Students recognized for Critical Language Scholarship experiences

Posted: February 27, 2013

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Two students in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences will be recognized by the college this spring for their experiences in the Critical Language Scholarship Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

Abraham DeHart, an undergraduate from Glenside majoring in Agricultural Systems Management, learned Urdu; Leslie Pillen, a master's degree candidate in Rural Sociology from Lincoln, Neb., learned Hindi. Thanks to the federal funding, both studied in India last summer.

The Critical Language Scholarship Program provides fully-funded, group-based intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences for U.S. students. The program is part of a U.S. government effort to dramatically expand the number of Americans studying and mastering critical-need foreign languages.

"Participants are expected to continue their language study beyond the scholarship period and apply their critical language skills in their future professional careers," said Deanna Behring, director of international programs for the College of Agricultural Sciences.

The languages DeHart and Pillen studied, Urdu and Hindi, are spoken by millions of practicing farmers, and yet Hindi is taught only sporadically at United States institutions and Urdu hardly at all, noted Ruth Mendum, director of Penn State's Fellowships Office.

"The United States exports agricultural experts of all kinds, but unlike most, DeHart and Pillen will be able to speak to local people in their native tongues," she said. "From the University perspective, I'm particularly proud that two of our three winners last summer were from the College of Agricultural Sciences, which is one of the Critical Language Scholarships priority areas.

"International agriculture reaches far into communities where English tends to be rarely spoken, and yet graduates with agricultural training tend not to have the opportunity to study the languages the CLS offers."

DeHart revealed that he has been fascinated his whole life by the language he studied in India."I grew up just outside of Philadelphia, and my dad was born and raised in Pakistan," he explained.  "I often heard Urdu being spoken by my uncles, but I never understood it."