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Three students earn Critical Language Scholarships to study abroad

CLS finalists
Three UNG students were chosen as finalists for the Critical Language Scholarship, while two others were selected as alternates. Pictured from left are: Madison Brooks, finalist, Lily O’Clery, alternate, Thomas Vella, finalist, and Marissa Wilborn, alternate. Also selected as a finalist was Michaela Tierce, pictured below.

Three University of North Georgia (UNG) students have been chosen for the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program to study abroad this summer, while two others have been named alternates.

The three finalists are:

  • Madison Brooks of Tallapoosa, Georgia, a junior double majoring in Arabic and French
  • Micaela Tierce of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a junior majoring in international affairs with a Middle Eastern concentration
  • Thomas Vella of Decatur, Georgia, a freshman majoring in strategic studies

Two semifinalists were selected as alternates for the program:

  • Lily O’Clery of Gainesville, Georgia, a senior majoring in Chinese and minoring in Korean 
  • Marissa Wilborn of Auburn, Georgia, a sophomore majoring in Arabic and minoring in global leadership
Micaela Tierce
Micaela Tierce, CLS finalist

"The UNG students who are finalists for the Critical Language Scholarships have demonstrated great commitment and academic ability," said Dr. Chris Jespersen, dean of the College of Arts and Letters at UNG. "They are to be applauded for their dedication. Their selection is another indication of just how successful UNG students can be."

The scholarship, a program of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, funds American undergraduate and graduate students to complete intensive language study abroad in the summer. CLS is a very competitive scholarship with acceptance rates hovering around 10 percent each year; from the more than 5,000 applications submitted each year, only some 500 are selected.

"UNG students excel in competitive national opportunities like the Critical Language Scholarship thanks to their diligence, hard work, exceptional talent, and support by many, many faculty and staff," said Dr. Anastasia Lin, assistant vice president of research and engagement at UNG. "We continue to be impressed by the potential and drive of our applicants."

This year's number of recipients for UNG exceeds the total number of CLS winners since 2013, in part because 16 students applied this year. UNG has had two previous CLS winners and three other semifinalists.

"We had more students submit applications this year than any year prior," said Dr. Victoria Hightower, associate professor of history at UNG. "We are immensely proud of all of our students who submitted applications. The scholarship applications undergo a rigorous two-level evaluation process. We are thrilled to have three awardees and two alternates."

For Tierce, a cadet in UNG's Corps of Cadets, the scholarship is a step in her plan to become a commissioned officer and eventual foreign area officer.

"I completed the Critical Language Scholarship to improve my writing skills, and become more competitive for future scholarships as I progress in my major," Tierce said. "I plan to commission into the U.S. Army in 2020, and my ultimate goal is to branch military intelligence after obtaining my bachelor's degree in international affairs and a minor in Arabic and culture. In the military, I hope to eventually be a foreign area officer or civil affairs officer as my career progresses." 

Vella was thrilled to earn the scholarship as a freshman and, like Tierce, has a focus on Middle East studies.

"I was extremely happy and I immediately stood up and did a couple of dance movements," Vella said. "My ultimate goal is to become an analyst who works in the intelligence community specializing in the Middle East."

With the goal of broadening the base of Americans studying and mastering critical languages and building relationships between the people of the United States and other countries, CLS provides opportunities to a diverse range of students at every level of language learning.

Students interested in learning more about nationally competitive scholarships should contact for more information. Also, students interested in learning about funding and programs to study abroad in a variety of projects can visit the Center for Global Engagement website.

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