Record Boren Cohort Seeks New Opportunities to Learn Languages

Students to study unique languages such as Wolof, Swahili

Grid of 10 student headshots

OXFORD, Miss. – Ten University of Mississippi students have been awarded David L. Boren scholarships from the National Security Education Program, the most ever in a single year at Ole Miss.

The recipients are: international studies majors Landon Bradley, of Laurel; Binta Fadiga, of Cleveland; Lee Holmes, of Tullahoma, Tennessee; Benjamin Newton, of La Grange, Texas; Sydney Rehm, of Collierville, Tennessee; Maggie Thomas, of Atlanta; and Syd Woodard, of Paducah, Kentucky; and exercise science major Jena Brown, of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands; forensic chemistry major Jonah Gattey, of Tracy, California; and chemistry and engineering major Jonah Kocisko, of Fort Myers, Florida.

"These awards are a testament to these students' intellectual curiosity and commitment to the United States government," said Vivian Ibrahim, director of the UM Office of National Scholarship Advisement. "What's interesting about this group of students is that while six of the recipients are international studies students, they aren't all going to go on and study the same languages that they have spent the last four years studying."

Boren scholars study languages that are of crucial importance to the U.S. government and plan to work in positions vital to national security. Recipients will immerse themselves in the cultures of regions underrepresented in study abroad, such as Africa, Asia, Eurasia, Latin America and the Middle East.

"These students saw these as interesting opportunities," Ibrahim said. "They might not have ever had the chance to go to these countries."

For example, Boren's African Flagship Languages Initiative, or AFLI, is offering unique chances to study languages such as Wolof, Salfwahili and Zulu.

Bradley, a senior, has focused his studies on Spanish but will participate in the Southeast Asia Foreign Language Initiative's program focusing on Thai in Thailand. After a summer at the University of Wisconsin's Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute, he will head to the University of Chiang Mai in Thailand in August.

"I will spend a year there and hope to gain a better understanding of the Thai language and experiences within the culture," he said.

Bradley spent a year abroad in Ecuador and began to focus on tourism studies and digital nomads, or those who work remotely and travel freely.

"During my research, I found that Thailand is another popular destination for these travelers and developed a deep-rooted interest in Thai culture," he said. "I hope that speaking Thai will give me more access to this region of the world so that I can continue to study tourism."

Brown, a senior, will study Hindi in India. She aspires to become a health development officer for the U.S. Agency for International Development's Bureau for Global Health.

After years studying Korean, Fadiga will spend a year in the AFLI Wolof program studying Wolof in Dakar, Senegal. After participating in a domestic program at the University of Florida, the senior plans to study abroad in Dakar at the Baobab Center.

"I plan to develop a fluency in Wolof to further my desire for a future career in the intelligence community," Fadiga said. "As a Senegalese American, I plan to learn Wolof fluently to further connect with my family and Senegalese heritage."

A sophomore, Gattey will study Swahili in Tanzania. He ultimately plans to become a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent, protecting communities from controlled substances.

With plans to apply to the Consular Fellows Program and Peace Corps upon return, Holmes will study Arabic in Morocco. The senior will apply for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant award this summer and hopes the Boren experience will prepare them for this. Holmes is currently enrolled in UM's Arabic Language Flagship Program.

Senior Kocisko will study Chinese at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. Kociscko is a student in UM's Chinese Language Flagship Program.

"I chose to study Chinese due to its importance in global affairs and business," Kocisko said. "I also find it a really interesting language that is very different from English."

Newton, a senior, will study Arabic in Morocco. He plans to pursue a career as a special agent with a background in Arabic linguistics for the FBI.

As a high schooler, he studied German but was inspired to pursue a new language and enrolled in the Arabic Language Flagship Program.

"In light of the Syrian and Middle Eastern refugee crisis and its connection to Germany and surrounding countries, I decided that Arabic would be the best choice for me," he said.

Continuing her study of Arabic in the Flagship Program, Rehm, a senior, will study for a year in Meknes, Morocco. While there, she hopes to become fluent in the language.

"I want to really get my Arabic to a superior level," Rehm said. "I hope my Boren scholarship will help me achieve my goal of working for the United States State Department in foreign service in the future."

Studying Indonesian, Thomas will study in Indonesia after which she hopes to apply for a program officer position with the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

"I hope to work in humanitarian aid for refugees and migrants," the senior said. "After the Boren, my Indonesian language proficiency, understanding of Indonesian and Southeast Asian culture and politics, and internship experience will prepare me to hit the ground running in my future career as a civil servant."

Woodard, a senior in the Chinese Language Flagship Program, will also use the Boren to study Chinese at the Defense Language Institute.

"I believe this language will help me because I am interested in international relations and sustainability in China," Woodard said. "The environmental policies of China have a large impact on the rest of the world, and I would like to be a positive influence on sustainability in the U.S. and abroad."


Erin Garrett



April 25, 2024