'Most Valuable Discovery': Foreign Language and Area Studies scholarship sends students around the world

From Swahili to Irish Gaelic, students who choose to study lesser-known and taught languages are able to reap the benefits of their specialized study through the Foreign Language and Area Studies scholarship. 

FLAS fellowships, which are awarded through the U.S. Department of Education, allow students to “develop greater attention to the study of a chosen modern foreign language and area studies speciality.” 

The fellowship gives recipients of yearlong programs $10,000 towards their tuition, along with a $5,000 stipend. FLAS coordinator for the Global Studies Center Elaine Linn said that right now is a great time to study languages at Pitt. Summer FLAS grants award students with $5,000 to tuition and $3,500 in stipends.

“It’s an amazing time for language learners and for the language departments, as currently all six UCIS Centers award over $1,267,000.00 [in aid to students],” Linn said.

The single qualification for the fellowship is to study a FLAS language through one of the language departments — African Studies, Asian Studies, Global Studies Russian East European Eurasian Studies, European Studies and Latin American Studies — at an intermediate or advanced level. Languages that Pitt offers that qualify for the program include Arabic, Greek, Polish, Ukrainian and Quechua.

Sophomore applied developmental psychology major Lauren Jewell traveled to Tanzania to begin studying Swahili, and after completing the first two levels, she became eligible for the FLAS fellowship for the current academic year. 

“I traveled with Pitt to Tanzania last summer for six weeks, where I completed Swahili 1 and 2,” Jewell said. “This would not have been possible without my professor, Filipo Lubua. Filipo pushed me to test into intermediate-level Swahili upon our return to the states for the upcoming semester.”

Furthermore, Jewell said the program helped her expand her idea about what undergraduate language study could be and what opportunities look like. 

“FLAS has allowed me to complete my language ambitions and explored totally new career possibilities,” Jewell said. “I have been able to network through the program and explore international career possibilities.”

Emily Rook-Koepsel, the FLAS coordinator for the Asian Studies Center, said the scholarship offers fellows a leg up in the job market.

“Taking the time to build fluency in a language and understanding of another culture is an excellent stepping stone in a variety of career paths as distinct as health sciences, education, museum students, or policy,” Rook-Koepsel said. 

For sophomore psychology major Neila McElfresh, the scholarship gave her the opportunity to grow as an Irish speaker. 

“The FLAS scholarship allowed me the opportunity to travel to Ireland this summer for a two-week-long language intensive program,” McElfresh said. “This experience was invaluable to me, and I grew so much as an Irish speaker and learner. This truly is an opportunity that I never would have had the resources to engage in. FLAS was essential to my ability to study the Irish language outside of the constraints of the classroom.”

For hopeful recipients, the deadline to apply is Feb. 15. Summer fellows must attend a six-week modern language intensive. Academic year fellows must be enrolled in a FLAS language course during both semesters. They are not allowed to seek other employment during this period due to the money awarded. 

McElfresh said it’s important and different that Pitt offers such a wide range of languages.

“It’s important that less commonly taught languages, like Irish, maintain their importance within universities and within the professional world,” McElfresh said. “FLAS plays a vital role in participating in language engagement and enthusiasm.”


Written by Patrick Diana, The Pitt News