When Allie Kazantseva-Hinson sets her mind to something there is little question that she will accomplish whatever goal she has set for herself.
Her hard work, determination and grit have led her on a journey that began more than three decades ago in her homeland of Russia and led her to the completion of one of her biggest life goals yet — becoming a United States citizen.
Last month, Allie Kazantseva-Hinson, a Lipscomb alumna and adjunct professor in both the College of Professional Studies and College of Education, did just that. She successfully completed the requirements for naturalization — including a reading and writing test, a civics exam and an interview — and took an Oath of Allegiance to the United States in a ceremony in the Estes Kefauver Federal Building and United States Courthouse Complex in Nashville on Jan. 19.
“My journey could not be done without people that God sent me on the way,” she said. “I am very thankful and grateful to have key people in my life who helped me in the journey in my education, in my life and of course in citizenship.”
Kazantseva-Hinson said she “fell in love with this country” nearly 15 years ago when she came to the U.S. as part of a summer travel study opportunity. But her desire to live in an English-speaking nation began years before that when she was a young girl.
The only child of Anatoly and Firuza Kazantsevi, Kazantseva-Hinson moved around a lot as a child as her father was a colonel in the Soviet Union and Russian Army, for which he drove a tank and was in charge of ammunition. The family lived in “about ten different places,” including the Czech Republic, near the border of Afghanistan, in Moscow, on a military base and the city of Ufa in the Ural Mountains among others. In each place, she attended a new school.
“Every time I moved to a new place, I had to prove myself to the people around me that I am smart, I am talented, I am a good friend and I am a good person. That experience has built a foundation for where I am right now.”
“Getting acquainted in a new place, getting myself comfortable with new people got easier and easier for me,” she said. “Therefore, when I came to the U.S., I had to go through this again, but I was used to getting to know new people in new places.”
Kazantseva-Hinson loves to learn, and she loves to set and accomplish goals. She began studying English in the second grade.
“My motto is to set a goal and to go for it,” she shared. “Every year I would set a goal for myself. I set a goal for myself to get all A’s, and I ended up getting all straight A’s. I graduated with a golden medal symbolizing all straight A’s.”
She also set a goal of one day teaching English and to visit a country where English is spoken. She said she dreamed of one day visiting the United Kingdom or the United States.
“I dreamed about it. I saw myself living here even in my school years,” she recalled.
So, she set out to achieve yet another goal. First, she entered Bashkir State Pedagogical University to get a bachelor’s in English and a minor in German. She studied English literature, linguistics and how to teach English.
In her freshman year, Kazantseva-Hinson met missionaries from Freed-Hardeman University, who came to her city in Russia. She saw announcements about lectures the missionaries were hosting, and knew attending those would provide her an opportunity to practice her English-speaking and interpretation skills.
“I saw that as an opportunity to improve my English. It is a problem in Russia to find ways to practice the English languages I was studying with a native speaker,” she said.
Walker Whittle, one of the missionaries who visited the university, led one of the sessions and gave his email address to attendees, including Kazantseva-Hinson.
Eager to enhance her English skills, she emailed him.
“I think I was the only one from that seminar to email him,” she admitted. “I didn’t have internet at home so I had to go to a special internet center to get into email.”
For the next few years they began corresponding regularly via email, and Kazantseva-Hinson continued perfecting her English skills. Then in 2004 after she completed her junior year of college, the first step toward achieving her latest goal revealed itself. She was selected to be part of a travel study program in the United States.
“It was a program for students to get a summer job in the United States,” she said. “I asked Dr. Whittle to help me find a job, and I got a job at an assisted living facility in Henderson, Tennessee.”
Whittle and his family opened their home to Kazantseva-Hinson during the four-month-long internship.
“During that time I fell in love with this country — with its friendly, open people, who served others, its lifestyles and with the language, of course,” she said.
The Whittle family became special to Kazantseva-Hinson.
“Dr. Whittle became my American grandpa, my cheerleader and coach,” Kazantseva-Hinson said with a smile.
She also began attending church with them at the Henderson Church of Christ.
“I was mesmerized by how God and Christ were in their family and how those lessons were taught even to the little kids at the church,” she said. “It was amazing.”
It was an experience that would have a profound influence on her journey. At the end of that summer, Kazantseva-Hinson made the decision to return to the U.S. after completing her undergraduate degree in Russia.
“I loved what I was doing in Russia, but I needed to challenge myself,” she admitted. “I knew I wanted to come back not just because I loved the country, but to build a career and to continue my education.”
Kazantseva-Hinson graduated with her undergraduate degree while earning straight A’s through her studies. That led to a job offer from her university to teach English as a foreign language and to supervise student teachers. During the first semester teaching, Kazantseva-Hinson continued to take steps toward her goal of returning to the United States. She took and passed the TOEFL and MAT exams and got a student visa. And in January of 2006, she set out to earn a Master of Education degree at Freed-Hardeman.
“I loved what I was doing in Russia. I was a professor doing what I loved,” she said. “But in the United States I saw more opportunities to do more with the language that I loved. I didn’t just come here to get a master’s degree. I wanted to come here permanently. I knew it would be a long journey, but I wanted to do everything right, going through all of the necessary steps to become a United States citizen.”
Kazantseva-Hinson’s student visa allowed her one year to work following graduation. Armed with her teaching license, she began applying for jobs and her path crossed Nina Morel, dean of Lipscomb’s College of Professional Studies, who was a district administrator for federal programs, English language learning (ELL) and district-wide coaching for Sumner County (Tennessee) Schools at the time. Kazantseva-Hinson applied for a job teaching under Morel’s supervision.
“I was so impressed with her determination and her desire to learn. She wanted not only to teach, but to be the best teacher,” said Morel. “She was not satisfied with mediocrity. Everything she did she wanted to do well. She was kind, patient and gentle with others even when they did not work as hard as she did,” Morel recalled.
With the help of Morel and an immigration lawyer, Kazantseva-Hinson received an H1B visa allowing her to continue work in the United States. About that time she also reconnected with a young man named William Hinson, an occupational therapist whom she met and worked with in the summer of 2004 during her travel study program. They began dating and were soon married.
“Without Dr. Morel I might not be here today,” she said. “She was my first boss. She coached me and helped me to be a good teacher. She always stayed interested in my life. I felt that she had a heart for me.”
While working for the Sumner County (Tennessee) School System, Kazantseva-Hinson enrolled in the Doctorate of Education program in Lipscomb’s College of Education, where Morel became a faculty member and director of the Master of Education program in 2011.
“As a student in the Lipscomb Ed.D. program, Allie had more challenge with language than some of the other students, but she kept revising and working long hours to make the best grades. I think this experience has helped her be a better teacher,” said Morel.
Kazantseva-Hinson accomplished her dream of receiving a doctorate degree when she graduated from Lipscomb in December 2014 with her Doctorate of Education. With her work visa and green card, Kazantseva-Hinson’s life became busy and the thoughts of pursuing U.S. citizenship faded to the busyness of working in Sumner County Schools, pursuing an ESL certification and Ed.D. at Lipscomb, teaching as an adjunct university professor at Lipscomb and being a mother, to children, Axel, 2, and Elise, 3 months.
“I was busy and didn’t think about citizenship for a while,” she admitted. “Then, I realized that it was time and I set a goal and started work toward it.”
Kazantseva-Hinson said it took about a year to complete the requirements to become a U.S. citizen, but that it is well worth the effort.
“I am really proud to be a citizen of this country,” she said. “I am very proud of this accomplishment. The problems and joys of this country are my problems and joys. I can vote, and I can be a part of big decisions for this country. I want this country to be proud of me. I want to leave a legacy.”
Today, she serves as an adjunct professor in two of Lipscomb’s academic colleges. Her goal is to one day become a full-time professor.
“Now, as one of our faculty fellows in Lipscomb's online undergraduate program, she understands the struggles that students have and she does everything she can to help them,” said Morel. “We often get emails from students about how she helps them grow. I am so proud that Allie has reached her goal of citizenship. She embodies the best of the American spirit — the drive to succeed while never forgetting that true success comes from helping others.”
Kazantseva-Hinson continues to receive high marks in the classroom, only this time those marks are not grades for the classes she is taking, but for her performance as an educator.
“For my creativity course, I had Dr. Allie Hinson and she is a fabulous online teacher,” wrote one student in an evaluation. “She seems very genuinely interested in what she is teaching and she gives great feedback. I've really enjoyed working with her. I loved the class. It was a great way to get those creative juices flowing again."
“Allie is a lifelong learner. She is a committed educator and continually tries to reflect upon her teaching practice,” said Jeanne Fain, associate professor in the College of Education, who is Kazantseva-Hinson’s ELL mentor in the College of Education. “She goes the extra mile in everything that she does.”
Christian education has also played a significant role in Kazantseva-Hinson’s journey. In 2008, she was baptized. She said she is proud to be a Lipscomb alumna and to be part of the Lipscomb community.
“God is a big part of my life, and I want to be a part of Lipscomb’s mission,” she said. “A Christian community has professors who build relationships with students and make such an impact on their lives. They are very talented instructors, but more importantly they embody what it means to be a Christian. And, I just want to be a part of this environment.”
“Lipscomb is a very innovative university that at the same time is preserving Christian values,” she continued.
Kazantseva-Hinson said has learned many lessons along her journey that she shares with her students both in elementary school and in college.
- Set realistic goals.
- Believe in yourself. “My life is the reflection that nothing is impossible if you really want it."
- Work hard to pursue your dreams. “Don't betray them,” she said.
- Pray. “I keep this Bible verse by my bed, ‘For I know the plans I have for you.’ Jeremiah 29:11,” said Kazantseva-Hinson.
- Be open to opportunities.
- Be kind to people, demonstrate acts of kindness and stay positive.
- Ask God to help you and send you key people.
?Although she shares lessons learned with her students, Kazantseva-Hinson said her students teach her a great deal.
“Every student brings me a lesson,” she said. “And they teach me a lesson.”
As for her future goals — Kazantseva-Hinson said she hopes to find a full time professor appointment, to earn another doctorate and to “never stop learning.