Carnegie Mellon University
June 21, 2021

Renfroe Receives Critical Language Scholarship

By Stacy Kish

Devon Renfroe, a recent graduate with a master’s degree in Applied Second Language Acquisition from the Department of Modern Languages in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, has been selected for the U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) to study Korean.  

Renfroe began teaching English to non-English speakers while completing her bachelor of arts degree in political science from the University of Florida. Many of her students were from South Korea. As she engaged with her students, she became intrigued by the Korean language and culture. Renfroe decided to move to South Korea to teach English to middle school students and learn this complex language.

“I have self-studied Korean for most of my time,” said Renfroe. “As my language skills progressed, it made the experience working in another culture more meaningful.”

Renfroe looked for opportunities outside of school to practice her language skills through activities like volleyball. By the time she left South Korea, she was conversationally proficient in the language. She decided to return to the United States to tackle the next challenge, a master’s degree at Carnegie Mellon University.

Renfroe’s first year in the Second Language Acquisition program was anything but normal. As the pandemic progressed, she transitioned her course work and teaching to distance learning. In addition, she took on the challenge of shifting from teaching English as a second language to teaching native speakers. Throughout the many twists of the 2020 academic year, she remained willing to take risks, listen to guidance and be mentored as she navigated the peerless waters of the academia during the pandemic. 

“Language learners have to be ready to fail,” said Bonnie Youngs, a faculty member in Applied Second Language Acquisition who mentored Renfroe during her studies. “The level of maturity that she has to move to Korea after finishing her undergraduate degree shows her dedication to learning the language and the culture.”

After completing CLS Renfroe aims to work toward a doctoral degree in Second Language Acquisition and conduct research on learners of Korean. She hopes to contribute to making the study of Korean more prevalent in the United States.

“Korean does not get a lot of attention in higher education in the United States,” said Renfroe. “I am excited to be around people who see Korean as being connected to their futures and their careers.”

The CLS Program is an intensive overseas language and cultural immersion program for American students enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities. Students spend eight to ten weeks abroad studying one of 15 critical languages. The program includes intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences designed to promote rapid language gains. It plays an important role in preparing students for the 21st century's globalized workforce and increasing national competitiveness.

“As I got to know Devon, it quickly became clear that during her time living and working in South Korea, she applied herself very seriously to learning the Korean language and making deep connections with her community there,” said Richelle Bernazzoli, associate director of undergraduate research and national fellowships in the Undergraduate Research and Fellowships and Scholarships offices. “Her professional goals will benefit immensely from the training CLS provides, but just as importantly, her CLS cohort will benefit from her impressive linguistic and cultural knowledge. We are so proud she is representing Carnegie Mellon in the program this summer.”