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Four UT students have won prestigious scholarships and fellowships to travel abroad to learn cultures and languages that are critical to the United States’ future security and stability.

One of those students, Jonathan Barsness, a doctoral student in political science, has won two different awards.

2016-5-24 ARB Scholarships barsness photoBarsness, of Seattle, has received a David L. Boren Fellowship to study in Jordan.

In addition, Barsness and three other students have been awarded Critical Language Scholarships for the summer. This is tied for the most Critical Language Scholarship recipients in UT history. The other recipients are:

  • John Akins, of Maryville, Tennessee, a doctoral student in political science, who will be studying Urdu in Lucknow, India
  • Alexander Antonas of Knoxville, a rising junior in electrical engineering with a Chinese minor, who will be studying Chinese in Changchun, China
  • Mayar Desouki, of Brentwood, Tennessee, a rising senior in audiology and speech pathology, who will be studying Arabic in Amman, Jordan

A fifth student, Troy Galyon, of Maryville, Tennessee, a rising senior in economics and international business, is an alternate for the Bangla program in Kolkata, India.

Barsness, a third-year PhD student with a focus on international relations and comparative politics, will go to Ibri, Oman, from May 31 to August 4 to study Arabic at the Noor Majan Training Institute through the Critical Language Scholarship program. It’s the second year in a row he’s received the scholarship; last year he went to Madaba, Jordan, to study Arabic.

“I feel incredibly fortunate to have been selected as a two-time CLS recipient. Arabic is central to my dissertation research and career goals, and I’m thrilled to be heading to Oman to improve my Arabic skills,” he said.

About a month after he returns from Oman, he’ll head to Jordan for a year, courtesy of the Boren Fellowship program. He’ll study Arabic at the Qasid Arabic Institute in Amman and do research “including archival research and in-depth interviews to better understand civil-military relations in the Arab world.”

“I plan to improve my Arabic, better understand civil-military relations, and immerse myself in Jordanian culture,” he said. “Ideally, I hope to contribute to strengthening ties between the United States and the Arab world.

“By interviewing regional experts, government officials, and members of Arab militaries, I hope to identify the processes by which militaries remain loyal to—or defect from—political regimes. I also hope to volunteer in my former CLS host community of Madaba by reaching out to friends and colleagues who work with organizations that assist refugees.”

Boren Scholarships and Fellowships are sponsored by the National Security Education Program, a federal initiative designed to expand the number of Americans with foreign language and international skills. In exchange for funding, Boren award recipients agree to work in the federal government for a period of at least one year.

Barsness said he intends to seek a position as a foreign affairs officer at the US Department of State Bureau of Conflict Stabilization Operations.

The 2016-17 CLS and Boren applications open in the fall. UT students interested in applying should visit the Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships website and contact ONSF Director Andrew Seidler to discuss the programs.

About the scholarship programs:

The Critical Language Scholarship program is supported by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. This year, 560 US undergraduate and graduate students—representing forty-eight states and the District of Columbia and 200 institutions of higher education—received the scholarships. They will spend eight to ten weeks in locations around the world studying Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Indonesian, Japanese, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Swahili, Turkish, or Urdu.

Boren Scholarships and Fellowships are initiatives of the National Security Education Program. This year, 165 undergraduates received scholarships and 105 graduate students received fellowships. The recipients will live in forty-one countries throughout Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America, and the Middle East and will study thirty-six different languages.


Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,

Andrew Seidler, UT Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships, (865-974-3518,