KINGSTON, R.I. – April 27, 2023 – Seven URI students will be traveling abroad this summer thanks to two highly selective federal government scholarship programs that support foreign language and cultural study as a way to promote greater understanding between nations.
Devin Thomas ’23, of East Greenwich, and Tiffany Morel ’23, of Providence, have both been selected to participate in the U.S. Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program. The program includes intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences designed to promote rapid language gains for American students enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities. Students typically spend eight to 10 weeks abroad studying one of 15 critical languages. The program has a 10% acceptance rate.
Thomas, a history major with minors in political science and German, will depart in June to study Russian for eight weeks in Kyrgyzstan at the American University of Central Asia. With three and a half years of German at URI under his belt, and an interest in World War II era history, Thomas credits Professor James Ward with spurring his interest to take up another language and connecting him to Kathleen Maher in URI’s Office of National Fellowships and Academic Opportunities.
“German and Russian, obviously, are two languages that are extremely important to the Central and Eastern European history I’m interested in. If you really want to do primary document research on that topic, you really have to have those two languages,” said Thomas.
With Maher’s help Thomas applied last year to CLS Spark, a virtual initiative leveraging best practices in online language learning developed by the CLS program during the pandemic, that helped him gain the proficiency necessary to successfully apply this year for the opportunity to study abroad.
“The hope is that this can be the start of my Russian experience and that, going forward, I will continue to learn and eventually use this in applying for other scholarships and in graduate school.”
Thomas hopes to be able to leverage his experience to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship with the ultimate career goal of becoming a history professor. He looks forward to meeting in person many of the professors that he has worked with virtually over the past year through CLS Spark, as well as stepping outside of his comfort zone to continue his study of the Russian language while learning about and experiencing the culture of Kyrgyzstan.
Morel, a double major in political science and economics, transferred to URI her junior year. Following her graduation in May, she will continue in the University’s accelerated bachelor’s to master’s program which will enable her to earn an M.A. in International Relations. But first, she will be traveling to Gwangju, South Korea, where she will study Korean for eight weeks at Chonnam National University as part of the CLS Program.
The demanding program will enable her to enhance her Korean language skills while preparing her to travel later in the summer to Seoul as a Boren Fellowship recipient.
The David L. Boren Awards are among the most prestigious study abroad awards offered to American college students. The National Security Education Program, a federal initiative to expand the pool of American citizens with foreign language and international skills, sponsors the awards. In exchange for funding, recipients agree to work for the federal government for at least one year. URI has produced 44 Boren Scholars since the inception of the award program.
“I think CLS is a great way to start my journey,” said Morel. “To start off in a really intensive program with a lot of classroom learning, and then to be able to travel to Seoul and start with Boren – which will begin with a placement test – and dive back into an immersive Korean-only curriculum will be great.”
Morel will be in Seoul through at least May 2024, during which time she will study Korean in the classroom several hours per day. At the end of her first semester, she will have the opportunity to pursue an internship with a nonprofit, non-governmental organization that will help to further her studies in international relations – or she can opt to continue classroom study.
During her time at URI, she has interned with Professor Skip Mark and the CIRIGHTS Project which has helped to grow her interest in policy analysis and human rights. She sees a potential future with the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor or a nonprofit organization in a similar policy area and hopes her time in South Korea will help to further that goal.
“I don’t think this is going to be the end of my academic career,” she said. “I am really excited to see where this experience can take me and what doors it will open.”
In addition to Morel’s Boren Fellowship, five URI undergraduates have received Boren Scholarships. Each is majoring in Chinese and will travel to Taiwan in August and September, remaining abroad for the length of the academic year. They are:
Brandon Yeh ’24
Yeh is a student in URI’s International Engineering Program from Gaithersburg, Maryland. He is majoring in Chinese and electrical engineering, with minors in math and robotics engineering. His federal career ambition is to work as an electrical engineer for the Department of Defense.
Ashlynn Cunningham ‘24
Cunningham is a student in URI’s Chinese Language Flagship Program from Spring, Texas. She is majoring in Chinese and in cell and molecular biology. Her federal career ambition is to work as a plant geneticist for the USDA Agricultural Research Service or as an intelligence specialist with the Department of Defense.
Lillian Dissette ‘24
Dissette is majoring in Chinese and international studies and minoring in philosophy. Also part of the Chinese Language Flagship Program, Dissette is from Newburyport, Massachusetts. Her federal career ambition is to work as a consular fellow or an international relations specialist.
Barbara Lunz ’24
From Massapequa Park, New York, Lunz is majoring in Chinese and in geology and geological oceanography through the Chinese Language Flagship Program. Her federal career ambition is to work as an environmental scientist or engineer in environmental investigation and remediation.
Delaney Patch ‘24
Patch is a student in the Chinese Flagship Language Program majoring in Chinese, international studies and history. From Germantown, Maryland, Patch’s federal career ambition is to work for the U.S. Agency for International Development as a civil or foreign service officer.
URI students interested in applying for the Critical Language Scholarship Program or the Boren Awards should contact the URI Office of National Fellowships and Academic Opportunities for more information.