lost her funding. “I basically scrambled,” she recalls, “and got some jobs. There were literally moments when I did not know what I was going to eat, how I was going to make the rent.” CEW supported Natalya with critical difference grants, including the CEW Helen Huff Shell Scholarship. “CEW was always there for me, saving me,” she remembers.

Natalya has gone on to great success. She graduated with a PhD in Social Work and Women’s Studies from the University of Toronto in 2008. She is now a tenured Associate Professor at the School of Social Work, Lakehead University Orillia in Ontario, Canada, and looks forward to the professional development opportunities she will experience. “I honestly don’t think I would be where I am today had it not been for CEW,” she says.

In the past decade, women’s centers and social work have sprung up in the former Soviet Union, fulfilling the need Natalya perceived in 1994. Her new focus is on studying the non-hierarchical organizational structures pioneered by the women’s movement in the 1970s. “I’m so happy that CEW is still there, still helping women and still doing its wonderful work,” she says warmly.