Two WSU Undergraduates Land Prestigious 2012 Boren Awards to Study Abroad in China

MEDIA: Beverly Makhani, Director of Communications, WSU Office of Undergraduate Education, 509-335-6679,

SOURCE: Sarah Ann Hones, Director of Distinguished Scholarship Advising, 509-335-8239,

PULLMAN, Wash. – Two Washington State University undergraduates have been selected to receive the prestigious Boren Award for International Study. Only 161 applicants from a pool of 1,014 received the national scholarship, which provides $20,000 for one year.

Recipients of the award are Philip Pitts, a sophomore computer science and Chinese language and culture major and member of the Honors College at WSU, and Erika Cunningham, a senior mathematics and Chinese language and culture major. They plan to use their awards to study in China and gain mastery of Mandarin Chinese.

In addition, Nicole Smolinske, a senior political science and philosophy major and member of the Honors College at WSU, was selected as an alternate for the award. Her goal is to study in Thailand.

Pitts follows in the footsteps of fellow Honors student Anna Breigenzer, who last year received a Boren award and studied in China.


Pitts is from Genesee, Idaho. He took two introductory Chinese language classes his freshman year at WSU and has taken courses in the subject every semester. He has been on the President’s Honor Roll each semester and maintains a 3.98 GPA. He has also been an active member in the Chinese Language Table club, which offers students a chance to practice the language outside of class.

Cunningham is from Anacortes, Wash. She has taken six semesters of Chinese language. She has also been on the WSU President’s Honor Roll each semester. She received a pass with distinction rating for her WSU-required Junior Writing Portfolio.

Both Pitts and Cunningham are participating in the CET Academic Programs organization, which matches students with a university abroad. In addition, they both plan to study at the Harbin Institute of Technology beginning at the end of August. Harbin is a city in the northeast region of China.

The Boren Award focuses on skills vital to national security. Pitts says this will help him achieve his goal of working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as a cyber-security intelligence analyst. Cunningham sees the Boren as an opportunity to combine her career aspirations of being an actuary with the practical application of math in cryptography and data analysis.

About the Scholarship

Funded by the National Security Education Program (NSEP), the Boren pays for undergraduate study abroad experiences, specifically those focused on learning a language in a country pivotal to United States foreign interests. This opportunity is only available to students studying in underrepresented destinations such as Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

Applying for prestigious scholarships such as the Boren is a long process, says Sarah Ann Hones, director of Distinguished Scholarship Advising, a program in the University College at WSU.

“These students go through multiple drafts of essays for the application and put in a lot of effort,” says Hones. “Faculty and staff volunteers evaluate this work and help WSU submit only the most outstanding packets for prestigious scholarship consideration.”

Information on the Boren and other distinguished scholarships, as well as how to apply and deadlines, can be found on the WSU Distinguished Scholarship Advising webpage. Hones assists students, faculty, staff, and advisors on all matters relating to these scholarships, which include the Boren, Fulbright, Gilman, Goldwater, Truman, and Udall.