Gabrielle “Gabby” Beckford, at left, and Caroline Butler.

VCU students earn Boren Scholarships for international study

Share this story

Two Virginia Commonwealth University students will study foreign languages overseas next academic year with support from Boren Scholarships.

Gabrielle “Gabby” Beckford will study Arabic in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, while Caroline Butler will study Wolof and French in Dakar, Senegal. Butler will also spend eight weeks this summer taking an intensive Wolof course at the University of Florida as part of Boren’s African Flagship Languages Initiative.

Supported by the National Security Education Program, the Boren Scholarship provides opportunities for U.S. undergraduate students to study less commonly taught languages in world regions critical to U.S. national security interests. The scholarship includes a commitment to work for the federal government.

“Their studies at VCU have certainly prepared Gabby and Caroline for this intensive, exciting opportunity,” said Gail Hackett, Ph.D., provost and vice president for academic affairs. “We look forward to their return to Richmond with a richer, more nuanced understanding of language and culture.”

Beckford, a junior mathematics major in the College of Humanities and Sciences, hopes to earn a certificate in Middle Eastern Studies at American University in Dubai before returning to VCU. The Stafford, Virginia native will study Modern Standard Arabic.

“I was really drawn to the chance to study abroad for such an extended period of time,” Beckford said. “Especially unique was the fact that I could choose the country I went to. I may not have ever had the chance to go to Dubai otherwise.”

A travel enthusiast, she writes for her own website,

Butler is a member of the Honors College and a senior international studies major with a social justice concentration in the School of World Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences. She also has minors in French and anthropology.

Butler credits a spring 2014 study abroad experience in Dakar with inspiring her to delve deeper into language.

“After spending a semester in Dakar in 2014, I have been trying to find a way to go back,” Butler said. “After living in a Francophone country, I found that the best way to improve was to be amongst native speakers. Through Boren, I will be completely immersed in both French and Wolof for an entire year.”

She will study at the Senegal Language Experience Center through Boren’s AFLI. Butler, from Virginia Beach, Virginia, hopes to attend law school following her year overseas.

Beckford and Butler worked with the National Scholarship Office at VCU to apply for the Boren Scholarship. The office provides support for VCU alumni, graduate students and undergraduates who wish to compete for prestigious national and international scholarships. Interested students and alumni can contact the office or 804-828-6868.

Both students also worked with the Education Abroad office to identify and apply for eligible study abroad programs and to prepare for their experience. The office provides support for VCU students before, during and after their study abroad experience. Interested students can contact the office at or 804-827-7882.