Two University of Michigan graduate students are recipients of the David L. Boren Fellowship for 2019-20: Linnea Carver (MPP Ford School of Public Policy ’20 and MS School of Environment and Sustainability ’20) and Moniek van Rheenen (Anthropology ’22).

The fellowships are sponsored by the National Security Education Program (NSEP), a major federal initiative designed to build a broader and more qualified pool of U.S. citizens with foreign language and international skills. In exchange for funding, Boren fellows agree to work in the federal government for at least one year. The national award is administered on campus by the International Institute.

This year, the Institute of International Education, which administers the awards on behalf of NSEP, received 273 graduate applications and awarded 106 fellowships nationwide.

“The University of Michigan is proud to have another amazing group of finalists named to the Boren Fellowship for the fourth straight year,” says the II Fellowships and Grants team. “Unlike other traditional research fellowships, the Boren offers graduate students the opportunity to undertake language study to help them complete degree requirements here at U-M, in addition to preparing them for future career opportunities working in the national security arena.”

To learn more about the Boren Fellowship opportunities, or to speak with the Boren advisor, please visit our website.

Moniek van Rheenen, from Erie, Pennsylvania, received her bachelors in English and Spanish from Cornell University in 2014, and is currently a PhD student in linguistic anthropology at U-M. As a Boren Fellow, Moniek will be a visiting scholar at both the Andalas University in Padang, Indonesia, and the Center for the Study of Islam and Society at Hidayatullah State Islamic University in Jakarta.

While in country, she’ll study Bahasa Minangkabau, a local Indonesian language spoken primarily in West Sumatra and in the Minangkabau diaspora across the country. First introduced to the language as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Indonesia, she started learning Minangkabau from her host community in Pekanbaru—and has been studying it independently ever since.

Her main goal during the fellowship is to finish her dissertation research “which aims to complicate the narrative that conservative Muslim women in Indonesia are not passive repositories for male preaching and Islamic knowledge, but are deeply engaged in political and social activism in ways that have resounding effects on Indonesian politics and society—although their labor often goes unseen,” she explains. She’d like to change the assumption that Westerners often have of the “oppressed Muslim woman in need of liberation” while bringing attention to the fact that Indonesia is the largest Muslim-majority nation in the world. She notes that often, during discussions about Islamic society, the attention is focused on the Middle East as the geographic and ideological center of the Islamic world, and Southeast Asia finds itself on the periphery of Islamic discourse.

After graduation, she’d like to be a tenure-track professor or work at an independent research institute. There is a public service requirement with the Boren Fellowship, and Moniek hopes to work in the Department of Stats, United States Agency for International Development, or the intelligence community. She’s interested in how ethnography can better inform policy decisions and welcomes a new perspective on the impacts that research can have for a broader society.  

She credits her successful Boren application to three factors: her dedication of language study; her understanding that learning local languages is crucial for not only thorough research, but also meaningful relationships with community members; and her support network.

“One of my recommenders sent her letter while abroad on sabbatical on short notice, my language evaluator for Bahasa Minangkabau went above and beyond to access the application from Indonesia and complete it, and my colleagues in my department gave great feedback on my drafts. I'm truly grateful for all of the help and support I've received—this was most definitely not an individual effort.”