U.S. State Department designates Honors College student as Critical Language Scholar

As the daughter of a U.S. Air Force veteran, Rachel Shafer knew moving was inevitable. What she didn’t foresee were the lifelong lessons each new military base would bring – from Ohio to Virginia to Kansas to Texas, Shafer learned to adapt to new environments and formed an appreciation for the different cultures that existed within each station.

Those childhood experiences also instilled in Shafer a yearning for peace and conflict resolution. Seeing her father deployed post-9/11, she said, was frightening, as was witnessing a world in the throes of intolerance.

“Observing the ways that terror, prejudice and hate had affected so many at home and abroad has played a large role in shaping my goals and making me passionate about diplomacy,” said Shafer, a student in UNT’s Honors College.

Shafer – who is majoring in international studies with a concentration in security and diplomacy in the Middle East and Africa and a minor in Arabic – is now one step closer to that goal, as she recently was named a U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholar. The CLS program is an intensive overseas language and cultural immersion program that is part of a wider government initiative to expand the number of American students mastering foreign languages critical to national security and economic prosperity, and to prepare them for the globalized workforce and increasing national competitiveness.

The scholarship will allow Shafer to study this summer at the Arab-American Language Institute in Meknes, Morocco, where she spent five weeks last summer as part of a study abroad program.

“Committing myself to immersion language learning will be a challenge, yet I am confident that energy, hard work, passion and the lessons learned from my past experiences will allow me to succeed,” Shafer said.

James Duban, associated dean for research and national scholarship in UNT’s Honors College and Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science, said the college is fortunate to have outstanding students such as Shafer.

“The CLS is a highly coveted distinction,” Duban said. “Rachel has brought added distinction to herself and to UNT, as the award reflects the superb quality of her undergraduate education and her capacity to make significant contributions to the U.S. and global communities.”

Shafer plans to use her experience in the CLS program to improve her fluency in Arabic in pursuit of her ultimate goal of becoming a U.S. Foreign Service officer in the Middle East.

“I will use my language capabilities to advance peace and development in this dynamic and complex region of the world,” she said, “while also contributing to positive Middle Eastern relations with the United States.”

Shafer was recognized at UNT’s Honors Day on April 20.