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U. of I. students to study abroad as recipients of Boren Honors


Melissa Mitchell, News Editor
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Several University of Illinois students have received recognition for their achievements from the National Security Education Program.

Four received Boren Undergraduate Scholarships for study abroad during the 2008-09 academic year, and a doctoral student received a Boren Graduate Fellowship. Three other Illinois students were named alternates.

“The sustained success of Illinois applicants in these competitions speaks to the international proficiency of our graduate and undergraduate populations,” said David Schug, the director of the Scholarships for International Study Office on campus.  “And these students are eager to parlay their Illinois educational and international experiences into positions with the federal government.”

The NSEP Boren Scholarship recipients are Illinois residents. The recipients are Johann Bayer, Lyons; Nick Heller, Ipava; Allyson Troutman, Lombard; and Jonas Vaicikonis, Palos Hills. Catherine Bechtoldt, Glenview, is the recipient of the NSEP Boren Graduate Fellowship.

The merit-based scholarships are awarded to U.S. citizens for study in Asia, Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America or the Middle East. Fewer than one in four applicants nationally received an award. Each scholarship winner is provided between $6,000 and $30,000 to support his or her studies, depending on the cost of the proposal. In total, the five U. of I. recipients earned about $100,000 in funding.

Scholarship awardees enter into a service agreement that generally requires them after graduation to seek a paid position with the federal government in the area of national security for a minimum of one year.

Recipients also receive priority-hiring status from agencies such as the departments of State, Defense, or Homeland Security, and branches of the intelligence community.

Bayer, a history major and community-college transfer student who just completed his second year at Illinois, will use the scholarship to study Arabic language and Middle Eastern history at the American University in Cairo. He chose to study in Egypt to maximize his exposure to the array of cultures in the Middle East, as many students from the region study in Cairo. Upon his return to the United States., Bayer plans to earn a graduate degree in public policy and Middle Eastern affairs before beginning his career in the State Department.

Heller will attend the American University in Cairo to study advanced Arabic language. He began Arabic language studies at Illinois his sophomore year and took an intensive language course last summer in preparation for his studies abroad. Heller, a junior majoring in political science, hopes to pursue a career in law enforcement after graduation. In preparation, he took numerous courses in security studies and assisted in founding a campus student group with interest in national security issues. In Cairo, Heller looks forward to meeting others by joining the university’s basketball team.

Troutman will study Arabic language and culture in Egypt during the summer and fall 2008 semesters. A senior majoring in political science and minoring in international studies, Troutman is interested in the culture and politics of the Middle East and looks forward to studying these areas from a non-Western perspective at the American University in Cairo. Troutman hopes to work in the field of national security upon graduation.

Vaicikonis will use his NSEP award to travel to St. Petersburg, Russia, to study Russian language and politics. He grew up bilingual in Lithuanian and English, and has found this useful in his Russian studies. Vaicikonis actively participates in Illinois’ Program in Arms Control, Disarmament, and International Security, and is particularly interested in energy policy.

A junior majoring in international studies, he hopes to learn more about major issues of contention in Eastern European politics. After graduation, Vaicikonis plans to earn a doctorate before beginning a career with the Department of Energy.

Bechtoldt is a first-year doctoral student in the Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology program at Illinois. She will use her NSEP Boren Fellowship to study distributions of birds in the Central Amazon region of Brazil, and the consequences of land use and climate change on bird populations. Her research focuses on creating ecological niche models that predict patterns of avian diversity and forecast the consequences of land use and climate change. This summer she is traveling to Brazil on a Tinker Field Research Grant to prepare for her field research. She will remain on the U. of I. campus next year, studying Portuguese with a Foreign Language and Area Studies Scholarship before beginning her NSEP award in the spring of 2009.

More information on NSEP Boren scholarship programs is available by contacting Schug.