Sixteen URI students win grants to study foreign languages across the globe

Beatrice S. Demers Fellows to study in nine countries thanks to $220,000 in grant funding

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Molly Beluk
URI nursing and Spanish major Molly Beluk, from Newburyport, Massachusetts.

KINGSTON, R.I., — May 13, 2019 — Sixteen University of Rhode Island modern language students have been named Beatrice S. Demers Foreign Language Fellows and have been awarded generous grants to pursue foreign language studies across the globe.

Molly Beluk is one of those students. A rising senior majoring in nursing and Spanish, Beluk is looking ahead to June 21 when she departs for Argentina to begin a five-week language immersion program. There she will spend half of every day working in a clinical or hospital setting and the other half in a language immersion program specifically focused on health care terminology for those entering the health care field.

Beluk, from Newburyport, Massachusetts, has studied Spanish since the 6th grade and built on her fluency during a trip abroad to Seville, Spain, as a sophomore. Her Spanish professor at URI, Megan Echevarría, told Beluk about the Demers scholarships and encouraged her to apply. Though Beluk understood that grants are more typically awarded to students participating in lengthier programs, she believes that the unique nature of her immersion program – specifically focused on patient care – made a difference.

“I am so grateful and excited about how this experience will help me become a better nurse,” said Beluk, who notes that in this country, most of us are able to seek health care with the knowledge and comfort that comes with doctors and nurses understanding our language. “Imagine, at a time of a health care crisis, feeling afraid and overwhelmed and not being able to communicate,” she said. “I hope to someday make a difference to someone thanks to my URI education and to this opportunity to build upon my fluency.”

Beatrice S. Demers, a University of Rhode Island professor for more than 30 years, was fluent in French, German and Spanish and studied Chinese and Russian into her 70s. She had a deep love of foreign languages and, following her death, a $4 million gift from her estate led to the creation of the Beatrice S. Demers Foreign Language Fellows Fund. The 2019 round of awards brings the total number of URI recipients since 2011 to 148. This year’s total combined grant award value of more than $219,786 brings the total amount provided to URI students in that timeframe to more than $1.7 million.

Beluk joins 15 other URI students—all of whom will be awarded grants to cover the cost of tuition, fees, travel, housing and living expenses while they study in Argentina, China, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Japan, Taiwan and Jordan—including Johanna Leffler, a junior in the newly launched International Studies and Diplomacy Program. This interdisciplinary program is a dual major, leading to a bachelor of arts in international studies and a bachelor or arts in a foreign language. Study abroad is a key element of the program.

Leffler, from Silver Spring, Maryland, will use her Demers grant to study French in Rennes, France over the 2019-2020 academic year. She hopes to apply to URI’s combined bachelor of arts and accelerated master’s degree in international relations program upon her return, with the goal of pursuing foreign service work or joining the Peace Corps after she graduates.

A French student since kindergarten, Leffler has travelled to France three times and is fluent, but she looks forward to bolstering her language skills in an immersion setting while studying at the Institute of Political Studies over the next academic year. She leaves the U.S. in late August.

The other Demers recipients, and the languages they are studying, are: Sarah Chambers, majoring in Chinese and global business, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania (Chinese); Keara Cole, majoring in Chinese and computer engineering, of Huntington Valley, Pennsylvania (Chinese); Melody DeMers, majoring in psychology (German); David Guevara, majoring in Italian and mechanical engineering, of Lincoln, (Italian); Nathan Guillemette, majoring in French and biomedical engineering, of Hope Valley, (French); Oliver Hazard, majoring in Spanish and electrical engineering, of Smithfield, (Spanish); Maxmillian Hill, majoring in German and mechanical engineering, of Skokie, Illinois (German); Samantha Horan, majoring in film media, of Providence, (Japanese); Arianna Sawyer, majoring in Spanish and ocean engineering, of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Spanish); McKensie Sherlock, majoring in Chinese and electrical engineering, of Narragansett, (Chinese); Quinn Smith, majoring in Chinese and economics, of Newport (Chinese); Jason Valdes, majoring in mechanical engineering, of Warwick, (Japanese); Mikaela Vento, majoring in German and criminal justice, of Warren, (Arabic); and Victoria Zuelke, majoring in biology and psychology, of Natick, Massachusetts (Chinese).

Of the 16 students, 8 are participating in the International Engineering Program and 6 are in the Chinese Flagship Program, both of which —like the diplomacy program—consist of a dual major to include a language and a second major along with a language immersion aspect via time spent studying abroad.

“The University of Rhode Island has a very robust and growing foreign language program despite national trends showing a decline of these programs across the country. Beatrice Demers was a visionary and I’m sure she would be proud of the program she was so committed to during her time at URI. Her generosity continues to provide phenomenal opportunities to generations of URI students, empowering them to become true global citizens,” said Dean Jeannette E. Riley, of the URI College of Arts and Sciences.

The Rhode Island Foundation administers the Beatrice S. Demers Foreign Language Fellows fund, which is open to all Rhode Island residents, not just students. Non-resident students who attend a Rhode Island college or university are also eligible. Preference is given to URI applicants including alumni, faculty and staff and current students, who share a passion for and commitment to language learning.