William & Mary student Colin Billings ’24 has been awarded a highly selective Boren Scholarship through Boren’s Africa Flagship Language Initiative (AFLI). 

Boren scholarships fund U.S. undergraduate students for study-abroad encounters that develop language skills and cultural experience in regions critical to U.S. national security interests. Considerations for study regions encompass a wide array of concepts from economics to public health to democracy. Democracy is one of four core initiatives of William & Mary’s Vision 2026 strategic plan. 

Billings, an international relations major, was one of 215 students selected for Boren scholarships this year from a pool of 625 applicants nationwide. The scholarship will fund his study of Swahili at the University of Florida in June and July of this year and his immersive experience in Tanzania from August 2024 to May 2025.

“I have long harbored an interest in African affairs,” said Billings. “In my view, Africa represents an extraordinary wealth of knowledge — cultural, linguistic and historical. It is arguably the most fascinating continent. Learning Swahili, a language that transcends numerous national borders and is embraced by a myriad of ethnic communities across and beyond Tanzania, is immensely beneficial for someone with my interests.”

Each Boren recipient is required to commit to at least one year of work for the federal government after graduation. Billings would like to fulfill that obligation in the political officer career track of the foreign service, which involves interacting with foreign governments on policy issues and contributing to policy negotiations.

After his government service, Billings plans to attend law school to build a career within the diplomatic community.

Francie Cate, chair and professor of modern languages & literatures and hispanic studies program director, taught two Spanish language courses in which Billings was a student, including an intensive five-week immersive course in Cadiz, Spain.

“What shines through in one’s interactions with Colin is his empathetic approach to the world, which informs his meaningful connections with others,” said Cate. “His previous academic work has proven that he is also an important voice for communities that may operate on the margins of society. His cultural sensitivity, along with his intellectual curiosity and infinite patience and perseverance with the task at hand, make him an ideal recipient of the Boren Scholarship.”

Billings also studied with Daniel Maliniak, associate professor of government and public policy, as part of the W&M D.C. Winter Seminar on foreign economic policy.

“I saw firsthand how well Colin could handle himself in conversations with officials from across different facets of the federal government and international organizations,” said Maliniak.  “He is exactly the type of person William & Mary should be proud to send to prestigious opportunities like the Boren.”

Michael Clay, assistant director of fellowships in the Office of Undergraduate Affairs, explained that Billings has a wide range of interests, including working in the Global Research Institute and researching the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War in Andalusia.

Billings stated that he also likes to read, write, socialize with his frat brothers, act, sing and sail. 

“Earnestly, there are not many things on this campus that I have not done,” he said.

Overall, Billings explained, his primary interest is in people.

“I am a certified yapper,” he said. “I think that college is such a valuable resource because it gives students like me the opportunity to exchange ideas and meet potential colleagues and lifelong friends.”

To that end, Billings acted as social chair for a national fraternity in his junior year.

“I would have to say one of my favorite activities has been helping to run my fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon. They are a great group of guys, and I’ve really enjoyed my time there.”

Billings also noted his appreciation of others who have guided and bolstered him throughout his academic journey.

“I would like to thank my family and friends for their support as well as my recommenders, Professor Francie Cate, Professor Dan Maliniak and Renard Miles, for providing guidance and helping me create the best possible application,” he said.

Renard Miles, executive director of career development & professional engagement, has been Billings’ William & Mary chapter advisor for Sigma Phi Epsilon for the past two years.

“Colin’s Boren Scholarship is a testament to his dedication to lifelong learning,” said Miles. “His coursework, study-abroad experiences and leadership roles have all contributed to his ability to work effectively with diverse individuals and cultures. This opportunity will allow him to utilize the breadth of knowledge and skill set derived from a liberal arts and sciences education while also deepening his commitment to public service.”

, Research Writer