Monday, September 18, 2000

UC officials help student stay in the U.S.

Arrangement came just days before Russian painter was to return home

By Ben L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When bureaucrats decide something must be done, paper and permissions can move at warp speed.

        For Daria “Dasha” Lezina, the joyful intervention of University of Cincinnati administrators saved the young painter from an uncertain future in Russia.

        Wednesday, Ms. Lezina starts as a freshman in UC's College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning with full scholarships, a campus job and a home in Westwood.

        Two months ago, she had an expiring student visa and a ticket home.

        “It just seemed the right thing to do,” said Joan Fisher, a UC records management officer who lent her talents to Ms. Lezina's cause.

        Ms. Lezina, 18, spent the past year at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, sponsored by Dr. David and Sue Melvin of Clermont County's Miami Township, who met her in Russia during a church mission trip.

        “It was a love effort for her and her mom,” Mrs. Melvin said. “This young woman has potential and we wanted to see that potential advanced.”

        Ms. Lezina's crisis began when she decided to pursue art in college. Everywhere, she recalled Sunday, “it was a question of finding the money.”

        Maryland Institute-College of Art in Baltimore admitted her but its partial scholarship was insufficient.

        Ms. Lezina was stunned. “I was pretty sure that I would get into Maryland and get the money.” So sure that she hadn't applied to any other school.

        She prepared to return to provincial Vologda knowing her family lacked rubles to pay bribes often required to enter a top Russian art school in Moscow or St. Petersburg.

        Ms. Lezina said she planned to work a year in Vologda, which is northeast of Moscow, and apply to a Russian college to study English literature.

        That's when dominos began to fall her way.

        Two weeks before her departure date, Don Stocker, her art teacher at Cincinnati Hills, mentioned the predicament to his wife, Gail.

        Mrs. Stocker, a program coordinator at UC's McMicken College of Arts and Sciences described Ms. Lezina's predicament to Mrs. Fisher, a co-worker who previously helped international students through the admissions process.

        The Stockers also dropped a note on Mitchel Livingston, vice president for student affairs, describing Ms. Lezin a's “bleak financial situation” and “exceptional” talents as an artist and student.

        Copies of that note went to James Williams, director of enrollment services, and Connie Williams, then his assistant director and now director of student financial aid.

        Meanwhile, Mrs. Fisher told Ms. Lezina how to satisfy UC's bureaucratic and aesthetic demands.

        “It's a pretty long process but the fact that she was here made it simpler,” Mrs. Fisher said. “It was just a matter of paperwork.” That and the accumulated savvy of career administrators who were moved to intervene.

        UC saved weeks by obtaining the young woman's SAT scores by phone and Ms. Lezina took her portfolio to the college of design for the crucial interview.

        “I was not really hoping for much,” she said. “I was afraid to.” No worry. “They loved it,” she said.

        What the college's grant didn't cover, a discretionary Vincent Scholarship did.

        Ms. Lezina's advocates found her a campus job to cover other expenses and everything was in place but vital room and board.

        Without checking with her husband, Lou, or daughters Erin, Maureen, Beth and Megan, Mrs. Fisher invited Ms. Lezina home.

        Erin, 22, is a just-graduated UC nurse who has begun to move out and Mrs. Fisher laughed at the idea she might be lonely with only three daughters at home.

        “We had to stock up again,” she said of her invitation to Ms. Lezina. “Couldn't stand the peace and quiet.”

        Ms. Lezina has moved in with Maureen, 17, also a UC freshman.

        “At first, I did not realize what had happened,” Ms. Lezina re called of the magic days in June when her future began to come together. “The money. It was incredible. I couldn't comprehend it.”

        Forty-eight hours later, as she took her seat on a jet to Russia, it began to sink in; she was going to visit, not to stay.


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