CMU junior receives competitive Boren Scholarship

Elizabeth Valicenti will study language and culture in South Korea for 10 months

| Author: Maureen Harke | Media Contact: Aaron Mills

A female student with long hair and glasses wearing a gray sweater smiles at the camera.Elizabeth Valicenti, a junior from Belleville, MI, double majoring in political science and international relations, and minoring in philosophy, has been awarded a prestigious Boren Scholarship to study language and culture at Yonsei University in South Korea. 

Valicenti, like many other students, had one normal semester of college before the COVID-19 pandemic forced her to move home. The time away from campus may have been a turning point in her college experience.

“As a first-generation, Pell-eligible student, I didn’t think that I was going to be able to attend college. In my freshmen year, I questioned whether it was the right path for me due to the cost of college and because I felt lost in the new environment,” Valicenti said. 

“While I was at home, I decided to give college my strongest effort. I applied successfully for more scholarships, and when in-person classes resumed, I committed to getting more involved on campus.”

This new approach resulted in a more meaningful and connected college experience. Valicenti became the president of the CMU chapter of Amnesty International, completed an internship with Reggie Miller’s campaign for Michigan State Representative, became an intern then research director for political consulting firm New Way Forward Strategies, and more.

Valicenti also began exploring possibilities for graduate school. She found the McNair Scholars Program, which helps first-generation, Pell-eligible and underrepresented students prepare for doctoral degrees. She was at first skeptical about applying to the program. 

“Honestly, at first, I didn't take the opportunity seriously because I was afraid to get my hopes up. It wasn't until I was accepted and started research that I finally got to see what this opportunity had done for others, and what it could do for me,” she said. “I will be conducting research under the guidance of Dr. Prakash Adhikari this summer, exploring the mental health determinants of Bhutanese refugees in the United States.”

Boren Scholarships, an initiative of the National Security Education Program, support students who wish to work in the federal national security arena. The awards provide funding for U.S. students to study less commonly taught languages in world regions critical to U.S. interests.

Valicenti worked with Maureen Harke, director of the CMU National Scholarship Program throughout the application process and with Marko Schubert, assistant director of Study Abroad, to build a study abroad program. 

Ultimately, Valicenti plans to pursue a career in national security through diplomacy. 

“Studying in South Korea provides the opportunity to learn more about their cultures and customs,” she said. “Given that I wish to specialize in East-Asia political affairs, studying Korean allows me to prepare further for opportunities to work overseas.”

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