UM Alumna Wins Competitive U.S. Critical Language Scholarship

An image of Courtney Bentz

Courtney Bentz

MISSOULA – The U.S. Department of State has awarded recent University of Montana graduate Courtney Bentz a highly competitive Critical Language Scholarship to study Russian this summer.

Bentz, from Billings, graduated this spring with a degree in Russian and a minor in European studies. She hopes to pursue a graduate degree and use her passion for the Russian language to help in diplomatic exchanges.

The U.S. Department of State sponsors and oversees the CLS Program as part of a larger U.S. government effort to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering foreign languages that are critical to our national security and economic prosperity. Worth around $5,000 to $7,000 the scholarship typically covers airfare, tuition and all living expenses, but because the U.S. Department of State has canceled all in-person activities and travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bentz will continue her studies virtually.

“The aspect of CLS I was most excited about initially was the homestay with a Russian family, but now with the institutes being virtual, I’m definitely most excited to have a language partner,” Bentz said. “I love connecting with other Russian speakers, and the opportunity to do so with a native speaker will be incredibly beneficial to my understanding of Russian, both as a language and as a culture.”

Bentz said she realized her interest in working with diverse peoples in Central Asian post-Soviet republics while studying abroad in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, in summer 2018 on a Gilman Scholarship. The $3,000 scholarship allowed her to study advanced Russian at the London School of Languages and Cultures, as well as meet with Fulbright Commission staff and Department of State representatives.

“A CLS provides me the opportunity to continue my language studies, with the virtual institute encouraging me to take a creative and flexible approach to improving my Russian outside of a formal class setting,” Bentz said.

The CLS program seeks participants with diverse interests and a wide range of fields of study and career paths, with the purpose of representing the full diversity of the U.S. Participants are selected based on their commitment to language learning and plans to apply their language skills to their future academic or professional pursuits. Read more on the Critical Language Scholarship website at


Contact: Clint Walker, UM associate professor of Russian, 406-243-2501,