Two West Virginia University students will be traveling abroad this summer for intensive language experience after receiving the prestigious Critical Language Scholarship.
The two students, Stephanie Khoo and Jared Leggett, earned their scholarships due, coincidentally, to their experiences in the sciences – something that both say give them an advantage against other students applying for the scholarship.
“Stephanie and Jared are both precisely the type of student that the Critical Language Scholarship program seeks to fund: bright students who are prepared for a challenging educational experience and are mature enough to thrive in an intensive overseas program,” said Amy Cyphert, director of the ASPIRE Office at WVU. “I truly enjoyed working with them both, and am very proud of them for achieving this wonderful honor.”
WVU has now has six Critical Language Scholars since 2010. Last year, the University had a record three students travel abroad with the Critical Language Scholarship.
Khoo and Leggett are among some 600 students from 200 colleges and universities selected from among nearly 5,000 applicants as this year’s Critical Language Scholars.
Started in 2006, the Critical Language Scholarship program of the United States Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs offers fully funded intensive overseas study in 13 different critical need foreign languages.
The selection process is administered by American Councils for International Education with awards approved by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
WVU's Critical Language Scholars
2013 Stephanie Khoo
2013 Jared Leggett
2012 Stefni Richards
2012 Joseph Ta
2012 Cody White
2010 Amy Cheung
Khoo, a Morgantown resident but born in Lawrence, Kan., is a first-year graduate student studying linguistics who will graduate next May. She earned undergraduate degrees in biology and Chinese studies in 2011 from the University, as well.
Her family is originally from Malaysia, so she has made many trips to Asia – including a study abroad experience in Taiwan for a semester while at WVU. However, she has never traveled abroad on her own, something she’s excited to experience.
“This is a nationwide scholarship. Literally anybody can apply so few students actually receive it,” she said. “In order for me – someone from Morgantown, W.Va. – to get something like this, it’s great. The opportunity to study Chinese intensively for two months is something I’ve never had before.”
As far back as she could remember, Khoo couldn’t spend enough time in the library at her Montessori school in Kansas. She moved to Morgantown with her family and started to take a liking to the sciences, particularly biology, which became the focus of her undergraduate studies at WVU.
After a short stint in medical school, she turned her focus to linguistics – what she soon realized was her true passion.
“When I was younger, I wanted to be a doctor. I fell in love with Chinese, though, and it really interested me in more ways than the biology,” Khoo said. “I was always more interested in the arts—drawing, language and music. It was a tough decision to make. Science was all that I focused on for the previous six years. It became a big part of my academic life.”
Khoo, who hopes to become a biology and Chinese teacher when done with school, will travel to the southern city of Xia Men for two months and study Chinese intensely while immersed in the culture. She will stay in dorms with fellow Critical Language Scholars.
“Stephanie’s unique academic background, which reflects her talents for both science and language, make her a natural fit for the study of linguistics, and the opportunity to devote herself for a summer to studying Chinese while also living in the country is fantastic,” Cyphert said.
Leggett, a Point Pleasant native born in Doddridge County, is a senior in his third year at WVU studying mechanical and aerospace engineering and Russian studies. As a high school student, he would drive to Morgantown to join the Mountaineer Area Robotics team, a high school team in the area led by Eberly Distinguished Professor and Chair of Physics Earl Scime, to gain valuable experience in the engineering field.
Growing up, Leggett had a passion for science including space and an interest in Russian.
“I used to hear Russian in movies, and when I was in high school, there was a family that moved in from Bulgaria, and they spoke Russian. Talking with them, I learned a few things, and it continued to peak my interest,” he said. “I took the Russian culture class at the Governor’s Honors Academy, and I fell in love with it.”
Leggett hopes to work at NASA or in the space industry, and because Russia also has a very advanced space program, his language proficiency will only help him reach his goals
He will travel to the city of Kazan, a southeastern city in Russia near Kazakhstan, for two months this summer and stay with a Russian family. While he has been to Romania as part of a class trip, he’s never been to Russia.
“Jared’s experience in Russia will be terrific preparation for his career as a mechanical and aerospace engineer working on developing asteroid mining techniques,” Cyphert said. “His coursework here at WVU in the Russian Studies program and as an engineering student helped give him the edge that allowed him to stand out amongst a competitive pool of talented applicants.”
Along with Khoo, Leggett will also be taking intensive language classes following a verbal proficiency test. As an engineering student, he is excited about the opportunity to focus on Russian for the first time in his life. With such challenging coursework at WVU, he hasn’t had that chance yet.
“This is a big honor to be getting a competitive scholarship like this. I’m really proud of myself that I’ve been able to keep up a good work ethic and keep my grades at the level they’re at. I’m proud and humbled at this opportunity,” he said. “I don’t really consider my work done yet.”
By Tony Dobies
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