In his native Russia, Andrei Kovalenko worked in a factory, packaging oxygen for medical use. Six years ago, at age 32, with his wife and two children, he immigrated into the United States, settling in Springfield, Massachusetts, where he got a job in a cable factory making wire.
To improve his language skills, Kovalenko enrolled in English as a second language at Springfield Technical Community College. He laughs now at how "brutally naive" his writings were, "really raw," but imagination and storytelling ability shone so brightly through papers he wrote that teachers urged him to think about further study.
In the back of his mind, he had always been drawn to film. The only program at STCC that even remotely touched on film was telecommunications, so he enrolled in it. Within a year he knew he wanted to pursue his passion for film and began to look around for a college with a strong program. One of his professors suggested Hampshire, located within driving distance and with a film program considered among the nation's finest.
"It was the one, you know," Kovalenko reflected. "It was a good day for me when I got the acceptance letter." He deferred his acceptance for a full year, then enrolled in Hampshire. "The college gave me money, not the whole amount, but with loans and everything I was able to enter. If it wasn't for financial aid, I wouldn't be here."
Kovalenko has had a number of good days since the one on which his Hampshire acceptance letter arrived, among them the birth of a third child and, this past December, the attainment of U.S. citizenship.
His Hampshire Division III project, an animated film titled A Word, deals with his feelings about America, the beauty he sees in its founding values and his concern about some of its current international policies.
Chris Perry, a visiting professor in computer animation who is on leave from Pixar Animation Studios, chaired Kovalenko's Division III faculty committee. "Andrei's work is so thoughtful, so precisely produced," Perry said. "He has a remarkable command of the tools and a sincere, intellectual passion for communicating his unique perspective through film.
"It amazed me when I learned he was both a full-time student and a full-time factory worker because his class projects never appeared rushed. In fact, they were frequently the most refined and carefully considered pieces in the class."
All through college, Kovalenko kept his job in the cable factory, working nights and flexible hours. Now ready to begin another new chapter, he hopes to quickly find a position in computer graphics or digital animation. He would like to direct a film someday, and said, "That doesn't seem realistic right now, but who knows?
"It seems unbelievable to be graduating," he added. "That will be a good day."
Film professor Abraham Ravett, Kovalenko's advisor and chair of his Division II, also served on his Div III committee. "His filmmaking, video, and digital animation work at Hampshire has been quite impressive, but I'm astounded by his tenacity, hard work, and drive," said Ravett. "In his mid-thirties, he learned a new language, adjusted to a totally new environment, and continues to persevere in order to achieve his career goals."