Univ. to up Light funding

More Yale students will likely receive Light Fellowships for East Asian language study this summer now that additional funding has been secured for the program.

Administrators predicted last month that 90 students would win the awards — which fully fund summer or term-time study in Asia — but the total will probably be higher due to newly added resources, Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said. Applications to the Richard U. Light Fellowship have increased steadily since the program’s inception, rising from 12 in 1996 to 151 this year.

While Salovey said additional funding has been obtained, officials for International Education and Fellowship Programs declined to give specifics about the change.

The surge in applications has provoked speculation that the Light may not be able to keep pace with growing demand. Last month, Light Fellowship Director Kelly McLaughlin said 60 percent of applicants would be accepted this year, down from 75 percent of last year’s applicants, for a total of 118 fellowship winners. While there were six fewer applications to the program this year, the pool of possible applicants was smaller because doctoral students were no longer eligible for the fellowship and seniors were discouraged from applying.

Still, some students questioned whether the University should be devoting more funding to East Asian language study abroad when no similar fellowship exists for other regions of the world.

Erica Smith ’08, China public relations manager for the Light Fellowship, said there will now likely be more winners than was initially projected.

“My general assumption is that they saw how many applicants there are, and I think last year they increased funding as well,” she said. “They’re starting to accommodate more and more students who are applying, and they want to give more students the opportunity to go. If they didn’t, it would become astronomically more difficult to win.”

Last year, the Light trustees decided to fund the 23-slot wait list, bringing the total number of spaces for the 2006 summer session to 118. The additional funding was made available by money left over from the program’s earlier years, when fewer students applied for the fellowship.

The majority of students who take advantage of the Light travel to China, Japan, Korea or Taiwan in the summer for eight weeks, although they may also spend a semester or an academic year abroad. The typical award for the summer is $7,000, or $15,000 for a semester. Yale offers no comparable fellowship for language study in any other region.

Smith said she is excited that more students will have the opportunity to study language in East Asia, and the number of applications will probably rise when word spreads about the increased availability of the fellowship.

“I think this definitely shows an interest in East Asia, not only among students in the Yale population, but a general interest,” she said. “We hope students who have these amazing opportunities will return to Yale and … help not only their own academic growth but also help the [East Asian academic] departments and the entire student body to benefit from this cultural experience.”

Daniel Obst, director of membership and higher education service at the national Institute for International Education, said East Asia has become particularly attractive for students studying abroad because of the area’s escalating global significance.

“The region is so important for the global economy,” he said. “In business, language abilities have become a career builder, and we’re seeing more and more U.S. students learning more about how to get an edge in the job market.”

Students said they are excited about the expanded opportunities.

Chinese major Ben Beinecke ’07 said although he wishes the program could be expanded to fund “more creative or interesting” pursuits beyond intensive language study, he is glad administrators are taking steps to accommodate more applicants.

“I think the increase in the number of people who have started studying Chinese in the past four years I’ve been here is reflective of how many more people are interested in East Asia,” he said.

Mitchell Ji ’09, who applied for the Light Fellowship this spring and is currently awaiting the results, said he will not be able to study in China this summer if he does not receive an award.

“I think it’s extremely generous on behalf of the Light Fellowship to include more winners,” he said. “It seems that in the past decade, there has been a dramatic increase in the study of East Asian languages, so I’m excited to hear that the Light Fellowship will allow more of us to have the opportunity to study abroad.”

But other students said there should be comparable levels of funding for study of other languages. Spanish major Lara Autrey-Rodriguez ‘09, who will be studying in the Dominican Republic next fall, said she will probably have to take out a student loan because her financial aid will not cover all her expenses.

“I don’t think it’s fair that the Light Fellowship gives out so much money [for East Asian language study],” she said. “There are a lot of people studying Spanish and French, and there should be more funding programs offered for them if they’re giving that much money for other language courses.”

In the first year of the Light Fellowship in 1996, 19 students were given awards.

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