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Chinese Language Flagship funding now available for civilian students

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UNG students Sam Thirakoune and Meghan McPeak are some of the students who will benefit from Chinese Language Flagship funding expanding to civilian students.

Civilian students in the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Chinese Language Flagship program, one of only 12 in the nation, are now eligible to receive funding. UNG officials said the change will allow more students to spend a capstone year of study abroad.

Sam Thirakoune, a senior pursuing a degree in Chinese, will be the first civilian to benefit this fall.

"It is one of the biggest blessings in my life," said Thirakoune, who is from Locust Grove, Georgia. "Without the funding, I definitely wouldn't have been able to go on the capstone. I'm really excited to go on this program and experience it for a whole year."

UNG became an ROTC Chinese Language Flagship in 2011, which provided funds to cadets for trips abroad or to a domestic summer Chinese program. UNG was awarded a second four-year, $1.2 million Chinese Flagship grant in 2016. But the current makeup of the program — 26 civilians and 18 cadets in spring 2019 — helped facilitate the expansion of funding.

Scholarship money is requested annually separate from the $1.2 million four-year operating costs, and UNG received more than four times as much for 2019 thanks to the change.

Each Flagship student, cadet or civilian, at UNG is now eligible to receive up to $20,000 for study abroad or U.S. programs that aid their Chinese language learning throughout their time at UNG. The intensive, 5-year program provides a unique opportunity for undergraduate students to achieve professional-level competency in Chinese language and culture.

"The civilian funding is the next step in the evolution of UNG's Chinese Flagship Program," said Dr. Christopher Jespersen, dean of UNG's College of Arts & Letters. "As we continue to work to attract cadets, we will now have the opportunity to incorporate civilians and expand our program. All participating UNG students will benefit in developing themselves professionally and enriching themselves personally."

Students must apply for the Chinese Flagship program by the first semester of their sophomore year. Applications may be submitted on the UNG Chinese Language Flagship website.

Meghan McPeak, a sophomore pursuing degrees in Chinese and strategic and security studies, chose UNG because of the Chinese Flagship. McPeak started studying Chinese in high school and looked at schools with Chinese Flagship programs. She eventually attended a class taught by Chi-Hsuan Catterson, academic director of UNG's Chinese Flagship, which "settled it" for her to attend UNG.

During summer 2018, McPeak attended a Summer Language Institute at UNG and an eight-week summer Chinese program at Indiana University, paying her way for both. She said she could not afford the $20,000 out of pocket for the capstone.

"It was a big stress-reliever, especially as someone who isn't qualified for financial aid," McPeak said. "It makes me want to continue pursuing this."

Stories like McPeak's energize Catterson.

"I am just so excited for our students," Catterson said. "Imagine all these opportunities for them to explore the world and to prepare themselves to be competent global professionals."

Katie Beccue, program coordinator in the College of Arts & Letters, said the program expansion came after the school's first site visit from the National Security Education Program (NSEP), a U.S. Department of Defense initiative, in October. NSEP appreciated the quality of UNG's language instruction, its commitment to the program and its tutoring efforts. UNG compares well with other larger schools with Chinese Flagship programs.

Other schools with the program include Arizona State University; BYU; Hunter College; Indiana University; San Francisco State University; University of Hawaii, Manoa; University of Minnesota; University of Mississippi; University of Oregon; University of Rhode Island; and Western Kentucky University.

Beccue said NSEP officials "were very pleased with what they saw."

UNG also has gained a second university, National Taiwan University, where students can spend their capstone year abroad. The other is at Nanjing University in China.

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