$25,000 Boren Award takes Gage Diaz to Jordan for a year to study Arabic

Gage Diaz with snake
Gage Diaz and a friendly python
at a museum in Nairobi, Kenya

When Gage Diaz got the email from the Boren Awards, he was stunned at how many pages he had to scroll through and links he had to click before he got to the one thing he was searching for: the acceptance letter.

“I was nervous because I was thinking, ‘what if I didn’t get it?’” he says. “It was a hefty application and a unique opportunity and I really wanted it, and I was afraid to get my hopes up. And it takes forever to get to the real acceptance letter.”

Diaz needn’t have worried. He was named a 2023 Boren Scholar and will spend the next year in Amman, Jordan, studying Modern Standard Arabic.

Boren Awards, an initiative of the Defense Language and National Security Education Office, focus on a wide range of languages critical to national security, such as Arabic, Chinese, Portuguese and Swahili. Awardees plan for careers in the federal government, frequently within the departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security and USAID. The award is valued at approximately $25,000.

Diaz, a junior, is majoring in global studies and Near Eastern languages. He was scrolling around Wayne State’s website, looking for a study abroad opportunity, and he found the Boren Award information.

Gage Diaz on Mount Kenya
Diaz on top of Mt. Kenya with the
Indiana state flag attached to a Maasai spear.

“It seemed to fit me perfectly,” he says. “The majority of the people who study abroad don’t go to the countries that the Boren is for, but I’m interested in the federal service and I thought it sounded exciting.

“Then I found out there was a Boren representative on Wayne State’s campus, so I connected with Kelli Dixon and she walked me through the process and made suggestions. She read over my essay and helped me figure out what I should emphasize, like my previous travel and military service.”

Dixon, director of the Office of International Students and Scholars within the Office of International Programs, believed Diaz was an exceptional candidate for the Boren program.

“I knew from the moment I met Gage that he was Boren quality and it would take very little to prove that to the scholarship committee,” Dixon says. “He took the application very serious and worked hard to ensure his qualities were apparent in it. Despite being an active serviceman stationed overseas, Gage and I met serval times via Zoom to work on his essays. I was provided with his drafts, which required very light edits, and I would return them to him prior to our next meeting.”

A first-generation student and seven-year veteran of the Army National Guard, Gage did not start college right out of high school. He waited until his military credits came in, and then began looking for a higher ed opportunities. When he found out that Wayne State offers a 50% tuition discount to active military personnel, he applied.

“Being in Detroit and near such a large Middle Eastern population, it just made sense to come here,” he says. “My goal has been to learn Arabic at Wayne and I’ve done 75 percent of my degree, mostly in language classes. School is my full-time gig and I want to knock out my bachelor’s, but I’m going to take a year off school for the Boren.”

Diaz will study at Qasid Arabic Institute, where he will complete four years of language learning in 12 months. It’s a tight schedule, but one that Diaz says will get him to the level of proficiency needed for a diplomatic career. He expects to graduate in 2024, then pursue a master’s in Arabic. Thanks to his GI benefits, Diaz will complete his bachelor’s and master’s debt-free.

“I’ll be there a full year – I don’t want to waste the opportunity,” he says. “I put a lot of work into the application. I wrote two essays and I had to figure out the costs for the study abroad program, including travel, food, tuition…everything I would need if I was accepted.

“Boren is open to all students but it does require one year of federal service after you complete the award, so students need to be aware of that. But this is definitely an adventure and I’m excited to learn more about Jordanian culture.”

The 2024-25 Boren application is open now. Boren Fellowships for graduate students are due in January, and Boren Scholarships for undergraduates are due in February. Learn more at borenawards.org/apply-now.

Students interested in applying for the Boren or other competitive fellowships should contact the Office of Fellowships at fellowships@wayne.edu for assistance. An initiative of the Office of International Programs, the Office of Fellowships, led by Professor Kevin Deegan-Krause, can help students select the right program and provide guidance through the application process. Learn more at oip.wayne.edu/fellowships.

The Office of International Programs leads Wayne State’s global engagement by creating opportunities that foster international education and research, facilitate the exchange of individuals and ideas that promote global competencies and citizenship, and provide resources that support the expansion of the university’s global agenda. Follow us @WayneOIP.

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