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IU Bloomington leads the nation in scholarships for critical languages

May 30, 2024

Indiana University leads the nation in successful applications for the Boren Award, an undergraduate scholarship and graduate fellowship program designed to increase the number of qualified fluent speakers of languages deemed critical by the U.S. Department of State.

This year, 12 IU Bloomington undergraduate students and one graduate student fellow were granted Boren Awards to study Arabic, Chinese and Russian, breaking IU’s record for successful applicants in a given year. Zakwani Zulualabiade, a graduate student of African American and African Diaspora studies, will travel to Ghana to both conduct research and study Akan Twi, a dialect of Akan spoken by over 9 million people in Ghana.

Micaela Fenn on the IU campus Micaela Fenn, who is majoring in international studies and Middle Eastern languages and cultures, will use her Boren Award to study Arabic in Morocco. Photo by Anna Powell Denton

This is the second year that Indiana University Bloomington has been a Top Performing Institution for the undergraduate Boren Scholarships and the second in which the university has broken its previous record. Only 34% of applicants nationally were awarded scholarships for 2024.

IU students will travel in Morocco, Kazakhstan, Ghana and Taiwan in 2024-25 for a year of intensive language study and a semester-long internship in the host country. The students have won approximately $365,000 in national language scholarships for the 2023-24 application cycle.

“We are so proud of these exceptional students who will use their language excellence to make the world a safer and more connected place,” IU President Pamela Whitten said. “This honor is another example of Indiana University’s national leadership in critical language instruction.”

Multiple awardees stressed how valuable the Boren Scholarship is, not only for making their year abroad more affordable but also for their future careers. As a part of the Boren Award, students commit to working for the U.S. government in some capacity after graduation. For Micaela Fenn, who will study Arabic in Morocco next year, this has been a long-term goal.

“Ever since freshman year, I’ve had a strict plan that I’ve stuck to: I wanted to graduate, complete my capstone year, work in the Peace Corps and finally become a Foreign Service officer,” said Fenn, who is majoring in international studies and Middle Eastern languages and cultures. “Without the Boren, I would have had to abandon my plans.”

Like Fenn, many of the Boren Award recipients plan to complete the work requirement in placements across the federal government while using the language skills they honed abroad. One awardee, who wished to remain anonymous due to the potentially classified nature of their future work, shared how important the Boren Scholarship experiences are for students’ futures.

“This award opens doors to unparalleled experiences, including intensive language study, meaningful internships and cultural immersion, all of which are crucial for fostering a deep appreciation and nuanced understanding of global affairs,” the awardee said.

Zulualabiade echoes that sentiment.

“To have won the Boren Award means I can be of greater service to the nation while working with communities across the African Diaspora,” he said. “It is a great starting point for my work and career both as a community advocate and a scholar.”

The number of successful applicants exemplifies IU’s leadership in language studies, spearheaded by the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies and College of Arts and Sciences. Indiana University offers more languages than any other university in the U.S., with the corresponding opportunities for direct application of those languages in service to the state of Indiana and beyond.

Sachin Talagery Sachin Talagery, a dual major in international studies and Middle Eastern languages and cultures, will also be studying in Morocco. Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University

“We’re very proud that IU tops the nation in Boren Awards,” said John Ciorciari, dean of the Hamilton Lugar School. “The Boren program’s focus on critical language acquisition connects to a core element of our mission: to produce students with deep knowledge of foreign languages and cultures who are prepared to make a positive difference on key global issues. Our students’ success reflects their excellence and that of their dedicated faculty mentors. We are delighted that so many have earned this prestigious scholarship.”

Students across IU credited both the Boren Scholarship screening committee and their professors for their successful application. All of the students who use IU’s rigorous review process — a collaboration between Education Abroad, the Hamilton Lugar School, Hutton Honors College and the Office of National Scholarships and Awards — were either selected as awardees or alternates.

“IU prepared me for a successful Boren application through the targeted efforts of a team of staff who supported applicants by reviewing and providing feedback on our essays,” said Sachin G. Talagery, a dual major in international studies and Middle Eastern languages and cultures who will be studying in Morocco.

This screening committee and IU’s leadership in Language Flagships — hosting more than any other university in the country — have led to IU’s sustained success. John Miller, an undergraduate studying international law and institutions who will spend next year in Taiwan, shared how the community and expertise brought him to IU in the first place.

“Foreign language learning has been a huge part of my undergraduate studies and a large reason why I decided to attend IU,” Miller said. “For me, receiving this award is a reassurance that all this hard work was worth it.”


IU Global

Marielle Petranoff

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