Six URI students win Boren scholarships, fellowships to study languages overseas

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-2116 |

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 7, 2019 – Six University of Rhode Island students – four undergraduates and two graduate students – have won Boren Awards to study foreign languages abroad – four in China and one each in Jordan and Taiwan.

The four undergraduates receiving Boren Scholarships of up to $20,000 are Sarah Chambers, a junior Chinese and global business management major from Carlisle, Pennsylvania; Keara Cole, a junior Chinese and computer engineering major from Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania; Derek Murphy, a Chinese and political science major from York, Maine; and Zachary Smith, a Chinese, German and electrical engineering major from North Kingstown, Rhode Island. All participate in URI’s Chinese Language Flagship Program, while Cole and Smith also participate in the University’s International Engineering Program and Chambers studies in the International Business Program.

The two graduate students, Cory Crew of Putnam Valley, New York, and Daniel Laspisa of Hillsborough, New Jersey, were awarded Boren Fellowships worth up to $24,000. Both are studying for master’s degrees in international relations.

The David L. Boren Award is one of the most prestigious study abroad awards offered to American college students. The National Security Education Program, a federal initiative to expand the pool of American citizens with foreign language and international skills, sponsors the awards. In exchange for funding, recipients agree to work for the federal government for at least one year.

A total of 22 URI students have received a Boren Award since 2011.

Chambers will use her scholarship to study at Nanjing University in China and intern with a Chinese company or an international company operating in China.

“I’m interested in studying foreign languages because I have always been fascinated with how language and culture are interrelated and how different perspectives and lifestyles develop,” said Chambers, who has a minor in Japanese. “My career goal is to be able to utilize my business and cultural/language knowledge to help American companies expand into the East Asian market. Specifically, I would love to work at some point in global product innovation.”

Like Chambers, Cole will spend the fall academic semester studying at Nanjing University, and she will intern in China as a software or hardware engineer next spring.

“Learning Chinese has not only deepened my love and appreciation for other countries, but also for my own,” said Cole, who is planning a career in cybersecurity and aerospace with the Department of Defense. “It is truly such a gift to be able to engage a local in their native language and witness a whole new personality that most American’s will never have the opportunity to see present itself. These little moments are really so beautiful. Learning Chinese has truly enriched my life.”

Murphy will also spend the fall semester taking classes at Nanjing University and interning in the spring. “I have a strong passion for foreign languages,” he said. “There are so many more perspectives, cultures, histories, and people you can unlock when you don’t have to wait for translation.”

As for his career plans, Murphy said he is committed to an international career so he can continue to learn languages and cultures and engage in global issues. “I would love to pursue a career where I can make a difference at the international level, whether that be at the U.S. Department of State or at another relevant intergovernmental organization like the United Nations,” he said.

Smith said his choice to study Chinese and German relates to his plan to pursue a career in the renewable energy industry. Germany is a leader in renewable energy research and China and Taiwan are world leaders in the production of solar panels. He will spend next year studying at the National Taiwan University in Taipei and interning at a renewable energy company.

“I want to work with renewable energies and travel to implement cheap and efficient energies in developing countries where the burning of coal is a common source of energy,” said Smith, who hopes to work at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory immediately after graduation. “With a new renewable energy source in this city, town or village, citizens will be able to have electricity and increase their standard of living while keeping greenhouse emissions low.”

During his time as a graduate student, Crew worked as a research assistant at the Naval War College and was a Congressional Fellow for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. During much of that time he was involved in the study of Chinese geopolitical strategy. He will spend his fellowship in intensive Mandarin language classes at East China Normal University in Shanghai.

After graduation he hopes to work for the State Department in an effort to better understand Chinese concepts of sovereignty, global responsibility and cyberwarfare. “I hope to continue forging a career focused on the better understanding of Eurasian geopolitics and the changing landscape of renewed great power relations in the 21st century,” he said.

Laspisa is a decorated combat veteran who deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, South Korea and Bangladesh and now serves in the Rhode Island National Guard. He speaks Spanish and Farsi, and his Boren Fellowship will enable him to continue his studies of Arabic at the Sijal Institute for Arabic Language and Culture in Amman, Jordan.

“I learned on my military deployments the value of communicating with people in their own language – or at least making an attempt to do so,” he said. “Speaking Farsi was very helpful in Afghanistan as it set me apart from the stereotypical image of Americans that a lot of the locals had, and it showed them a level of interest and respect that they weren’t accustomed to.”

Laspisa is planning a career as a foreign service officer at an embassy or consulate abroad. “I like to be a problem solver,” he said. “I enjoy developing collaborative solutions to large scale problems and working with diverse groups of individuals with a wide range of expertise. I also believe strongly in the power of diplomacy as a means of preventing violence and promoting positive societal change.”

URI students interested in applying to the Boren Awards should contact the URI Office of National Fellowships and Academic Opportunities for more information.