Baylor Students Receive 'Critical Language Scholarships' to Study in Russia

  • News Photo 4475
    Gary Guadagnolo, a Baylor alumnus from Arlington, and Sara Garrett, a senior University Scholar from Robinson
  • News Photo 4474
    Ross Irons, a junior Russian and German double major from Dallas.
May 20, 2008

media contact: Paige Patton, communication specialist, (254) 710-3321

Three Baylor University students - including one who has been awarded the prestigious honor for the second consecutive year - have received Critical Language Scholarships to study in Russia during a two-month intensive program this summer.

Only 525 scholarships were given to more than 6,000 applicants by the Council of American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC).

Gary Guadagnolo, a senior University Scholar from Arlington who graduated from Baylor on May 17, has received the Critical Language Scholarship two years in a row. During his last visit to Russia, Guadagnolo studied Russian language and culture in the Philology Faculty at St. Petersburg State University. This summer, he will study Russian language and culture in a program similar to the one in St. Petersburg, but will be in Samara, a city in the southeastern part of the country.

"Studying in this new environment, which is very industrial and provincial, will allow me to develop an understanding of Russia that will be considerably different than my experiences in St. Petersburg or Moscow. I am particularly interested in discerning whether the perceptions of people in Samara about their country and its place in the world are different than that of Russians in St. Petersburg or Moscow," he said.

Guadagnolo plans to spend the 2008-09 academic year studying in St. Petersburg to develop his fluency and pursue a doctorate degree in Russian history, which he plans to teach on the university level.

"I was very honored to receive this scholarship last year, and even more so to be given the chance to study through this program again this summer," he said. "I think the fact that Baylor has three students participating in the program this summer speaks to the high level of preparation that we have experienced in the classroom, and I hope that even more Baylor students will have the opportunity to participate in this scholarship, through Russian and other languages, in the future."

Two of the professors under which Guadagnolo studied at Baylor were Dr. Michael Long, professor of Russian and director of the Slavic and East European Studies program, and Dr. Wallace Daniel, The Ralph and Bessie Mae Lynn Professor of History.

"Of all the students I have had in Russian class, Gary ranks in the top one or two percent," Long said.

"Gary has a passion for learning and discovery," Daniel said. "He has begun to develop a vision of the world that is international in scope, entails extending oneself to other people and requires seeing through fresh eyes a culture existing in the heartland of Eurasia. In the last three years, he has thought through carefully, and planned accordingly, a course of study and activity to prepare him to make a significant contribution to international service. I do not believe Baylor or any other university has a student better prepared to maximize this opportunity to study in Russia."

Sara Garrett, a senior University Scholar from Robinson, plans to study at a language school in Astrakhan--near the Caspian Sea--while living with a local family. She also plans to travel and wants to visit Volgograd, where the Battle of Stalingrad was fought in World War II.

"I'm absolutely thrilled to have a chance to go back and study in Russia," Garrett said. "I really enjoyed my time studying in Voronezh this fall, and I'm very excited to have a chance to experience a different part of the country. I think it's wonderful for Baylor's Russian program to have so many of us going."

"Sara is extremely motivated, flexible, self-disciplined and creative," Daniel said. "She is a person of integrity, and is sensitive to other people. In Voronezh, where she studied last fall, she spent many extracurricular hours working in a children's orphanage and built close relationships with many children. She has a wide range of interests which will be very appealing to Russians. She will function extremely well in a challenging cultural environment, and she will be a great representative of Baylor and of this country."

Ross Irons, a junior German and Russian double major from Dallas, also plans to live and study in Astrakhan and attend the state university there. He will spend the spring 2009 semester studying abroad in Freiburg, Germany.

Irons was initially placed on the alternate list of award recipients and found out at the last minute that he had been accepted to study in Russia.

"I am very honored to be given this award," he said. "I am incredibly grateful, especially since I didn't think I was going for a while."

Irons said he is looking forward to being surrounded by "eclectic mix of more than 100 different nationalities and several different religious faiths" and hopes to improve his Russian, as all program participants are required to speak only the native language.

"Ross is maximizing his undergraduate education, while also laying the foundation for his future work internationally with children in need," said Dr. Elizabeth Vardaman, associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences. "He, like Gary and Sara, has a bold vision and, using the language skills developed through Baylor and through the Critical Language award, will make a shining contribution as a servant leader in the world."

Long said Irons is a highly motivated, linguistically talented student, studying both Russian and German simultaneously. "He is a most deserving student and will be a fine representative of Baylor," Long said.

"It is not often that we have students who major in more than one language," said Dr. Ann McGlashan, associate professor of German. "Not only is Ross talented when it comes to languages, but he also has a great sense of humor, which helps lighten the mood."

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and administered by the CAORC, the Critical Language Scholarships Program was launched in 2006. In its inaugural year, the Program offered intensive overseas study in the critical need foreign languages of Arabic, Bangla/Bengali, Hindi, Punjabi, Turkish and Urdu. In 2007, Chinese, Korean, Persian and Russian institutes were added along with increased student capacity in the inaugural language institutes.

To apply for the program, the students provided extensive information about their academic performance, honors, language courses and previous study abroad experience. They also had to answer essay questions and submit letters of recommendation.

The eight-week program covers all travel expenses, housing costs and program fees and offers concurrent course credit.

In 2007, more than 6,000 applicants sought after nearly 400 spots in the various language programs. This year, the CAORC awarded 525 scholarships.

"All three students are excellent representatives of Baylor. It is a significant achievement to be selected for this highly sought after and prestigious scholarship. It's fantastic that Baylor will be so well represented in this program," Long said.

As part of the National Security Language Initiative (NSLI), the Department of State Critical Language Scholarships will provide funding for U.S. citizen undergraduate, master's and Ph.D. students to participate in beginning, intermediate and advanced level summer language programs at American Overseas Research Centers and affiliated partners. Recipients of these scholarships are expected to continue their language study beyond the scholarship period and later apply their critical language skills in their professional careers.

More information about the Critical Language Scholarships can be found at

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