Two CUNY Baccalaureate Students Win Critical Language Scholarships

CUNY Baccalaureate students Ilana Gelb and Javier Picayo were awarded Critical Language Scholarships and the opportunity to spend eight weeks of the summer in intensive language training abroad.

The Critical Language Scholarship Program (CLS) is an intensive overseas language study program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. CLS is part of a U.S. government effort to dramatically expand the number of Americans studying and mastering critical foreign languages.

Ilana Gelb
Ilana Gelb

Ilana will be traveling to Jaipur, India to study Hindi, and Javier will be traveling to Malang, Indonesia to study Bahasa Indonesia.

Ilana and Javier were among the 500 students who were nationally selected from more than 5,000 applicants. CUNY Baccalaureate graduates Joshua Trinidad and Michelle Ballon won Critical Language Scholarships in 2012 and 2013 for Japanese and Arabic, respectively.

A junior in CUNY Baccalaureate and a student of the Macaulay Honors College based at Baruch College, Ilana is completing an area of concentration in Violence, Conflict, and Development, a combination of coursework in human rights, sustainable development, anthropology, and political science, under the mentorship of Professor Chitra Raghavan, of the Psychology Department at John Jay College.

Ilana will be studying Hindi in Jaipur, India starting in mid-June. “I will be staying in India for a semester abroad with the Alliance for Global Education,” said Ilana, who is from Bedford, New York. “During this semester I will continue studying Hindi, as well as Indian culture. I will also be volunteering and conducting research with the NGO, Guria that aids victims of human trafficking and forced second-generation prostitution in the red light district of Varanasi. I will be in India for about 7 months.”

Ilana, who is also a New York State finalist for the Harry S. Truman Scholarship, is devoting her career to gender equality in India due to her passion for Indian culture, the Hindi language, and her commitment to women’s rights. Ilana says her time in India should be a growth experience.

“Learning Hindi will enable me to effectively communicate with at-risk populations, learn the needs of the communities, and influence changes in Indian and international policy,” she said. “The interdisciplinary coursework during my stay in India, as well as my volunteer work with Guria, will allow me to learn more about the dynamics of gender-based violence and human trafficking, and better prepare me for a career in preventing and mitigating gender-based violence.”

Javier Picayo
Javier Picayo

Javier will graduate magna cum laude from CUNY Baccalaureate in June with an area of concentration entitled The Sacred Earth: Healing Ecology, a combination of religious studies and geology courses, created under the mentorship of Professor Barbara Sproul of the Religion Program at Hunter College. After being accepted to Harvard Divinity and Union Theological Seminary, he has decided to pursue a Master of Arts Degree from Union Theological Seminary, where he has been awarded full funding, with an interdisciplinary concentration in Psychiatry and Religion and Inter-religious Engagement.

“Throughout my time in Indonesia I will examine the way different religious perspectives influence practitioners’ relationships to the earth, focusing on the way nature is used in healing ceremonies and the effect such ceremonies have on people and their communities,” he says. “How does a new relationship with the earth heal us? What attitudes can we develop that will help people heal the earth? Is religion of central importance when considering such a shift in perspective? Indonesia’s religious diversity, as well as the varied natural landscape and bio-diversity offer different opportunities to answer such questions.”


CUNY BA is the University-wide, individualized degree. It is an exciting, versatile, rewarding degree route for highly motivated, self-directed students whose academic goals transcend traditional majors. Students create their own degree plans working directly with faculty mentors and academic advisors.