Political Science student Maryum Elnasseh named Critical Language Scholar

April 16, 2020

maryum elnasseh

Three Virginia Commonwealth University students have been selected for the 2020 Critical Language Scholarship, a highly competitive scholarship funded by the U.S. Department of State for the study of 15 languages deemed critical to the United States’ diplomatic and security interests.

Maryum Elnasseh, a senior majoring in political science in the College of Humanities and Sciences and journalism in the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture; Naomi Ghahrai, a sophomore majoring in chemistry in the College of Humanities and Sciences; and Macy Pressley, a junior majoring in digital journalism in the Robertson School, were named 2020 Critical Language Scholars. The scholarship program is designed to encourage outstanding students to pursue the study of languages that are not frequently learned in the United States. In this year’s competition, approximately 550 Critical Language Scholars were selected from a field of more than 5,000 applicants. With the addition of Elnasseh, Ghahrai and Pressley, VCU has had 27 Critical Language Scholars since the program was launched in 2006.

Elnasseh, a member of the VCU Honors College, was selected to study Arabic. After completing her undergraduate degree, she intends to work as an international journalist with a specific focus reporting on issues facing refugees in the Middle East. Eventually, she plans to attend law school and work on international human rights issues. Throughout her undergraduate years, Elnasseh has been active with United2Heal at VCU, a student-led organization that collects excess medical supplies and ships them to areas in need around the world, and she currently serves as president of the organization. She grew up in Richmond and attended Deep Run High School in Henrico County. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Critical Language Scholarship program for summer 2020 has been canceled. Elnasseh, Ghahrai and Pressley are eligible to reapply for summer 2021, when the program plans to again offer intensive summer language training in all 15 languages. 

Elnasseh, Ghahrai and Pressley applied for the Critical Language Scholarship through VCU's National Scholarship Office, which serves as the Critical Language Scholarship campus representative. The office assists VCU students and alumni who wish to compete for prestigious national and international scholarships.

View full story by VCU News to learn more about the other award winners.

By Tom Gresham
University Public Affairs