Thursday, April 16, 2020

Isabelle Davis, an international studies student at the University of Iowa, earned a 2020 David L. Boren Fellowship, and will spend next year studying Turkish in Azerbaijan as part of the new 2020 Turkish Flagship Language Initiative

The Boren Fellowships, an initiative of the National Security Education Program, provide unique funding opportunities for U.S. graduate and undergraduate students to study less commonly taught languages in world regions critical to U.S. interests, and underrepresented in study abroad, including Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America, and the Middle East. 

Hometown: LeClaire, IA
Degree: international studies major, French and Arabic minors

Do you have professors or mentors to thank? 
When I transferred to Iowa in 2018, I did not imagine that I would find such strong support throughout the university. I would like to thank Dr. Aron Aji, Dr. Ahmed Souaiaia, Dr. Karen Wachsmuth, and Claire Frances for helping me realize my dream to learn Turkish. 

Were there experiences at UI that inspired your decision to pursue a Boren?
My goal to study Turkish arose in July 2016 while participating in the University of Iowa’s summer National Scholars Institute in high school. While I was supposed to study creative writing and psychology, I discovered my interest in Turkish through the Turkish friends I made in the program. I was entranced by how their native language perfectly translated their personalities. During the second week, my Turkish friends received messages that their country was facing a coup d’etat. As they frantically tried to contact their families, I understood for the first time the impact government has on peoples’ safety and security.

How do you foresee this influencing your future career?
By teaching me advanced Turkish, cultural, and political knowledge, Boren will prepare me for my future career inside the federal government as a Turkish language analyst.

What excites you the most about spending a semester in Azerbaijan?
I am excited that I get to meet the other Turkish language learners from around the United States. I am excited that I get to share this incredible experience with other Americans.

The David L. Boren Scholarships and Fellowships are sponsored by the National Security Education Program (NSEP), a federal initiative designed to build a broader and more qualified pool of U.S. citizens with foreign language and international skills. Boren Awards provide U.S. undergraduate and graduate students with resources and encouragement to acquire language skills and experience in countries critical to the future security and stability of the United States. In exchange for funding, Boren award recipients agree to work in the federal government for a period of at least one year. “The National Security Education Program,” according to Dr. Michael A. Nugent, Director of the Defense Language and National Security Education Office (DLNSEO), “is helping change the U.S. higher education system and the way Americans approach the study of foreign languages and cultures.” 

This year, the Institute of International Education (IIE), which administers the awards on behalf of NSEP, received 784 applications from undergraduate students for the Boren Scholarships and awarded 217; 268 graduate students applied for the Boren Fellowships and 119 were awarded. The selected Boren Scholars and Fellows intend to study in 44 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Eurasia, Latin America, and the Middle East.  They will study 46 different languages. The most popular languages include Mandarin, Arabic, Russian, Portuguese, Korean, French, Turkish, and Indonesian. Given the unprecedented global COVID-19 pandemic, IIE will work flexibly with 2020 awardees to ensure that as many as possible are able to proceed with their overseas language study when it is safe and feasible to do so.

Since 1994, over 7,000 students have received Boren Awards and contributed their vital skills to careers in support of the critical missions of agencies throughout the federal government. “To continue to play a leadership role in the world, it is vital that America's future leaders have a deep understanding of the rest of the world,” says former U.S. Senator David Boren, the principal author of the legislation that created the National Security Education Program. “As we seek to lead through partnerships, understanding of other cultures and languages is absolutely essential.”

An independent not-for-profit founded in 1919, IIE is among the world's largest and most experienced international education and exchange organizations. Undergraduate and graduate students interested in applying for the Boren Awards should contact IIE at or visit

Explore the many funding opportunities open to UI students and alumni

Students are encouraged to begin their funding searches and applications at least six months to one year in advance.  Schedule an advising appointment with Karen Wachsmuth to discuss your interest in an international fellowship or begin an application (as a UI undergraduate student, graduate student, or alumna/us).