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Seven students selected as Critical Language Scholarship semifinalists

In January, seven University of North Georgia students were selected as semifinalists for the Critical Language Scholarship Program. CLS is a fully-funded overseas language and cultural immersion program for American undergraduate and graduate students.

Becoming immersed in a foreign culture and learning to speak the language fluently through an intensive program is one purpose of the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program. In January, seven UNG students were selected as semifinalists for the program, said Dr. Anastasia Lin, assistant vice president for research and engagement. This year's semifinalists are:

  • Hannah Chisholm, who is pursuing a degree in communications with a concentration in multimedia journalism and a minor in Korean
  • Daniel Barker, who is pursuing a degree in mathematics and a minor in Russian
  • Donnie "Jamar" Shumaker, who is pursuing a degree in East Asian studies with a concentration in Chinese and a minor in Chinese language and culture
  • Daniel Shearer, a member of the Corps of Cadets who is pursuing a degree in East Asian studies with a concentration in Japanese studies and a minor in leadership
  • Julia "Rhiannon" Smith, who is pursuing degrees in psychology and modern languages with a concentration in Russian
  • Leah James, a member of the Corps of Cadets who is pursuing a degree in nursing and a minor in Arabic
  • Rachel Wilson, who is pursuing a degree in finance and a minor in Chinese

Victoria Hightower, assistant director of the Nationally Competitive Scholarships Office and associate professor of history at UNG, explained the CLS is an incredibly competitive scholarship that only accepts 10 percent of applicants. 

"UNG has never had such a varied or wide group of students become semifinalists before," she said. "Our students this year worked diligently as individuals and in group workshops to develop their applications."

Having seven semifinalists marks a new record for UNG as well as a 250 percent increase in semifinalists since 2014 when UNG President Bonita Jacobs created the Nationally Competitive Scholarships Office. Last academic year, five were semifinalists. Of those, three were finalists and two were alternates. UNG had one finalist and one semifinalist for both 2016-17 and 2015-16.

"UNG students are increasingly competitive in the CLS scholarship," Lin said. "We credit this to the hard work of our students, their mentors, and the excellent preparation provided by our language faculty. Previous applicants for the CLS have gone on to win other awards including the Boren, Gilman, Fulbright, and Rangel Fellowships; we are eager to see what's next for both our applicants and our semifinalists!"

A few are celebrating their honor of being named semifinalists.

"I thought I had a one-in-a-million chance to become a semifinalist," said Smith, a junior from Dahlonega. "It's one of the most competitive programs, and we are going up against students at bigger and Ivy League colleges and universities. I'm just a small-town girl and I was really surprised that I got it."

Chisholm, a sophomore from Monroe, Georgia, was shocked she was a semifinalist because she started the application process late when she missed the information session. Chisholm decided to speak with Lin, who convinced her to apply.

Applicants must write four short-answer essays and a personal statement and include their transcripts and two recommendations.

"I thought, 'The worst that can happen is I don't get it,'" Chisholm said, adding now that it is a possibility, she is apprehensive. "I am excited, but I would lying if I didn't say there was fear."

Leah James, a freshman from Ellenwood, Georgia, is also excited about the opportunity to study the Arabic language in Oman.

"They have a unique way of writing," James said. "It's so beautiful, because it is so different. And I like a challenge."

James, who hopes to eventually commission, is also grateful for the opportunity as a freshman cadet.

"This will allow me to get a well-rounded experience using this critical language," she said.

James isn't the only freshman or cadet willing to face the challenge of studying overseas. Daniel Shearer, a freshman from Suwanee, Georgia, hopes to become a finalist to study in Japan.

"I intend to commission through UNG and as an East Asian major, I would love to have a duty station over there," he said, adding the CLS program will give him an advantage. "I will have greater fluency in Japanese as well as have complete immersion in the culture that would come through living and working there."

Shearer, however, is cautious about his future expectation.

"I am not taking it as an accomplishment, because I am not yet a finalist," he said. "I'm excited for the opportunity. If I do get it, then it will be a large honor."

Finalists will be chosen in February.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, CLS is a fully-funded overseas language and cultural immersion program for American undergraduate and graduate students. Its goal is to broaden the base of Americans studying and mastering critical languages and building relationships between the people of the United States and other countries.

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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