UNA Junior Chosen for U.S. State Department Critical Language Scholarship Program

Feb. 25, 2011


FLORENCE, Ala. – University of North Alabama junior Allison Ray, of Huntsville, was recently chosen for the second year in a row to take part in the competitive Critical Language Scholarship program through the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Ray was one of more than 500 students selected for the elite scholarship program, which attracted more than 5,200 applicants from across the country. Using her Arabic studies from UNA and her previous experience in Tunisia last summer, Ray will continue to improve her language skills this summer in Egypt, Jordan, Oman, Morocco or Tunisia.

“We’re thrilled Allison has won this nationally competitive scholarship not once, but twice now,” said Dr. Vince Brewton, director of the UNA Honors Program. “She is outstanding in every way, not just for her own sake, but for setting an example for the university as a whole. She is the first person to win this type of nationally competitive award at UNA that we know of in the university’s history.”

Ray, who went through a demanding application process, will find out in March or April where she will be studying for the summer. Last year, Ray traveled to Tunisia, where she lived with a host family, took intensive Arabic classes and went on cultural excursions to the Sahara Desert and across Tunisia.

“People ask me what my favorite part of the summer was, and I would have to say that just being there and studying was the total immersion experience,” she said. “I worked really hard to improve my Arabic skills, but also to get to know the culture and the community.”

During her stay in Tunisia last summer, Ray improved her Arabic skills from the beginning to intermediate-mid levels. She hopes her language skills will develop to the advanced/mid-high level by the end of summer 2011.

Ray, a sociology major with a minor in international studies, hopes to work for the Peace Corps or attend graduate school after she graduates from UNA in 2012. Because her interests lie in international affairs, she wants to someday work overseas and use her Arabic skills within her career.

“This whole experience has helped me in a way I could never imagine, and I’m just so grateful,” she said. “It’s been challenging but also really rewarding. It’s motivated me to think, ‘If I can do this, what else can I do?’ I definitely came out of last summer believing that I could do anything. I went into the Arabic program as one of the lowest students but came out of it one of the highest.”

The Critical Language Scholarship program works to encourage Americans to study foreign languages that are in high demand around the world. Undergraduate and graduate students have the opportunity to study Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bengali, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Turkish and Urdu languages through the program.

“The sky’s the limit for Allison,” Brewton said. “She represents the Honors Program extremely well and represents everything we want from students in that they be ambitious, achieve at the very highest level and distinguish themselves and reflect that credit back on the university as a whole.”