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Three students have been awarded scholarships to travel abroad to study critical languages that are imperative to the United States’ future security and stability.

This year’s Critical Language Scholarship recipients are:

  • Katie Plank, of Knoxville, a May graduate in ecology and evolutionary biology, who will be studying Chinese in Dalian, China. Plank began studying Chinese after working as a tour guide and language partner for Chinese exchange students and ended up earning a minor in Chinese. Last year she received a Taiwan–United States Sister Relations Alliance Summer Scholarship to study in Taiwan.
  • John “Harrison” Akins, of Maryville, Tennessee, a PhD student in the Department of Political Science focusing on international relations, comparative politics, and public policy, who will be studying Urdu in Lucknow, India. Akins is a graduate research fellow in the Baker Center for Public Policy and a Critical Language Scholarship alumni ambassador. This is the second year he’s received a Critical Language Scholarship.
  • Jonathan Hubbard-Shaw, a senior in linguistics, who will be studying Indonesian in Malang, Indonesia.

The Critical Language Scholarship program is part of a US government effort to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering foreign languages that are less commonly taught in US schools but are essential for America’s engagement with the world. Students will spend eight to 10 weeks overseas learning one of 14 critical languages—Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Swahili, Turkish, or Urdu—and will serve as ambassadors representing the diversity of the United States abroad and building lasting relationships with people in their host countries.

The program includes intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences designed to promote rapid language gains. Scholarship recipients are expected to continue their language study beyond the scholarship and to apply their critical language skills in their future careers.

These recipients are among approximately 550 competitively selected American students at US colleges and universities who have received a Critical Language Scholarship in 2017.

UT students interested in applying for the Critical Language Scholarship should visit the Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships website and contact ONSF Director Andrew Seidler at



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

Katherine Saxon (865-974-8365,