The University of Tulsa boasts its first David L. Boren Scholar, Rachel Wolf, an anthropology, Russian studies and music sophomore with a penchant for investigative research. Most students don’t spend winter break with their head in a book, but in December 2016, Wolf spent 250 hours researching Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. “I started studying Russian politics specifically the diplomacy side and looking at the history of Russian American relations,” Wolf said. “I would just get up, study and go to sleep.”
At the time, she did not know she was building her application for the Boren Scholarship, which is designed to form a broader and more qualified pool of U.S. citizens with foreign language and international skills. The award includes $20,000 for her to study Russian and Russian studies in Kazakhstan for a year. In return, Wolf agreed to work in the federal government for at least one year.
“What I am looking to do is go into the foreign service and becoming a diplomat for the state department,” she said.
A few years ago, Wolf was headed toward a drastically different future. “I came into TU dead set on getting a Ph.D. in Mesoamerican archaeology and learning Spanish. Then going down to the Americas to live in the jungle doing archeology,” Wolf laughed.
But when Spanish didn’t fit into her schedule, she had a decision to make. While working in the language department, “I was making coffee, and professor Elena Doshlygina came in and said, ‘You should take a Russian class. We need more girls,’” Wolf recalled. “And I thought, why not?”
Wolf fell in love with Russian, and it paired well with her anthropology major. “With anthropology, I’ve always been fascinated with people — how they think, what makes them who they are and what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom,” she explained. Her anthropology classes take a holistic approach by focusing on linguistics, the culture, archeology and physical anthropology.
Wolf applied those same principles to her Russian studies to compare American and Russian culture. From archeological records to physical differences, “I looked at all the ways we are similar in order to figure out common ground to help with diplomacy,” Wolf said.
The most difficult part of the Boren application was packing her extensive research into an 800-word essay. Every week, she met with the Director of Nationally Competitive Scholarships Nona Charleston to go over her application and “how to fine tune all these different ideas and strengths into an 800-word essay about why Kazakhstan, Russia and central Asia are critical to U.S. national security. I’ve done about 1500 hours of research including the research in December,” Wolf added.
Out of 794 Boren scholar applications only 211 were awarded, and Wolf is eager to leave in August for Kazakhstan. It will be her first time out of the United States; and if any of her professors hear her speaking English, her grade is docked. “Even in the host family’s contract, they are not to speak English to you,” she said.
Wolf will investigate what it means to be from Kazakhstan. “My focus in Russian studies and in anthropology is looking at how cultural identity and cultural memory have shaped and evolved into today’s former Soviet Union republics,” she said.