Carnegie Mellon University
June 03, 2020

Rising Junior Awarded Critical Language Scholarship

By Heidi Opdyke

Abby Simmons
  • Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • 412-268-6094
Jason Maderer
  • Marketing and Communications
  • 412-268-1151

Roni Sosis, a rising junior at Carnegie Mellon University, has won a U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship (CLS).

In a normal year, Sosis would be heading abroad for eight to 10 weeks while studying Arabic, one of 15 languages the program supports students to study. This year, 2020 summer trips have been suspended in accordance with government travel advisories related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Although CLS has had to suspend in-country programming due to COVID-19, Roni will be able to participate in virtual programming and earn CLS Alumni status, which includes federal hiring preferences, said Richelle Bernazzoli, associate director of Undergraduate Research and National Fellowships at CMU. "We are very excited for them."

CMU has been home to 13 students who have been awarded 15 Critical Language Scholarships since the program's inception in 2008. Susan Polanksy, head of the Modern Languages Department said that the awards have been very meaningful to the recipients.

"What an important opportunity the CLS Program offers to students to build on their already impressive skills and experiences as passionate learners," Polansky said. "Study of additional languages and engagement with other cultures open ways to learn more about oneself and others, and to gain understanding of diverse perspectives. How crucial these abilities are in our linguistically and culturally complex world!"

Grantees will be allowed to reapply for the next cycle for travel, as well. Because the program is remote, Sosis, who is dual majoring in global studies and creative writing with an Arabic Studies minor, is working on a novel about a queer Jewish boy struggling to fit in this summer with guidance from Sharon Dilworth through the summer course "Fiction Workshop-Advancing Narratives."

Joseph Schaefer, a Ph.D. student in second language acquisition and an Arabic instructor, encouraged Sosis to apply after seeing how their drive, passion and perspective opens others up to a more enlightened and harmonious view of the world.

"Roni is a dedicated learner, astute linguist, team player and brilliant thinker. They have proven themselves as someone especially concerned with all things related to constructive social engagements in their local community and internationally," Schaefer said. "Roni has mastered a formula for using their unique background to build social bridges, both locally and globally, with people who may initially see them as different but quickly learn otherwise."

Sosis is an active part of CMU's community. They currently serve as the chairperson of The Council of Religious Students (CoRS), which fosters an inclusive and empowering faith community through initiatives that enrich connections among religious communities, build mutually inspiring relationships, and develop understanding and respect toward religious identities on campus. Sosis spent several years growing up in Israel.

"For me it's more about why I wanted to learn Arabic," said Sosis, who is Jewish and involved in student groups like Hillel JUC and Chabad. "It's a show of respect to reach out to people in their own language. Especially in Israel where Hebrew is the de facto language. To be able to speak to people in their native tongue and in the words they're more comfortable with is a wonderful thing."

Sosis is considering different career paths, including pursuing a Ph.D. on the historical relationships between Jewish and Arabic communities.

"Because I do have access to Hebrew texts, I would like to read Arabic ones as well," they said.

Sosis also is pursuing a career in creative writing.

"The creative writing faculty has been astoundingly supportive to help me reach my goals," they said. "To be able to write about people's experiences around the world would be just amazing."

In applying for the CLS Scholarship and other opportunities, Sosis said they have had support from the Fellowships and Scholarship Office, the Academic Advisory Center in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences and Study Abroad. Among their accolades, Sosis was selected for the Division of Student Affairs' IMPAQT program, which provides weeklong exchange opportunities for students from Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon in Qatar campuses.

"We didn't get to go to Qatar, but the students at CMU-Q were able to come to Pittsburgh, which was amazing," they said.

While COVID-19 has Sosis' plans for study abroad on hold, they still have sights on going overseas next fall.

"Study abroad enables me to fully immerse myself in culture abroad, challenge myself and open myself up to the diversity of human experiences around the world in a meaningful way," Sosis said.

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