Alumni Development Fund

Each year, the CLS Alumni Development Fund offers small grants to alumni of the CLS Program through a competitive application process. The Alumni Development Fund (ADF) is designed to provide opportunities for alumni to continue their language learning, pursue career development goals, and participate in community outreach related to CLS languages and their corresponding world regions. Particular emphasis is placed on projects with an impact beyond the individual applicant, reaching students, CLS alumni, or others in their community.

Examples of previous Alumni Development Fund projects can be found below.

The next Alumni Development Fund period of performance will be January to June, 2020. The application will become available in November 2019.


Anika Kabani (Arabic 2016), a 2018 ADF recipient, worked with a local language cooperative to host Arabic classes at Sanctuary for Families, the non-profit organization where she works in New York City, NY. The Arabic classes took place weekly on Thursdays from January 31, 2019 to March 14, 2019 for a total of seven two-hour sessions. The sessions were offered to colleagues at her organization who work with Arabic-speaking clients.

The language courses were attended by as many as 10 staff members at a time and they worked with the instructor to provide specific language training related to the work that they do. In addition, Anika was able to keep her own language study active and share her growth in the language with her Arabic-speaking clients.

Clara Haizlett (Arabic 2017), a 2018 ADF recipient, utilized her Alumni Development Fund grant to begin a podcasting project to challenge common stereotypes of the Arab world. The Sandstone Podcast was geared toward an audience in her home state of West Virginia and aimed to provide an accessible educational source of information about the Middle East for her fellow West Virginians and explores connections between those living in Appalachia and the Arab world.

Thus far, Clara has shared her own personal journey to cultural discovery on the podcast and interviewed a range of participants, including the local Imam, her parents, friends rom around the Arab world, and Arabs living in West Virginia.

Kaleigh McLaughlin (Azerbaijani 2016), a 2018 ADF recipient, planned and executed a very successful Russian Tea Time event with the Department of Modern Languages at her university, University of South Dakota. This event was held in support of the new Russian Studies minor at the University of South Dakota. Despite challenges, including having to change the venue last minute due to flooding, 50 students attended the event in addition to several staff and faculty members. Members of the Russian-speaking community in eastern South Dakota also attended the event, providing traditional homemade treats.

During the event, Russian international students performed traditional Russian dance and served as conversation partners for those practicing their Russian language skills. Students taking Russian courses gave bilingual presentations on Moscow and St. Petersburg and Kaleigh gave a presentation on Azerbaijan and the South Caucasus. Scholarships for language study were discussed, including the CLS Program. In addition, Reporters from the university newspaper and television channel interviewed Kaleigh and the Russian professor who supported her in this event.

Miriam Tinberg (Arabic 2012) Ashley Rivenbark (Chinese 2014), and Sana Vang (Chinese 2014), 2018 ADF recipients, used their Alumni Development Fund grant to produce a podcast on behalf of the CLS Alumni Society, focused specifically on diversity and inclusion. The podcast is a series of interviews of CLS alumni wherein they have conversations that explore the unique stories of each alumni and how they coped with various issues of identity abroad and at home.

The goal of the podcast, which is an ongoing project, is to educate people in the CLS community regarding personal stories and experiences with which they may not be familiar themselves, and to remind listeners of their ability and responsibility to connect with others despite and because of differences.

Mrinalini Watson (Hindi 2018), Nicholas Thomason (Hindi 2018), Sophia Seidenberg (Hindi 2018), and Ella Parsons (Hindi 2018), 2018 ADF recipients, completed a project to support teenage girls’ literacy in rural Rajasthan. They engaged 28 girls between the ages of 12 and 20 who had dropped out of school in their unique program, which included an intensive two-month onsite literacy camp followed by an eight-week online curriculum. The program is designed to give the girls skills to become financially independent, enable them to stand up for themselves, and to foster their self-confidence.

The bootcamp commenced on February 18, 2019 and initially tackled the challenge of negotiating social barriers imposed by the caste system. Workshops, talks, and discussions on topics ranging from patriarchal society to menstruation (a very taboo topic) helped smooth the way and encourage them to work cooperatively and treat each other as equals.

They helped students to see their own potential, through material covering expanding vocabulary in both Hindi and English, learning how to use tablet computers, lessons in geography, earning an income and many other topics. Guest speakers were brought in weekly to discuss these topics with the students. The girls were given a safe space where they were encouraged to be themselves, which was empowering for them and Mrinalini reported seeing great personal growth among the group members

Pooja Tilvawala (Hindi 2016), 2018 ADF recipient, hosted a 10-class lecture series on introductory Hindi for students at American University, which does not offer courses in Hindi. The series was supported by the Center for Language Exploration, Acquisition, and Research at AU and co-taught by Pooja and another teacher. This project grew out of a desire to demonstrate to AU that Hindi study was in demand and follows Pooja’s creation of a student group in 2015, Namaste AU, which is dedicated to bringing Hindi to AU. the 14 AU students participated in the series, which taught the basics of Hindi script and sounds, reading, learning basic essential vocabulary and phrases, and culminated in a cooking class.

Wendy Gong (Chinese 2018), Taina Orellana (Chinese 2018), and Nicole Rojas (Chinese 2017), 2018 ADF recipients, organized an event at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) in New York City with the aim of educating the public on resources for Asian Americans. The goals were to have a dialogue and educational programming on current issues pertinent to the Asian American community. Speakers from local Asian American groups such as APEX, a mentoring organization for AAPI youth, the Coalition for the Revitalization of Asian American Studies at Hunter College, the Asian American Alliance political student organization at Columbia University, and JACL, a civil rights organization.

The event was organized to shed light on the fact that many Asian Americans live in poverty in New York City and are not aware of the resources available to them. The 54 attendees included young professionals, college students, families, and senior citizens.

Eric Young (Arabic 2015), Joshua Von Trapp (Arabic 2016), Henry Thompson (Arabic 2017) and Aaron Davis (Arabic 2015), 2017 ADF recipients, launched a series of 20 lectures delivered by thirteen different speakers in Arabic at Brigham Young University. Each lecture was preceded by a consultation with the speaker that served to help the speaker select a culturally interesting topic and tailor their language use to the target audience, and providing the group with an opportunity to practice spoken Arabic skills with a native speaker. The group created a website to direct instructors and learners to the individual videos shared on their Youtube channel (http://sites.google.com/site/arabiclectureseries). Both the website and YouTube channel have been shared with colleagues at other universities working as tenure and not tenure-track faculty who have, in turn, directed their students to the videos. The uploaded videos have received over 450 views from five different countries for a total viewing time of more than 26 ½ hours.

Kurt Ebsary (Swahili 2017), 2017 ADF recipient, recorded and produced a CD “Mwamba wa Imani Langu (Rock of my Peace)” which is a musical collaboration with Swahili speaking artists in Buffalo, NY. One of the musicians he met was Gabby Kaleja, a refugee of the Congo who arrived in the U.S in 2016 via Zambia. The recording sessions brought family and friends into the studio to record backing harmonies and more. The project influenced Kurt both through his Swahili acquisition and his work as a musician and recording engineer. The time spent collaborating in the studio helped Kurt to learn the intricacies of East African music and to learn specialized vocabulary for recording Swahili musicians. As such, the project benefited his own development, raised awareness of his recording studio and it helped Gabby to promote his music.

Miranda Beggin (Arabic 2017), Tallie Hausser (Arabic 2016)and Costanza Maio (Arabic 2014, 2015), 2017 ADF recipients, collaborated to provide technology that can help promote virtual language exchange program called Banaat Connect. It is an online language exchange program between Palestinian women and girls in the Jerash Refugee Camp learning English and female Arabic students from the U.S. and Canada. With ADF funds, the group purchased tablets, cases, and headphones which solved the long-standing issue of overcrowding in the computer lab. In the past, no more than three women could participate in language exchange at a time due to the poor quality of headphones. Thanks to the increased capacity to host more participants in each session, the group was able to achieve their mission to empower and educate the women of the Gaza camp through cross-cultural exchange, and providing them with English language skills that making them stronger job candidates. In addition, the ADF supported purchase of paper and ink for the group to produce flyers for language exchange as well as the certificates presented to the participants upon completion of an 8-week term of the program. These materials directly supported the group’s ability to operate the program professionally. Finally, they printed 500 pamphlets, translated in both English and Arabic, to be distributed in schools and universities to promote the program, expanding the number of ex-Gazan women they group are able to impact.

Ben Yarbrough (Chinese 2011) & Lin Yuan (Chinese 2011), 2017 ADF receipients, organized a project to provide education and outreach services for the caregivers and family members of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the Chinese-speaking community in New York. The event aimed to support the linguistic and professional development of the two CLS alumni involved and promote CaringKind’s goal of increasing its outreach efforts to Chinese speakers. They also hoped to provide much-needed education and support to members of a marginalized community. The event included an educational presentation by Dr. Ada Mui, a professor from the Columbia University School of Social Work, that covered the effects of Alzheimer's and how caretakers can best support those with Alzheimer’s; entertainment, including a magician and a Sichuan Opera performance; and a Q&A. Participants were able to meet other caregivers, discuss the challenges they face in their positions, and learn from others in their community.

Melody Poland (Japanese 2011), a 2017 ADF recipient, launched a series of workshops on traditional Japanese paper crafts. The workshops were designed to teach Japanese culture and language to attendees. In addition to Melody, three native Japanese speakers facilitated the workshops: an artist, an art assistant, and an assistant at Atkinson elementary school. They provided workshops for children with special needs and the elderly including ten special needs studnets at Atkinson elementary school and two groups of adults who were interested in Japanese language and culture. Pictures and a brief summary from the adult workshops were shared with the participant groups on Meetup and Facebook, which have about 57 and 763 other members, respectively. The workshops were well-attended and received positive feedback in the survey. The students at Atkinson Elementary were presented with familiar items from Japan to help make the connection to their daily life. Adults studying Japanese were able to converse with Japanese workshop participants and learn new vocabulary and cultural elements. Adults interested in art were exposed to a new culture and language altogether.

Troy Spier (Swahili 2017), a 2017 ADF recipient, used his grant to establish an academic journal, the Arusha Working Papers in African Linguistics (AWPAL) with his colleagues. AWPAL is a peer-reviewed, free-access, online-only academic journal whose goal is to provide a forum for discussions about applied and theoretical issues in African linguistics. AWPAL welcomes original contributions on all aspects of African languages and linguistics, in particular those that are data-oriented and descriptive or pedagogical in nature. Additionally, this journal encourages contributions from junior scholars in Africa whose work might otherwise not be considered at other venues. AWPAL was issued an ISSN on February 12, 2018, from the U.S. Library of Congress (2576-8638). The journal now has a dedicated server space and a domain name (http://arushalinguistics.org/) for the next three years, hopes to be indexed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and will be affiliated with the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA) in April 2018 after the release of the first volume.

Paula Zhang (Korean 2017), a 2017 ADF receipient, carried out a virtual mentorship program from November 2017 to March 2018 pairing alumni of both NSLI-Y and CLS with alumni of NSLI-Y looking to apply for CLS, culminating in an event in New York City on March 13, 2018 featuring a Diplomat-in-Residence, a Peace Corps Recruiter, and a Fulbright alum. Her goal was for NSLI-Y alumni to have someone to guide them through the ins and outs of the CLS application process and on-program experience who understood where they are as alumni of NSLI-Y looking to expand on their linguistic knowledge and State Department exchange experience. Her in-person event, ‘Building On Your State Exchange’ was held at NYU Wasserman Center for Career Development. The event was open to CLS and other U.S. Department of State Exchange program alumni to hear from outstanding alumnae of other U.S. Department of State program. Speakers include Usha Pitts (Diplomat-in-Residence and a career Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. Department of State), Shannon McBride (Former Peace Corps Volunteer in Uganda) and Katie Bakarich (Fulbright Germany alumna and the President of the Greater New York chapter of the Fulbright Association). Many alumni from different programs such as NSLI-Y, CLS, Gilman, Fulbright, Boren, and CBYX participated in this event.

Tyler Prochazka (Chinese 2014), Elyse Mark (Chinese 2014) and James Davis (Chinese 2016), 2017 ADF recipients, held a series of multicultural and bilingual activities throughout Taiwan discussing the philosophical foundations of Universal Basic Income and the economic feasibility of such a policy. They were able to engage the Taiwanese public, from high school students, to university, to average citizens, about what basic income may mean for a Taiwanese context information. In the process, they also held round-table discussions with international scholars, such as Philippe Van Parijs, the famous author and founder of Basic Income Earth Network, and Sarath Davala, the UNICEF basic income trial lead researcher. Finally, in March they held a two-day international conference on the theme, “Asia Pacific’s Economic Future,” inviting scholars from around the region and world to discuss the challenges faced by Asia and if UBI is an appropriate mechanism to address it.

Leona Amosah (Russian 2016), a 2016 ADF recipient, hosted an event to increase interest in the Russian department at UNC – Chapel Hill and in Russian studies generally. Leona and a fellow Russian student prepared food for the event and gave presentations on their personal experiences studying and traveling in Russia and invited other students to speak about their motivations to study Russian. Leona specifically targeted their outreach efforts leading up to the event to students of color at UNC. The event was attended by approximately 35 students and faculty.

Melissa Brzycki (Chinese 2013) and Stephanie Montgomery (Chinese 2013), 2016 ADF recipients, produced and recorded a podcast (“East Asia for All”) with their grant. So far they have three completed episodes available on iTunes with plans to record more on a monthly basis. They hoped to create nuanced, in-depth discussions about East Asian popular culture and media that are both entertaining and informative. In their first episodes they covered topics such as the Chinese documentary “Under the Dome,” Japanese fascism, and Japanese author Nosaka Akiyuki. “Creating the podcast has helped us hone our communication skills and broadened our ideas about how to engage in public history. We are learning to convey our knowledge and opinions without relying on academic jargon or unnecessarily complex language.”

Kiana Chan (Chinese 2015) collaborated with the Asian Pacific Health Corps at UCLA, which plans and hosts free health fairs for disadvantaged Asian Pacific Islander (API) communities. Her aim was to make health information more accessible to patients in order to empower them to maintain healthy lifestyles. With ADF funds, Kiana created 380 bilingual Mandarin/English health brochures, which were distributed during a health fair on April 15th and will continue to be distributed at future fairs. Kiana was aided by bilingual and native Mandarin-speaking volunteers, who helped with translation and review of the final document.

Calynn Dowler (Bangla 2016), Sarah Dodamead (Bangla 2016), Paige Giarmona (Bangla 2016), Deya Maldas (Bangla 2013, 2016), Marshall McCollum (Bangla 2014), and Ian Reed (Bangla 2014), 2016 ADF recipients, collaborated to create a project focused on youth education, environmental conservation, and the promotion of the Bengali language. The group’s India-based team (Dowler, McCollum, and Reed) took high school students from Kolkata to Basanti Block in the West Bengal Sundarbans (the world’s largest contiguous mangrove forest) to lead a two-day environmental education and art workshop with local children. The team then returned to Kolkata, where they spent the next four months writing, translating, and designing a children’s book. The goals for the text were to educate children in Kolkata and the U.S. about the Sundarbans and the threats posed to it by environmental degradation and climate change. The story centers on a crow from the city who gets blown to the Sundarbans in a storm. Along the way, she meets different species from the Sundarbans, reflects on human-induced threats to the forest (pollution, climate change, etc.), and shares models for both positive and negative human-environment interaction. Additionally, the students designed an accompanying lesson plan that delves more deeply into the science behind environmental threats and climate change. The book, titled “Friends of the Sundarbans,” was published on March 23, 2017 in English and Bengali and has since been used in environmental education sessions at a Kolkata-based NGO, distributed to children in the Sundarbans, and approximately 500 copies have been sent to the U.S. for distribution in several states.

Madeline de Figueiredo (Arabic 2016) and Nicholas Posegay (Arabic 2016), 2016 ADF recipients, launched the University of Chicago’s first Arabic-language publication, a literary magazine titled “UChicago Majalla.” The first issue of the magazine was printed in December 2016 as an educational tool and unifying force among Arabic learners at the university. Students from all years and degree programs contributed to the magazine by submitting poetry, narratives, short stories, and academic papers, all in Arabic. The Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department at the University of Chicago hosted a release event when the first issue was published. Students, staff, and faculty came together to review, discuss, and critique the publication. The second issue was printed in March 2017.

Patrick Bohnenkamp (Arabic 2015), a 2016 ADF recipient, used his funding to hold two community forums titled “Arabic: A Language of Beauty and History” at the Fort Madison Public Library in Fort Madison, Iowa. He wanted to provide an environment in which he could share his experiences with learning Arabic with his community as well as encourage dialogue. He provided Arab snacks and sweets along with keepsakes and souvenirs from Jordan. Approximately 55 people attended the two presentations, which were covered by the local newspaper and NPR station.

Elizabeth Buckner (Arabic 2008), a 2016 ADF recipient, coordinated and hosted a public event that highlighted student and faculty research that is related to refugee education, focused on the Middle East and North Africa, and, more specifically, on responses to the Syrian refugee crisis. Six speakers addressed various aspects of these issues and shared their academic works with the audience (approx. 30 attendees). Elizabeth was also able to present her own research study that she conducted on refugee education policy for Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Sarah Calderone (Russian 2012), a 2016 ADF recipient, used funds allocated to her through ADF to participate in a research presentation at a roundtable at an academic conference and a student panel at her university. She presented her research at a roundtable titled “New Research and Approaches to the Study of Migration in Russia” at the annual convention of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies in Washington, D.C. in November 2016. Her presentation focused on research completed during her Fulbright grant period and a paper on the introduction of a comprehensive examination for migrants on Russian language, history, and law. “With the support of the Alumni Development Fund, not only did I meet my goal of speaking about my Fulbright research experience, which was made possible with the advanced Russian language skills acquired through my CLS program, but I was also able to connect with others working on these issues. Besides the professional and academic benefits that I gained through these opportunities, this research exchange was helpful for the community of scholars focusing on the Eurasian migration system, as well as other graduate students in my international affairs program.”

Katia Chaterji (Indonesian 2016), a 2016 ADF recipient, invited esteemed Javanese musician Ki Midiyanto to the University of Washington’s Seattle Campus to tune and repair their gamelan instruments and shadow puppets. The project also supported several events, including several lectures, performances, and dinners through which the campus and greater Seattle community had the opportunity to meet Mr. Midiyanto. Along with the ADF grant, Katia received matching support from University of Washington’s Southeast Asia Center and School of Music, which she used to provide Mr. Midiyanto’s travel and lodging as well as refreshments at each of the events. “My intention for this project was to increase awareness of Indonesian cultural and performing arts on campus, and to bring attention to the vibrant Indonesian communities that we see in the USA today.”

Nicole Conseugra (Chinese 2016) and Franklin Hernandez (Chinese 2016), 2016 ADF recipients, used their grant to plan and host a Chinese New Year Gala Program at Florida International University on February 4th. The event was meant to promote education and awareness of China’s most important social and economic holiday, as well as to broaden interest in Mandarin courses and Chinese culture at FIU. Many Chinese performance and cultural groups provided entertainment for the evening.

Sara Davidson (Korean 2011), a 2016 ADF recipient, used her grant to host a series outreach meetings for Korean college students interested in study abroad and international engagement. She held events in Cheonju, Daejeon, and Seoul at local cafes near major universities in each city. “Engagement like this (particularly in a friendly, positive, and intellectually stimulating environment), even just for a couple of hours, is a valuable way to grow both interpersonal and international friendships with Korea and globally.”

Benjamin Ditter (Chinese 2016), a 2016 ADF recipient, used his award to support a series of academic colloquia at the University of Washington – Seattle that covered various topics in the humanities, all related to China and conducted in Mandarin. These events provided a platform for Mandarin-speaking graduate students to present their work and receive feedback, as well as providing practice for those looking to increase their understanding of Mandarin.

Niki Murphy (Korean 2015), a 2016 ADF recipient, collaborated with the Maryland Institute College of Art to organize a Korean film screening as part of Discovering Cultural Diversity in Film, a two-day film festival showcasing full-length and short films from Korea, Turkey, France, and others. With the support of ADF, Niki was able to invite filmmakers Jennifer Cho Suhr and Shirley Kim-ryu to present their films and engage in Q&A sessions with the audience.