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Pomona College Junior Wins National Security Scholarship for Study in Vietnam

Ellen Le, Class of 2010, has received a National Security Education Program Boren Scholarship for intensive language and cultural study at Hong Bang University in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, from February through August 2010. She also hopes to work part-time with a non-governmental organization (NGO). Boren Scholarships provide up to $20,000 to support undergraduate study in areas of the world that are critical to U.S. interests and underrepresented in study abroad, as well as study of languages that are less commonly taught.

Le grew up in a household where Vietnamese was spoken but never learned to speak the language. Vietnam is a very critical country to study, she explains, because it is in a period of transition. “There have been massive inflows of foreign direct investment (FDI) in recent years, and Vietnam finally became a member of the WTO in 2007. But 74% of its population lives in rural areas. Compare this to the US where 19% of our population lives outside of urban areas…. Whether increased trade will help the industries and the people of Vietnam is a different question, so I am also concerned with the ethical direction that Vietnam's rapid development is taking. A lot of the focus right now is on China, but Vietnam is surprisingly much better about economic and political liberalization.”

A mathematics major who studied abroad in Hong Kong last spring, Le will serve as head mentor for Pomona’s Asian American Mentor Program next year. Her future plans include working for the U.S. National Security Agency, CIA, Department of State, the EPA (where she has already had an internship), or NASA in a position utilizing both her math and Vietnamese language skills. She also plans to do community work in underserved Southeast Asian Pacific American communities and may go to graduate school for social sciences or mathematics.

Le was born and raised in Bedford, MA, and attended Bedford Public High School.

The Boren Scholarship program made 130 awards from a pool of almost 900 applications. Scholars’ future academic and career goals must contribute to U.S. national security, broadly defined to include not only the traditional concerns of protecting and promoting American well-being, but also the challenges of global society, including sustainable development, environmental degradation, global disease and hunger, population growth and migration, and economic competitiveness.

Pomona College, one of the nation’s premier liberal arts colleges, is known for small classes, close relationships between students and faculty, and a range of opportunities for student research. In 2009, it was named to the “Best Value” college lists of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine and Princeton Review.