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Four UH Students Receive Nationally Competitive Critical Language Scholarships

By Mallory Chesser
April 5, 2018

With an acceptance rate of less than 10%, the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS ) is one of the most competitive scholarship programs in the United States. And in the 2017-18 academic year, the University of Houston has four recipients—twice the number UH has ever seen in a given year.

The Office of Undergraduate Research, housed in the Honors College, assists students from departments all over campus in applying to nationally competitive scholarships such as the CLS. This year’s CLS recipients will spend 8-10 weeks studying overseas in an intensive language and cultural immersion program, focused on one of 14 critical languages considered to be in high demand for language professionals. This year’s recipients will be studying in Morocco, Oman, China, and South Korea. 

Abdulwausay AnsariYusuf Bavi is a senior who began studying Arabic three years ago while studying at Houston Community College. He knew he would continue with the language when he transferred to the University of Houston, but he never imagined it would take him so far. During the summer of his first year at UH, he had the opportunity to study abroad in Jordan and to visit Palestine. His studies abroad provided a practical understanding of what he learned in his study of the history and politics of the modern Middle East. They also gave Bavi a new perspective on his experiences in the United States. This summer he will study Arabic in Meknes, Morocco, as he progresses toward fluency in formal spoken Arabic and one of its dialects. 


Saman EssaSaman Essa is a sophomore in the Honors College studying psychology and Middle Eastern studies, with a minor in Medicine & Society. She has been involved in the UH Bonner Leaders Program, where she has worked on developing a program for teaching English to resettled refugees. She has also been a participant in the Model Arab League, traveling to Cairo last fall for the international conference. After graduation, Essa aspires to attend graduate school for psychology and to continue working with refugees. She hopes that by studying Arabic abroad, she will solidify her Arabic language skills and be able to communicate effectively with resettled Arabic-speaking refugees.  

Andrew NeilsonAndrew Neilson
is a graduate student in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages specializing in teaching Chinese as a second language. He hopes to teach Mandarin at the high school level, thereby inspiring students to learn about different languages and cultures in order to become effective world citizens and build cultural bridges. In addition to Chinese, Neilson enjoys studying the Middle East as well as the Arabic and Persian languages. While on CLS during the summer of 2018, he will be immersed in all of these cultures as he pursues his Chinese studies in the ancient Silk Road city of Xi’an. 

Victoria RiveraVictoria Rivera
is a first-year student pursuing a major in computer science. She has always been fascinated with languages and speaks English, Spanish, and some Romanian. Rivera aims to combine her interest in languages and computer science to become a computational linguist. She hopes that learning Korean will open new doors in this field, specifically in national security. Rivera intends to apply for the Boren Awards next fall and to improve her multilingual abilities.

American students enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities are eligible for a CLS, which offers full funding and covers all visa fees, travel, room, and board. The program includes intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences designed to promote rapid language gains. 

The CLS is part of a wider government initiative to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering foreign languages that are critical to national security and economic prosperity. The scholarship plays an important role in preparing students for the 21st century's globalized workforce and increasing national competitiveness. 

Dr. Ben Rayder, director of National Fellowships and Major Awards, believes that these outstanding students are a sign of great things to come: "The success of this year’s Critical Language Scholarship recipients will not only enhance the academic and professional development of each of these students, but it should also inspire their classmates to apply for CLS in the future. Our students are finding out what many knew all along—UH students, from all academic disciplines, are competitive for major awards."

This was an especially good year for students of the Arabic language. Michael Fares, a professor in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages, has made it his goal to ensure that UH is putting forward the best Arabic language applicants each year. 

Says Fares, "I am elated to see that these efforts have begun to pay off, with two of the four CLS winners this year, Saman Essa and Yusuf Bavi, being winners in Arabic. This is a testament to the strength of the UH Middle Eastern Studies program, and to the fine opportunities available to students who want to seriously dedicate themselves to the discipline." 

Students interested in applying to the Critical Language Scholarship in fall 2018, or those interested in learning more about major award and scholarship opportunities, should contact Ben Rayder at btrayder@Central.UH.EDU.