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6 Gatton Academy students win Department of State scholarships for summer language immersion

  • Author: Derick Strode
  • Author: Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017
6 Gatton Academy students win Department of State scholarships for summer language immersion

Caption: Top L-R - Alexander Banaszak, David Ewing, Noemi Leibman; Bottom L-R - Benjamin Luckett, Evan "Van" Poole, Sarah Beth Sarver

Six students at the Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science in Kentucky at WKU have received nationally-competitive scholarships for immersive, critical language study this summer.  They will travel to China, Estonia, and Morocco.  While Gatton Academy students received National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) scholarships every year for the past seven, six recipients marks the highest number of awards in a single year for the school.

NSLI-Y scholarships are sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, offering full funding for the six- to eight-week programs.  Scholarships include a four-day orientation in Washington, DC, travel to and from the host countries, housing with host families, meals, and all activities and fees.  NSLI-Y scholarships are merit-based and for high-achieving secondary school students to learn critical languages through immersion. 

Five of the students are in The Gatton Academy’s STEM + Critical Languages tracks in Arabic or Chinese.  In these optional curricular tracks, students choose to pair progressively-rigorous critical language study each semester alongside the STEM courses offered to all Gatton Academy students.  In addition to the established tracks in Arabic and Chinese, The Gatton Academy will introduce a new Russian track next academic year.

The recipients crafted their applications throughout the fall semester with help from staff in the Office of Scholar Development and The Gatton Academy.

This year’s recipients are noted below, with their sending school in parentheses.

Alexander Banaszak (Oldham County High School)

Banaszak will return to China for intensive language study with his NSLI-Y scholarship this summer.  He previously traveled to China during spring break 2016 with a Gatton Academy-WKU Confucius Institute research-intensive program.

He is the son of Colleen and Terry Banaszak of Crestwood.  A second-year Gatton Academy student, Banaszak is currently enrolled in his fourth level of Chinese Flagship courses at WKU. 

Banaszak said he applied to the NSLI-Y scholarship “to gain a better understanding of Chinese and learn more about the differences in lifestyle and culture between the United States and China.”

During Banaszak’s two years at The Gatton Academy, he has also studied abroad in England and Greece.  He has performed mentored research with Dr. Sanju Gupta in the WKU Department of Physics and Astronomy.

David Ewing (Henry Clay High School)

Ewing will continue his study of the Chinese language this summer with his NSLI-Y scholarship.

Ewing is the son of Tanya and Dr. Robert Ewing of Lexington.  A first-year Gatton Academy student, he is currently in his second-level Chinese course in the WKU Chinese Flagship program. 

Ewing acknowledged the levels of support he has received to reach this opportunity.  He stated, “I am extremely grateful to my parents, my professors and instructors within the Chinese Flagship, and the faculty and resources of The Gatton Academy for helping me make this dream a reality.”

Since starting at The Gatton Academy, Ewing has also traveled abroad in Greece.

Noemi Leibman (North Oldham High School)

Leibman will travel to Estonia for intensive Russian study with her NSLI-Y scholarship this summer.   

A first-year Gatton Academy student, Leibman is the daughter of Maria Margulis and Alexander Leibman of Prospect. 

“The NSLI-Y Russian summer program will allow me to immerse myself in Russian language and culture. I look forward to getting to know both my peers in the program and native Estonians,” Leibman said.

In addition to language study, Leibman is involved in a mentored research project with Dr. Lance Hahn of the WKU Department of Psychological Science.

Benjamin Luckett (Woodford County High School)

Luckett will return to China with his NSLI-Y scholarship this summer.  He previously traveled to China during spring break 2016 with a Gatton Academy-WKU Confucius Institute research-intensive program.

Luckett is the son of Wendy and Daniel Luckett of Versailles.  As a second-year Gatton Academy student, he is currently enrolled in his fourth-level Chinese Flagship course at WKU. 

Luckett is looking forward to the immersive language setting.  “I hope to greatly improve my language skills in a short amount of time,” he said.  “I also wish to understand the country's culture and people in a way that learning Chinese in the United States could never provide me.” 

In addition to his previous travel in China, he also studied abroad with WKU in Costa Rica.

Evan “Van” Poole (Muhlenberg County High School)

Poole will continue Chinese study on the NSLI-Y scholarship.

He is the son of Ron and Lisa Poole of Central City.  Poole is a first-year Gatton Academy student and is currently in his second level of Chinese in the WKU Chinese Flagship program.

Poole is looking forward to practicing already-honed skills and picking up new vocabulary in China.  “I expect to become very comfortable with the vocabulary I already know, and I will work at listening to learn natural and practical words and phrases,” he said.

Poole has also traveled abroad in Greece since starting at The Gatton Academy.

Sarah Beth Sarver (Central Hardin High School)

Sarver’s NSLI-Y scholarship will take her to Morocco for study this summer. 

She is the daughter of Laura Beth and Timothy A. Sarver of Elizabethtown.  Sarver is involved in her second semester of Arabic study with WKU’s Modern Languages department through The Gatton Academy’s STEM + Arabic curricular path. 

Sarver anticipates personal growth from her first trip out of the country.  “I expect to grow up some.  I think it’s impossible not to grow up when you’re exposed to so many new things in such a short amount of time.  I most look forward to the people, places, and experiences I will encounter this summer.”

About The Gatton Academy: Established in 2007, The Gatton Academy is Kentucky’s first residential high school for gifted and talented junior and seniors. The Gatton Academy’s students enroll as juniors and are full-time WKU students pursuing their interests in advanced science, technology, engineering and mathematical careers. The Gatton Academy has been named to the Washington Post’s list of top-performing schools with elite students for seven consecutive years and was named the number one public high school in the United States by The Daily Beast for three consecutive years – 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Contact: Zack Ryle, (270) 745-2971

About the Office of Scholar Development: The Office of Scholar Development is committed to helping WKU students in all majors and degree programs develop the vision, experience and skills to be independent, engaged scholars. OSD welcomes the opportunity to work with students interested in national or international scholarships.

Contact: Dr. Audra Jennings, (270) 745-5043.

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