Four students named US Department of State Critical Language Scholars

Author: Erin Blasko

Critical Language Scholarship

Four University of Notre Dame students will study abroad this summer as part of the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program, a language-based scholarship program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

• Junior Ashley Cammiso, a finance major from the greater New York City area, will study Portuguese in Brazil.

“I pursued the Critical Language Scholarship because I am passionate about language learning and cultural immersion,” Cammiso said. “Post-graduation, I am interested in living and working abroad, particularly doing microfinance work. I felt that an understanding of Portuguese was important to better engage with the Latin American region as a whole on this topic. The immersion offered by this program will allow me a deep understanding I could not otherwise obtain.”

• Sophomore Liam Gibson, a history, Russian (supplementary) and global affairs (supplementary) major from Allentown, Pennsylvania, will study Russian in Kyrgyzstan.

“I trust that this opportunity will lead to rapid advancement in my Russian language skills and my global perspective, both qualities that will be essential as I pursue an international career in the U.S. Foreign Service,” Gibson said.

• Sophomore Tim Du, an international economics and applied and computational mathematics and statistics major from Orlando, Florida, will study Arabic in Morocco.

“I am incredibly honored to receive this opportunity to travel to Meknes, Morocco, to study Arabic,” Du said. “I hope to use this opportunity to improve my ability to converse in Arabic and learn more about Arabic culture so that when I study abroad for the spring in Jerusalem, I will be more prepared.”

• Junior Grace Straughn, an economics and global affairs major from Marshall, Virginia, will study Korean in South Korea.

“I am thankful for the CLS Program giving me the opportunity to be able to study the Korean language at an intensive level that will benefit my future career and goals,” Straughn said. “I have a goal to know five languages by the time I’m 30 so that I can use those languages to travel the world helping people. To be able to wholly learn about a new culture and place starts with learning the language. That’s why I will use the Korean I learn and cultural knowledge I will gain to influence the decisions I make in the future using a more global mindset.”

Francesca Freeman, a doctoral candidate in peace studies and history, is an alternate for the award and will study Arabic if selected.

In applying for the award, Cammiso, Gibson, Du and Straughn worked closely with the Flatley Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement (CUSE), which promotes the intellectual development of Notre Dame undergraduates through scholarly engagement, research, creative endeavors and the pursuit of fellowships.

Mathilda Nassar is the newly appointed national fellowships program manager for CUSE.

“Since this was my first year managing the CLS advising process, I am incredibly pleased with the outcome,” Nassar said. “The four winners from Notre Dame, representing four out of the 14 critical languages identified by the U.S. Department of State, are exceptional in terms of their skills and experience. Each will undoubtedly be an asset in their respective program and bring back a diverse and global perspective to the Notre Dame community.”

The Critical Language Scholarship Program is an intensive overseas language and cultural immersion program for American students enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities. Students spend eight to 10 weeks abroad studying one of 14 critical languages. The program includes intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences designed to promote rapid language gains.

This year’s cohort of approximately 500 scholars was selected from a diverse pool of more than 5,000 applicants. Of the winners, more than half identify as racial or ethnic minorities; 27 percent study STEM; 35 percent are Pell Grant recipients; 24 percent are first-generation college students; and 8 percent are military veterans.

For more on this and other scholarship opportunities, visit