CSU students receive Boren Awards to study language and culture abroad

Mitch Roberts and Taylor Ziska

CSU students Mitch Roberts (left) and Taylor Ziska are recipients of Boren Awards to study language and culture abroad.

Two Colorado State University students have earned David L. Boren Awards from the National Security Education Program, a federal initiative designed to support students interested in national security and linguistics.

Mitch Roberts, a graduate student in the Warner College of Natural Resources, and Taylor Ziska, a senior in the College of Liberal Arts, each received the honors, which provides funding to study abroad to acquire language skills and international experience.

Roberts received the scholarship to study Bahasa in Indonesia, and Ziska plans to study Portuguese in Brazil. All Boren awardees sign a service agreement stating that they will work to help uphold national security for a certain period after they complete their program.

Since 2015, six CSU students have been recipients of Boren Awards. The awardees include Sydney Spiegel and Caroline Dunphy in 2020, Paine Lewis in 2019, and Carl Kasten in 2015.

Mitch Roberts

Mitch Roberts

Destination: Indonesia to study Bahasa
College: Warner College of Natural Resource
Major: Conservation Leadership

With his background in conservation leadership, Mitch Roberts was attracted to Indonesia for its host of natural resource management and conservation challenges.

“It’s a really fascinating place,” he said. “It’s a really biodiverse country. It has a growing economy and a large population, and all of those things are only continuing to grow.”

Roberts previously work in Washington, D.C., at the U.S. Forest Service in the Office of International Programs as a program manager, hosting natural resource professionals from other countries as a way to share knowledge and best practices.

With the Boren Award, Roberts will be able to experience natural resource management from a different perspective. In addition to learning Bahasa, he will be embedded in an NGO that specializes in community-based forest management and wildfire prevention.

The Boren Award is “a huge honor,” Roberts said. “Through the program, it provides an opportunity where I can represent my country, gain valuable language skills, immerse myself in a different culture, and spend time in a country that I haven’t been to before.”

If all goes to plan, Roberts will start a language program in Indonesia in August, with his research starting in early 2022. He said he hopes to return to work for the U.S. government, where he can fuse his interest and expertise in diplomacy with natural resource management.

As Roberts prepares for Indonesia, he said he’s excited to learn the language and experience the culture.

“These types of exchange programs are important,” Roberts said. “Getting a chance to learn a language and local culture and customs is really important in strengthening relationships between countries.”

Taylor Ziska

Taylor Ziska

Destination: Brazil to study Portuguese
College: College of Liberal Arts
Major: International Studies
Minor: International Development

After her second year in college at the University of New Mexico, Taylor Ziska took engineering-focused trips to Uganda and Bolivia that proved to be life changing.

“I just had the realization that engineering wasn’t a great fit for me,” she said. “I was more interested in other things, like journalism or working at the World Food Program or the UN.”

The epiphany led Ziska to take a year off from college and travel to Colombia, where she lived for several months. There, she said she understood the importance of language, which led her to CSU, where she became an international studies major.

Ziska said she has always wanted to work abroad and has a deep passion for Latin America. At CSU, Ziska has studied Brazil and its government and how politics has impacted the region’s environment. With the Boren Award, she said she will be able to take her studies to the next level.

“As a first-generation student, it’s pretty incredible,” she said. “It feels like a door has opened for me that otherwise may have taken a lot more time to find that opportunity. It definitely feels like the culmination of a lot of hard work.”

Ziska explained CSU provided the resources that enabled her to discover the Boren Award and other resources to foster her passion for international studies.

When she finishes the Boren program, Ziska said she hopes to complete her service agreement with the U.S. Agency for International Development or the CIA. Eventually, she would like to get a graduate degree and work in the public sector, she added.

Her current schedule calls for Ziska to head to Brazil in Spring 2022. She said she’s looking forward to being able to focus on learning Portuguese and exploring the country.

“I’m going to purely be a learner of another culture and another language,” she said. “For me, that’s an ideal world to live in. That’s a pretty sweet place to be.”

About the Boren Awards

Since 1994, more than 7,000 students have received Boren Awards in the highly competitive program, representing an important pool of individuals wishing to work in the federal national security area. Many alumni go on to contribute to critical missions throughout the federal government.

Current CSU undergraduate and graduate students interested in applying can contact Eliz Hale at elizabeth.hale@colostate.edu.