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Gatton Academy student earns State Department scholarship to study in Jordan

A first-year student at the Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science in Kentucky at WKU has received a nationally competitive scholarship for Arabic language immersion in Jordan this summer.

Grace Babbs

Grace Babbs

Grace Babbs, the daughter of Sheri and Scott Babbs of Paducah, will spend six weeks in Amman, Jordan, on the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) scholarship. NSLI-Y is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, providing merit-based scholarships for high-achieving high school students to learn less commonly taught languages through overseas immersion programs.

Babbs’ scholarship will provide complete funding for her program, including a four-day orientation in Washington, D.C., travel to and from Amman, housing, meals, and all activities and fees.

Babbs will experience total language immersion as she lives with a host family, takes daily classes at Qasid Institute, and participates in Jordanian cultural activities like cooking lessons, dance lessons and field trips.

Despite never having studied Arabic previously, Babbs is not intimidated.  “I am looking forward to the complete immersion experience. Since I know almost no Arabic at this point, I am going to be like a baby learning the language,” she said.

Babbs developed her application in the fall semester over the course of several weeks and multiple drafts.

Dr. Melinda Grimsley-Smith, Coordinator of International Scholarships at WKU’s Office of Scholar Development, advised Babbs throughout the application process. “What I love about Grace is how clearly she conveys her passion for engagement in her community, since it enables her to link her considerable service experience at home with a clear and relevant career goal abroad,” she said. “We can’t wait to see her take these next steps toward a stellar future.”

Her interest in Arabic developed from her aspiration to work with Doctors without Borders, an organization with a significant presence in Arabic-speaking regions.

Her passion for giving back is already well evidenced. While at the St. Mary School System, Babbs founded Sisters of Service, an organization for girls age 10 to 18 who give back to their community through volunteerism. Since its 2010 creation, the organization has included 75 members who have donated 2,000 hours in western Kentucky.

Babbs becomes the fifth Gatton Academy student to receive the NSLI-Y scholarship in the past three years, and the school’s third to win the scholarship for Arabic studies.

Dr. Tim Gott, director of the Gatton Academy, commented on Babbs’ success.  “We are thrilled that we continue to have students participate in NSLI-Y. We believe it is essential to tie our STEM focus with critical languages,” he said. “Grace is a perfect example of someone with outstanding academics who wants to expand her horizons and broaden her skill base. This opportunity will feed her passion for learning and enthusiasm for new adventures.”

The NSLI-Y experience will be Babbs’ second international trip since beginning studies at the Gatton Academy. Over the 2013 winter term, she traveled to Costa Rica to conduct research at the Cloudbridge Nature Reserve with WKU Biology Professor Keith Philips, where she researched dung beetles as an environmental health indicator. The research group sampled dung beetles across a variety of habitats to determine species diversity and density.

Babbs is also a member of the yearlong Genome Discovery and Exploration Program under the mentorship of WKU biologists Dr. Rodney King and Dr. Claire Rinehart. In her research cohort, Babbs has independently isolated, characterized and purified a bacteriophage, and she has worked with other students to annotate genomes using bioinformatics tools. Babbs recently presented her research findings at the WKU Student Research Conference.

About the Gatton Academy: The Gatton Academy offers a residential program for bright, highly motivated Kentucky high school students who have demonstrated interest in pursuing advanced careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Contact: Chad Phillips, (270) 745-6565.

About the Office of Scholar Development: The Office of Scholar Development is committed to helping students on all WKU campuses and in all majors and degree programs develop the vision, experience and skills to be independent, engaged scholars. OSD welcomes the opportunity to work with students interested in the National Security Language Initiative for Youth program or other similar opportunities. Contact: Dr. Melinda Grimsley-Smith, (270) 745-5043.

Contact: Chad Phillips, (270) 745-6565.

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