Scholarship Recipients Studying Critical Foreign Languages

Three College of Arts & Letters students and one alumna are studying critical foreign languages this summer thanks to the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) they received from the U.S. Department of State. 

The scholarship recipients include Steven Gagnon, a Second Language Studies Ph.D. student; Emma Young, a Social Relations and Policy senior with a minor in Arabic; Hannah Fischer, a Comparative Cultures & Politics senior with an Indian and South Asian Languages and Culture minor; and Stephanie Richey, who received a degree this spring in Advertising Management with a minor in Indian and South Asian Languages and Cultures. 

Through the Critical Language Scholarship Program, Gagnon is studying Korean; Young is studying Arabic, Fischer is studying Hindi, and Richey is studying Urdu.

Being able to communicate in a language outside of your native tongue is a huge promoter of peace and understanding, two things of which our world can never have too much of.

Stephanie Richey, CLS recipient

The CLS program is part of a U.S. government effort to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering critical foreign languages. Through the program, each participant studies one of 15 critical languages for 20 hours a week through intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences. The intensive eight- to 10-week program is equivalent to one year of language study. The experience allows scholars to gain critical language and cultural skills that enable them to contribute to U.S. economic competitiveness and national security.

“The CLS program is a truly outstanding initiative and I feel so honored to have been selected as a recipient,” Richey said. “I began my language study with the hopes of expanding my cultural understanding in a way that could one day help diverse communities and cultures coexist, so being able to continue moving forward with that goal is so exciting to me!”

Woman with red hair wearing a green graduation gown standing in front of the Spartan Statue at MSU
Stephanie Richey, one of four recipients from the College of Arts & Letters who received the Critical Language Scholarship.

As a part of the program, Richey hopes to improve her proficiency in the Urdu language and, more broadly, she hopes to use the language to be a liaison between American and Urdu-speaking countries. 

“Being able to communicate in a language outside of your native tongue is a huge promoter of peace and understanding, two things of which our world can never have too much of,” Richey said. “That being said, I hope that my knowledge gained from this program will contribute to increasing understanding and respect between two languages and countless wonderful humans.”

Nearly 700 competitively selected American students at U.S. colleges and universities received a CLS award in 2021. Scholars are expected to continue their language study beyond the scholarship and apply their critical language skills in their future careers.

Typically, students live with host families while they study, but due to COVID-19, instruction is being held virtually this summer, with instructors hailing from across the globe to teach their native languages.