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Four students named CLS semifinalists

January 22, 2020

Despite being born in China, University of North Georgia (UNG) sophomore Maggie Simmons knows very little about the language and culture other than what she has studied. Simmons plans to change that.

"I was adopted from Hubei Province in China at 13 months old, and I haven't had a chance to return to China due to finances," said the 19-year-old from Snellville, Georgia. "I decided it would be a good opportunity to study abroad in China to embrace my cultural heritage."

Simmons is one step closer to heading overseas. She and three other UNG students were selected in mid-January as semifinalists for the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS).

"I was happy that I was named a semifinalist, and so were my parents," said Simmons, who is pursuing a degree in modern languages with a concentration in Chinese for global professionals. She hopes to study in China.

Three other UNG students were selected as semifinalists.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the CLS program funds American undergraduate and graduate students to complete intensive language study abroad in the summer. Dr. 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.

"This is a great honor," she said. "Being named a semifinalist suggests these students have the cultural and linguistic preparation to help them succeed, that they are self-reflective and persistent. Scholarship drafting is mentally demanding and I am always impressed by all of our applicant's level of persistence and ambition." Shockley, who applied for the CLS program last year but was unsuccessful in being selected as a semifinalist, hopes to earn the funding this year.

"It's really an honor to be one of the four semifinalists from UNG," she said, explaining she is applying for other scholarships and programs. "CLS is my first choice, and everything I do is dependent on whether I get accepted or not."

Beacham said the CLS program will help her with her career goals.

"My top choice for graduate schools is in Istanbul, Turkey," said the 22-year-old from McDonough, Georgia. "And Turkish classes are not offered at UNG."

Beacham said she became interested in learning the Turkish language after working with refugees at the International Rescue Committee.

"I thought if I want to in into the field of refugee settlement, then Turkish is a good language to know," she said. "The scholarship combines my interest in that and where I want to go to grad school."

She and the others, though, must wait until March to find out if they are finalists.

"Being a semifinalist is only half the journey," said Shearer, a 22-year-old from Suwanee. "I'm grateful to be selected, however I must concentrate on this current semester until I know the end results."

Hightower explained in the first round of CLS evaluation, applications are sent to two different readers who apply a very strict rubric to them. Scores are then compiled and the highest are selected to move on to the next round.

"Our semifinalists stand out because they were able to express deep cultural knowledge, an unwavering commitment to language learning, and a strong connection between their language and goals," she said.

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