MSU’s second Boren Scholar anticipates fall study abroad experience in Africa

Ashley Dobbins (Photo by Logan Kirkland)

Contact: Sasha Steinberg

STARKVILLE, Miss.—With her selection as Mississippi State’s newest David L. Boren Scholarship recipient, senior Ashley B. Dobbins of Greenville is receiving the opportunity of a lifetime to explore her passion for foreign languages in Africa this fall.

Pursuing foreign language degrees in French and Spanish, Dobbins is MSU’s second consecutive Boren Scholarship honoree. Sponsored by the National Security Education Program and administered by the Washington, D.C.-based Institute of International Education, Boren Awards provide U.S. undergraduate and graduate students with resources and encouragement to acquire language skills and experience in countries critical to the nation’s security and stability.

Dobbins said she received notice of her award on April 15 from Chelsea Sypher, head of NSEP Programs for the IIE.

“I’ve heard about these kinds of experiences, but never thought it’d be me,” said Dobbins, an active member in MSU’s German Club.

This year, IIE received 851 applications from undergraduate students for the scholarship, with 244 being awarded. In exchange for funding, award recipients agree to work in the federal government for a period of at least one year.

“To continue to play a leadership role in the world, it is vital that America’s future leaders have a deep understanding of the rest of the world,” said former U.S. Senator David Boren, principal author of the legislation that created the NSEP and the scholarships bearing his name. “As we seek to lead through partnerships, understanding of other cultures and languages is absolutely essential.”

Dobbins, a 2016 Mississippi Foreign Language Scholar considering pursuit of academic minors in Chinese and German, will participate this summer in an eight-week Swahili training program at the University of Florida before she embarks on a semester of language and cultural learning in Arusha, a city in Tanzania. In addition to studying literature and history, Dobbins is looking forward to learning and practicing Swahili, the East African country’s official language.

“Arusha is pretty close to Mount Kilamanjaro, so that’s pretty cool,” she said. “I love elephants, but I’ve only seen them at the zoo. I’m really excited to hopefully see one up-close.”

Dobbins enjoyed traveling around Europe and living with a host family while studying abroad last summer in Spain. She feels that experience through MSU and the friendships she hopes to make during this summer’s UF program will prepare her for interactions with a host family in Africa.

“I love other cultures,” she said. “In middle and high school, my best friend was Indian, and I was always asking about her culture. When I got bored watching movies in English as a kid, I would watch them in Spanish.”

A graduate of the Mississippi School of Mathematics and Science, Dobbins aspires to join the Peace Corps after graduating from MSU and hopes to later work in Foreign Service. She is particularly interested in international development.

“I feel like if we can put aside prejudices and stereotypes and learn to talk to each other, we can solve a lot of issues,” she said. “Having these discussions helps us get to know how other people live and to understand why they do what they do.”

David M. Hoffman is the MSU Boren campus representative, critical language scholarship adviser and Fulbright program adviser in the university’s Judy and Bobby Shackouls Honors College’s Office of Prestigious External Scholarships. He said Dobbins’ leverage of language training and study abroad at MSU made her an ideal candidate for a Boren African Flagship Languages Initiative (AFLI) scholarship.

“We are excited to have Ashley as MSU’s first student to enter the AFLI program and cannot wait to hear how much she learns from the program when she returns next spring,” said Hoffman, also an associate professor and graduate coordinator in MSU’s Department of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures.

Dobbins said she is grateful for the support she received throughout the application process from Hoffman, as well as Professor Keith Moser and Instructor Monika Dunlap, who both teach French in MSU’s Department of Classical and Modern Languages and Literatures.

“Dr. Hoffman is really smart and could answer all of the questions I had, which was pretty awesome,” she said. “He also helped review my essays. Dr. Moser and Madame Dunlap provided recommendation letters as well.”

MSU’s first Boren Scholar Donielle Allen, a senior microbiology major from McCalla, Alabama, embarked last year on a life-changing study abroad experience in China.

For more on the Boren Scholarship program, visit or email

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