SPARTA, NJ — Sparta High School recent graduate Eileen Huhn has been selected for the Hager Scholar program at Georgetown University. Huhn was one of 12 students selected from more than 125 language and linguistic majors.

Huhn will be studying Russian. She was ranked sixth in the 2018 graduating class.  

Eric Hood, Huhn’s Russian teacher at Sparta High School said, “Eileen, known in our class as 'Masha"-Maria, is an excellent student, who works very diligently. We are all proud of her achievements.”

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“I am so humbled to have been selected for this prestigious program at Georgetown University,” Huhn said. “Georgetown has arguably the best undergraduate program in the country for Foreign Language and Linguistics Studies. Those who have come before me have become leaders at the university and in the field of Foreign Language. I am honored they would consider me as part of this tradition and I intend to live up to the high ideals the university expects of their Hager Scholars.”

Eileen decided to study Russian at the end of fifth grade, “knowing very little about what she was getting herself into,” Sparta Middle School Russian teacher Suzanne Jouravlev said. She explained the year Eileen entered Sparta Middle School the sixth grade students did not have the chance to sample the four world languages because of scheduling changes.

“Told to choose one of four languages, 10-year-old Elieen boldly chose to pursue the uncommonly taught language with the crazy, mysterious Cyrillic alphabet,” Jouravlev said. “With wide eyes and an open heart, she dove into her new challenge and never looked back.

“Her enthusiasm and interest in all things Russian was undeniable. Her talent for language learning was remarkable and was consistently evident in all she pursued. From the very beginning of her middle school Russian career, it was immediately evident that Eileen was extremely bright and talented, possessing the confidence and work ethic that will surely continue to earn her recognition. I expect that we will see great things from her in the future.” 

Huhn has won a number of medals including gold in the Olympiada as a sophomore and was the secretary of the Russian World Language Honor Society.  She has volunteered to tutored Russian.

Sparta World Language supervisor Michael Lauricella said, “We in the Sparta World Language department are incredibly proud of Eileen for her accomplishment of being selected as a Hager Scholar at Georgetown University. It is truly a testament of all of the work and effort that Eileen put in to her Russian studies as a student in Sparta in addition to another example of the hard work and dedication of our district's World Language teachers.”

According to the university’s publication the program is “designed with the most ambitious language and linguistic students in mind.” The exclusive program is “designed to create a sense of community and opportunities for intellectual growth.” 

Part of her application to the Hager Scholar program included an essay. Limited to 250 words, her thoughts were as much an introspection as an application.

“Learning Russian and understanding another language has led me to the realization of how much I don’t know what I don’t know,” Huhn wrote. “Learning another language gave me a tool to realize how much my understanding of myself is shaped by the language I use to describe my experiences … Undergraduate education, for me, is less about being 'trained’ in a career, and more about intellectual growth. Language learning fulfills the intellectual growth I’m seeking to cultivate.”

An Education Week article quoting a National K-12 Foreign Language Enrollment Survey Report only .14 percent of students study Russian. According to a national report of student from kindergarten through four years of college in 2017 there were 14,876 students studying Russian, 711 of them were in New Jersey. According to Russian Life magazine 288 grade schools in the U.S. teach Russian. Sparta has two of 14 in New Jersey.

High school principal Janet Ferraro said, “I would just like to add that all of Sparta is proud and celebrates her in this wonderful accomplishment.”