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Snow flurries fall as students move in the dorms at the start of the Spring semester
Snow flurries fall around the Smokey VI statue outside of John Hodges Library.

Four students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, have been awarded the Critical Language Scholarship by the U.S. Department of State. The students will use their scholarships to study Mandarin Chinese, Arabic and Russian overseas.

The Critical Language Scholarship provides a fully funded immersive experience that allows students to study languages and cultures essential to the United States’ national security and economic prosperity. Approximately 500 undergraduate and graduate students from across the United States received the scholarship this year.

UT is a national leader in personalized approaches to student success. By supporting students in their application processes, the university remains dedicated to fostering rich student experiences and improving outcomes.

Meet the recipients


Elliott Fesler of Knoxville is a junior majoring in Middle East studies with minors in religious studies and linguistics. With his scholarship, he will travel to Morocco for eight weeks to continue his mastery of the Arabic language.

“I am honored to have been selected for this award and am looking forward to developing my fluency in Arabic and pursuing cultural communication between America and the Arab world,” said Fesler.




Raven Miller of Knoxville is a senior studying linguistics with a minor in sociology. She will travel to Tbilisi, Georgia, for eight weeks this summer to study Russian.

“In addition to improving my Russian language skills, I grew to love Kyrgyz culture during my participation in the 2023 Critical Language Scholarship program in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and I applied again with the hope that I would get to learn more about the culture of the post-Soviet countries,” said Miller. “The scholarship has been crucial to me as a means of Russian language acquisition and cultural knowledge, and I want to use this new opportunity to engage more thoroughly in the host community by participating in local events, volunteering and learning the Georgian language alongside Russian.”


Madison Watts of Sweetwater, Tennessee, is a senior earning a dual degree in global studies and Russian. Her scholarship will take her to Tbilisi, where she will live for eight weeks while speaking exclusively in the Russian language.

“As an alumna of a different Department of State-sponsored program, the Gilman Scholarship, I am thrilled to be able to participate in another,” said Watts. “During my first program in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, it was easy to notice how much my language skills improved, and I am hoping to improve even more as I join the talented cohort of Critical Language Scholarship students in Tbilisi this summer.”


Destinee Carter of Memphis graduated in December 2023 with a degree in industrial and systems engineering and a minor in project engineering. Through virtual classes, one-on-one conversations with native speakers and extensive assignments, the scholarship will allow her to improve her knowledge of Mandarin Chinese.

“Being selected for this scholarship is an amazing step forward in my intended career,” said Carter. “I look forward to immersing myself in Chinese and advancing in my language level.”


Undergraduate Research and Fellowships supports students and alumni as they apply for a wide range of nationally competitive fellowships, including the Critical Language Scholarship. The office provides individualized advising, application essay writing workshops and interview preparation to help students develop competitive candidacies.

“With their global interests, intense curiosity and academic focus, UT students are a distinct joy to work with, especially when it comes to international awards such as the Critical Language Scholarship,” said Meredith Malburne-Wade, director of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships. “We are delighted to assist students who are interested in and engaged with the world, and we are thankful for the faculty and staff mentors who help make it all possible.”

To learn more about the Critical Language Scholarship, visit the Undergraduate Research and Fellowships website.


Maggie Palmer (865-974-3993,