Boren Awards open doors to language learning and new horizons

This fall, as most Badgers settle into Madison, three UW–Madison students, including senior Madeline Rutherford, will instead travel to Almaty, Kazakhstan, for a year of advanced Russian language study on the Russian Overseas Flagship Capstone Program, funded in part by the prestigious Boren Scholarship.

The Boren Awards provide funding to undergraduate and graduate students to study languages and cultures most critical to the United States’ national security. The awards, which are administered by the Institute of International Education (IIE), with support from the National Security Education Program (NSEP), provide opportunities for students to study and research international languages, cultures, and global issues. Recipients receive up to $25,000 to fund their language and cultural learning. In exchange for funding, Boren Award recipients agree to work in the federal government for a period of at least one year.

The end goal is to not only promote language learning, but also to create an experience that will bolster intercultural competencies and develop connections at the personal, academic, and professional levels.

Madeleine Rutherford poses by Lake Mendota while wearing UW graduation gown
Madeleine Rutherford

Madeleine Rutherford will use the funding to participate in the Russian Overseas Flagship Capstone Program—the culmination of the UW–Madison Russian Flagship, which provides opportunities to students from any major to reach a professional level of competence in Russian by graduation.

While in Almaty, Rutherford will have the opportunity to further hone their language competencies through language coursework and elective courses. Outside the classroom, they will have the opportunity to further develop through a professional internship, individualized tutorials, interaction with conversation partners, excursions throughout the region, and home stays with Russian-speaking families.

“I think it’ll be a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Rutherford said.

Rutherford (North Reading, Mass.), who is majoring in astrophysics and international studies, has been interested in a career in space diplomacy since high school. Her passion for the field was galvanized when participating Harvard Model United Nations Conference where she represented Uzbekistan on the committee for the colonization of outer space.

“My mind was blown,” Rutherford said. “I thought there was no way this could be a real committee or a real job. The chair of the committee was Miranda Tyson, daughter of Neil deGrasse Tyson. I spoke to her after and got to Facetime with Neil, and he encouraged me to pursue my interests.”

Working in the field, she would develop policy and international treaties for emerging issues such as mining in deep space, developing stations on the moon, and managing Earth’s accumulating orbital debris.

Alongside her majors, she believes her study of Russian will allow her to contribute more effectively across the international arena.

“I’ve really enjoyed how the Russian Flagship is tailored to everyone’s personal interests. I have had classes where I have written research papers on space diplomacy, and I have had classes where I am learning the vernacular for astrophysics. You get to learn Russian and tailor it to your careers.”

Receiving a Boren Award will not only support Rutherford’s participation in the capstone year, but will also help launch her career working with government institutions.

“I think this is the biggest piece in my future career right now,” Rutherford said. “It is through the government, which is the area where I want to work. It will be helpful in getting me to the place I want to be in. It changes everything.”

Sara Lieburn, assistant director for program management, serves as the campus representative for the Boren Scholarships. Undergraduate students can learn more about Boren Scholarships by contacting her at Graduate students interested in the Boren Fellowship program can contact Sarah Linkert, IRIS assistant director for awards, at

About the Russian Flagship program

The UW–Madison Russian Flagship program, funded by The Language Flagship, a public/private partnership sponsored by NSEP, is for students in any major to reach a professional level of competence in Russian by graduation. UW–Madison is one of only eight universities nationwide that host a Russian Flagship. Learn more about the program at Learn more about the national Language Flagship program at

About the Boren Awards

IIE awards David L. Boren Scholarships to undergraduate students and David L. Boren Fellowships to graduate students to add important international and language components to their education by studying overseas in world regions critical to U.S. interests. The selected Boren Scholars and Fellows intend to study in countries throughout Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America, and the Middle East. The most popular languages include Mandarin, Arabic, Russian, Portuguese, Korean, French, Turkish, and Indonesian.

NSEP is a federal initiative designed to build a broader and more qualified pool of U.S. citizens with foreign language and international skills. NSEP’s Boren Awards program provides U.S. undergraduate and graduate students with resources and encouragement to acquire language skills and experience in countries critical to the future security and stability of the United States.