Five FSU students awarded prestigious foreign language scholarships 

From left to right: Meagan McLaughlin, Suzan Elzawahry, Nicholas Hearing, Simon Velasco and Eric Feely.
From left to right: Meagan McLaughlin, Suzan Elzawahry, Nicholas Hearing, Simon Velasco and Eric Feely.

Five Florida State University students have earned coveted scholarships to help further their study of foreign languages deemed critical to the interests and economic prosperity of the United States. 

FSU students took home three Boren Awards, which are offered through an initiative of the National Security Education Program, and three Critical Language Scholarships, (CLS), offered through the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.  

One student, Nick Hearing, earned both a Boren Award and Critical Language Scholarship. 

Boren Awards provide funding for study abroad for between 25 weeks to a year in areas of the world critical to U.S. national security. Winners are eligible for up to $25,000 in funding, depending on the duration abroad. 

CLS winners typically partake in a summer study abroad program, but due to travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of CLS institutes for summer 2021 will be offered as virtual programs. The CLS program bills itself as providing “rigorous academic instruction in 15 languages that are critical to America’s national security and economic prosperity. CLS participants are citizen ambassadors, sharing American values and promoting American influence abroad.”

Josh Stanek, the associate director of the Office of National Fellowships said he was proud of all the applicants for the CLS and Boren Awards.

Each of them put a great deal of effort into considering their longterm goals while crafting these applications—many of them devoting over two months to the process,” he said. “That investment of time and thought is quite a leap considering the circumstances around applying for international opportunities in fall 2020 and early spring 2021. I’m excited for our recipients who are certainly up to the difficult task and highly impactful experience they’ve been invited to participate in with each of these awards.

The winners are: 

Nicholas Hearing, a senior Presidential Scholar majoring in international affairs and economics from Tampa, earned both a CLS and a Boren Scholarship. His CLS will be completed virtually with the College of Humanities and Sciences of Northeast Normal University (CHSNENU) in Changchun, China. For his Boren Award, Hearing hopes to spend nearly a year in Taipei, Taiwan, studying Mandarin. 

“I am honored to have received the CLS and Boren scholarships,” Hearing said. “My interest in Mandarin stems from my time spent in China interning with the U.S. Consulate Shanghai and from my focus on China in my academic studies and honors thesis.”

Following his time in Taipei, Hearing will pursue a master’s in international relations at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C. He hopes to work in the U.S. Foreign Service.

Simon Velasco, a political science and international affairs double major from Miami, is scheduled to graduate summer of 2022. Velasco received a Boren Scholarship to study Turkish with hopes of doing so while in Baku, Azerbaijan. 

Velasco said receiving the scholarship is a big step toward his ultimate goal of working in the U.S. Foreign Service. 

“In the globalized world we live in now we always have to depend on other countries,” he said. “Now, more than ever, diplomacy is an important factor in our world.”

Eric Feely, a Middle Eastern studies major from Tallahassee, earned a Boren Award, which he will use to study Arabic language and culture. He hopes that will take him to Aman, Jordan, and ultimately, a career putting that knowledge to use on behalf of U.S. interests in either the public or private sectors.

“Earning the Boren is life changing,” he said. “To have this opportunity has put me on track toward other opportunities. Without it, that would just not be possible.”

Meagan McLaughlin, a senior from Tampa, is working on dual degrees in international affairs and political science. McLaughlin earned a Critical Language Scholarship and will study Arabic, which will be her third language after English and French.  

McLaughlin said her pursuit of Arabic will see her seek study opportunities in Morocco. For now, that travel will have to wait but that hasn’t dampened her enthusiasm.

“Learning that it is going to be virtual could be seen as a letdown but when you think, in the grand scheme of things, of what this program has to offer, the alumni, the networking opportunities and just being more confident in myself and proficient in my Arabic, it’s an opportunity you can’t pass up. I’m excited to jump in.

Suzan Elzawahry, who received a CLS to study Turkish, recently graduated with a degree in international affairs and a minor in urban planning. The Panama City native will return to FSU this fall to audit more courses of interest to her.

For more information on national fellowships and awards, visit