Two CCU students receive U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship awards

May 15, 2023
Vanessa Venegas-Soriano was selected for the CLS to study Mandarin this summer in an eight-week intensive language and cultural immersion group-based program.Sierra Mason will study Russian virtually through the American Councils for International Education in Chisinau, Moldova.

Coastal Carolina University students Vanessa Venegas-Soriano and Sierra Mason have been awarded scholarships through the U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) and CLS Spark programs.

The programs are part of a government initiative to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering foreign languages that are critical to national security and economic prosperity. Approximately 500 U.S. students were selected for CLS awards out of 5,180 applications.

Venegas-Soriano, a senior from Conway, S.C., is a languages and intercultural studies major with minors in Asian studies and peace and conflict studies. She was selected for the CLS to study Mandarin this summer in an eight-week intensive language and cultural immersion group-based program at the National Cheng Kung University in Tainan, Taiwan. She has been studying in Taiwan at the National Taiwan University in Taipei since March after earning the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship and Ministry of Education Huayu Enrichment Scholarship.

“I am thrilled to experience life on the west coast of southern Taiwan,” said Venegas-Soriano. “There are more speakers of English in Taipei than in Tainan, so I am excited to advance my Chinese skills even further with the intensive CLS program and through speaking Mandarin with people in Tainan. I would like to thank the CCU faculty and mentors for helping me on this journey and pushing me to be the best version of myself.”

Venegas-Soriano, a first-generation Mexican American and college student, began pursuing immersive foreign language study in high school when she applied for the U.S. Department of State’s National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) program and earned a scholarship to study Korean in Seoul, Korea. At CCU, she shares her language-learning skills by tutoring students in Spanish and Mandarin at the Thomas W. and Robin W. Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts Intercultural Language Resource Center. In the future, Venegas-Soriano plans to use her language strengths and cultural knowledge as a foreign service officer.

“Vanessa is a driven, diligent, and independent young woman who is clear about her goals and how to achieve them,” said Xinyi Tan, Ph.D., associate professor of Chinese and French. “She has received several state and University scholarships and works several jobs while making steady progress at college. She has made CCU history by winning three highly competitive awards for her intensive immersive program in Taiwan. Her incredible accomplishments attest to her talents and work ethic.”

In the CLS Spark program, undergraduate students spend eight weeks studying Arabic, Chinese, or Russian virtually at the beginning level. Mason, an intelligence and national security studies major with minors in cybersecurity, journalism, and social studies, will study Russian virtually through the American Councils for International Education in Chisinau, Moldova.

In the Spring 2023 semester, Mason interned at the Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. In May 2022, she participated in the “Security Perspectives in the Eurasian Region” summer school program jointly organized by CCU and Ilia State University in the Republic of Georgia in Tbilisi.

“Through my coursework and trip to Tbilisi, I have been able to explore my gravitation toward Russian topics,” said Mason. “During the past few months, I’ve spent time reading Russian literature and examining Russian art and artifacts to prepare me for my language learning this summer. I’m excited to see how all of this benefits my future in the foreign service.”

Mason, a first-generation college student from Bedford, Va., was a recipient of the 2022 Rae McArthur Award, presented to a CCU freshman or sophomore student who embodies the Department of Intelligence and Security Studies’ core values and demonstrates the commitment, perseverance, and drive of McArthur. Mason holds several leadership roles on campus, including finance officer and head of the Europe desk for the Chanticleer Intelligence Brief, vice president of communications for Women in National Security, and vice president for the International Association for Intelligence Education Zeta Chapter.

Richard Aidoo, Ph.D., professor of political science, said: “Sierra embodies the willingness and determination to explore and engage with knowledge beyond the classroom. Her intellectual curiosity is simply amazing, and this award will not only further her ability to pursue her interests, but also make her very competitive in her future endeavors. She will certainly inspire her colleagues and prospective students about the many possibilities for CCU students.”

Venegas-Soriano is CCU’s fourth CLS recipient; Mason is CCU’s second CLS Spark recipient. For more information about the CLS programs, contact campus representatives Mariam Dekanozishvili, Ph.D., associate professor of political science, or Judith Zang, director of national scholarships.