Taegan Carpenter, an incoming sophomore at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, will embark on a new challenge this fall as a Boren Scholar, where she will spend an academic year in Taipei, Taiwan, and study Mandarin.
A 19-year-old double major in anthropology and Chinese with a minor in Spanish, Carpenter isn’t one to shy away from opportunities. From being motivated to pursue advance placement and honors courses at Muncie Central High School in her hometown of Muncie, Indiana, to earning a Chancellor’s Scholarship, SIU’s highest award for freshmen, Carpenter is always looking toward interesting pursuits.
“I’ve always been motivated to keep my grades up and strive to be in honors or A/P. I’ve always had that,” she said. “But because I am interested in so many things, I can’t stay still. I do want to do all these extra things that look good.”
Her most recent accomplishment is to be among 208 recipients of the Boren Award, chosen from 458 applications. Boren Awards “fund the intensive study of language and culture abroad by U.S. undergraduate or graduate students,” with program alumni “committed to public service and working in positions critical to national security throughout the federal government,” according to the agency’s website. Boren Awards are an initiative of the Defense Language and National Security Education Office of the U.S. Department of Defense.
Interested in public service work
Carpenter said that her goal is to work for the federal government, noting a Boren Scholarship requirement to spend a year working in federal service after graduation. Carpenter said she would consider several career paths, including work as a translator within the government or federal security throughout the world. She has been in the SIU Carbondale Army ROTC program, and prior to the Boren Scholarship, was considering the Army after graduating and doing translation work before moving into the federal government arena.
The ROTC program helped Carpenter realize her career goal.
“I knew I wanted to work in translations and international affairs, and I couldn’t picture how that would manifest itself,” she said. “I found I am interested in the federal government and international politics. I found I do enjoy that community. When you are working in federal policy, you are working as a team.”
Interest in international relations came at an early age
While growing up from late elementary through high school, Carpenter’s family hosted many exchange students, including students from Germany, Gambia and China. That was where Carpenter “really fell in love” with the Chinese culture.
“That was always fun for me because I got a big sister or big brother that I didn’t have,” said Carpenter, the eldest of four siblings.
One Chinese student Carpenter’s family hosted returned to China and invited Carpenter, who visited the country for three weeks when she was a high school sophomore.
“I was like, ‘Yes, this is for me!’” Carpenter said. “I love learning about the culture and the language. I learned so much when I was there. I decided then and there that I was going to pursue Chinese and try and be some sort of international translator.”
University Honors Program assisted
Carpenter is part of SIU Carbondale’s University Honors Program and learned of the Boren program through an honors colloquium in mid-January shortly after classes resumed for the spring 2022 semester. Elizabeth Donoghue, honors program assistant director, advised Carpenter through her application process.
“This is a big honor for her and will be very influential in her overall trajectory and career,” Donoghue said. “The Boren Award is highly competitive and facilitates culture and language immersion in areas critical to the U.S. It is also an award for students interested in a career in public service.”
Carpenter pulled all of the needed application materials together ahead of the Feb. 2 deadline and credits Donohue for her help.
“I was like, ‘I’m going to do it. I’m going to go for it,’” Carpenter said, noting that she was “in shock” on learning that she was a recipient.
Leaves for Taiwan later this year
She will leave for Taiwan in September and return to the United States in mid-June 2023. While in Taiwan, Carpenter will attend 20 hours of class per week and is thinking of an anthropology-related project. She also hopes to complete credit requirements for her Chinese major while there.
Carpenter wants to be heavily involved in the local culture while in Taiwan, and will connect with her host family soon.
“Hopefully, by the time I am done I will be pretty close to fluent in Mandarin; that is my goal,” she said. “I’m going to put myself in situations where I will be completely immersed in the language.”
SIU is a ‘perfect size’ university
The university’s emphasis on multicultural understanding, diverse student population and no out-of-state tuition attracted Carpenter to SIU; earning a Chancellor’s Scholarship, which covers tuition, mandatory fees, room and board for four years, was an added bonus.
“SIU is the perfect size university for me,” she said. “It’s not too big so that I feel that I am lost and the teachers don’t recognize me. I’m constantly in lectures, but I feel that I can go up to a teacher and they will remember my name and they will remember that I’m an anthropology-Chinese major.”
She is quick to point out the unique and varied opportunities that she has found during her first year on campus.
“It’s not so small to the point of being that there are not enough opportunities. Since I’ve gotten here I’ve realized that the amount of opportunities that are here at SIU are just as much as I could find at any other college in the United States, if not more because we have so many programs and so many professors that are involved in different things,” Carpenter said. “Literally if you do any research on any of the professors, you will go, ‘That’s cool that they have a connection to this; I want to get involved.’ Just ask, which is amazing.”