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Junior Nina Wilkinson Accepted to New CLS Spark Program

Katherine Stohlman, C'19

Nina Wilkinson, C’24, has been accepted to the competitive Critical Language Scholarship Spark Program. She, along with a small group of other students from around the country, will spend her junior year studying Chinese language and culture, with the chance to participate in the CLS overseas summer program next summer.

n-wilkinson-in-text.jpgCritical Language Scholarships are developed and provided through the U. S. Department of State. These scholarships provide intensive linguistic and cultural immersion to recipients, with the aim of boosting the number of Americans fluent in the included languages. As the title suggests, the 15 included languages are “critical” to overseas business, international politics or national security. The Spark program is a new initiative, where participants spend a full academic year studying language and culture virtually, with a university in a pertinent country. Spark Program languages include Chinese, Arabic and Russian.

Wilkinson, a Baltimore County native, first learned about the program from Professors Jamie Gianoutsos, Ph.D., and Christine Blackshaw, Ph.D., who lead the Mount’s Office of Competitive Fellowships. A member of the Mount Fellows Society, Wilkinson said she was drawn to the Spark program because of the chance to “work toward my goal of oral proficiency [in Mandarin Chinese].” She studied Chinese for three years in high school, and her family has Chinese heritage. The Spark program will help her both further her mastery of the language and learn more about her roots.

Wilkinson was mentored by Gianoutsos and Blackshaw throughout the application process, which included academic background and a brief essay. She’ll spend her junior year attending a series of virtual classes at Taiwan’s Tamkang University, where students will focus on speaking, listening, reading, and writing, with monthly cultural activities built in. The history and English double major shared that she is “most looking forward to—and most nervous about—engaging in authentic Mandarin dialogue with my instructors and classmates. This…will be challenging, but I'm looking forward to doing so within a community of enthusiastic learners.”

She is most grateful to Gianoutsos and Blackshaw, for not only informing her of the opportunity but also helping her navigate her application. Wilkinson noted that it’s hands-on, individualized interactions with professors like this, that made her want to attend the Mount in the first place. “I chose the Mount because I wanted to attend a small liberal arts school that would not see me as just a number. The Mount's small class sizes create space for fruitful class discussions and allow me to form meaningful connections with professors,” she explained, realizing that the help she’s received as a member of the Mount Fellows Society, and beyond, is much more accessible at a small university like Mount St. Mary’s.

Blackshaw and Gianoutsos, for their part, are just as happy as Wilkinson at her acceptance. Blackshaw exclaimed that “she was a pleasure to work with on this application…she asked detailed questions and made sure the essay captured who she was and her long-term aspirations, both professional and personal.” Gianoutsos also noted the appropriateness of Wilkinson’s reception of the scholarship, given her background and future goals. Wilkinson plans to obtain her master’s degree in history, with a certification in library science, so she can one day work as a public librarian or archivist.

Gianoutsos observed that “given her deep-held interest in the Chinese language and her passion for working in public archives and history, Wilkinson will benefit immensely from the opportunity to engage in immersive language study and to build essential networks and friendships promoting intercultural learning and exchange.” In spending a year learning more about a language and culture she is so passionate about, Wilkinson will be continuing her journey to a life of significance.

Katherine Stohlman, C'19