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Scholarship propels senior toward her goal to study in the Near East

Brendi Wilmore earned the prestigious Critical Language Scholarship Spark Award, which is allowing her to learn Arabic this summer through an intensive virtual program funded by the U.S. State Department.
Brendi Wilmore

Brendi Wilmore, a senior and classics major, is learning Arabic this summer.

Brendi Wilmore has been interested in history for most of her life. Being biracial, she was intrigued by the different life paths her grandparents experienced. 

But it’s only within the past few years that she became interested in ancient history. As a classics major at the University of Miami, Wilmore has studied the major civilizations in Greece and Rome and realized that both cultures were likely influenced by the Phoenicians, who lived in the Near East and Egypt region. As she learned more, her interest in that area of the world, and in ancient history, blossomed, compelling her to take Latin and Biblical Hebrew courses, too. 

This summer, Wilmore is adding a new language to her plate: Arabic, thanks to a Critical Language Scholarship Spark Award sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Starting recently, Wilmore began studying Arabic through the scholarship’s intensive virtual program for four hours a day. She hopes that by learning the complex, but critical language to the Middle East, she will be able to work or conduct research in the region. 

“I eventually want to work or study in the Near East and North Africa, so I need to become fluent in Arabic,” said Wilmore, a senior, who is also a Stamps Scholar. “And since CLS Spark is eight weeks, and equivalent to two semesters of Arabic, when I come back to Miami in the fall, I will be able to do more research of the Near East region and to produce a better thesis, while also preparing myself for the future.” 

During her last year at the University, Wilmore hopes to explore the many intersections between Greek and Roman civilizations and the Phoenicians for her senior thesis. She was intrigued to learn that there is debate about how some Greek religious traditions may have been borrowed from the Egyptians. In addition, she learned much of the Greek alphabet may have come from the Phoenicians. 

“In the fall, I studied abroad in Rome and took classes on ancient Rome and the Near East,” she said, adding that it invigorated her fascination with ancient history. “It was really interesting to me to learn how many influences there were from the Phoenicians and Egyptians into Greek and Roman culture, so I want to learn more.” 

William Green, a professor of religious studies and the Fain Family Endowed Chair in Judaic Studies, worked with Wilmore to hone her Biblical Hebrew skills this year, and she counts him as one of her mentors at the University. 

“Brendi is a serious, self-motivated, independent learner who is very committed to ancient languages,” Green said. “I’ve never encountered a student who has done Latin, Hebrew, and Arabic within four years. So, she has really used the freedom and resources of the Stamps Scholarship to create a highly distinctive education and learning experience at UM.” 

Eventually, in graduate school, Wilmore also hopes to study the modern Middle East, and she said she believes that understanding its ancient history will give her more context for the region. But for now, Wilmore is looking forward to a summer of study, and hopes that next summer, she can utilize her new language skills overseas. 

“I’ve always loved learning languages, and learning Arabic will be my greatest challenge yet,” she said. “I am so excited and happy that I was chosen for this program, even though I know it will be challenging.”