Boren Scholar Prepares for Four Months of International Service

Theori Henry photo

By Julia Albertson

Self-proclaimed Georgia girl, Theori Henry, will leave the Peach State for four months of public service in Tanzania after being awarded a Boren Scholarship to study abroad.

At 21 years old, Henry graduated from Mercer University in May 2021. Double-majoring in international affairs and global development, she completed her undergraduate studies in three years. At Mercer, she received the James and Sandra Cox Scholarship from the Political Science Department and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa by the Zeta of Georgia chapter in spring 2021. Excelling at political science, she favored her ethics courses, drawing inspiration from a curriculum centered around the legacies of people renowned for their social justice work. “It was encouraging to learn about individuals, not only with different backgrounds but some similar to myself, who make changes and leave a great legacy,” she said. “But it was also uplifting because it encouraged us to continue that legacy and complete the work they have left behind.”

The Boren Scholarship is the next step in her academic legacy. Henry turned to her advisor, David Davis, an associate professor of English at Mercer, who regularly notified his students of scholarships and opportunities curated to their unique interests. “Knowing my interest in international affairs, [Davis] suggested I should apply for it,” she said. The scholarship funds international travel for the recipient to provide federal service in a government department, enhancing relations with the United States. There is a domestic portion of the scholarship, funding coursework teaching the language that the recipient will be speaking in their country of choice. The first essay in the application process required Henry to explain why her country of interest and language are important to United States’ national security. Henry was inspired by an ethics course taught by David Gushee, Distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer, exploring the complex impacts of genocides. This course motivated her to study Swahili and travel to Tanzania, because of its influence in helping resolve the Rwandan Genocide. “I was able to talk about how influential this country is in East Africa, and why the United States having a relationship and supporting democracy and governance in that country also affects our national security, affects our goals, and spreading democracy and spreading human rights and freedom and liberty: all the things that we believe in as a country,” she said. The second essay was personal, explaining why she wanted to commit to four months of foreign service.

When Henry received her letter of acceptance, she had to tell her parents right away, who were her biggest supporters. “It was amazing,” she said. “It was my Plan A.” During the summer of 2021, Henry studied Swahili through the scholarship’s African Flagship Language Initiative, hosted by the University of Florida over Zoom. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Boren administration decided that it was not safe for scholars to travel internationally. They offered the option to postpone their trips till January 2022, or to retake the language coursework and travel in August 2022. Henry chose the latter.

Until next summer, she will be exploring post-graduation options. Ever since she was young, Henry has been interested in studying law, and how the law can be used to protect and support people, she said. Following her courses with Gushee and her Boren Scholarship award, she is expanding her horizons. “Now I’m still leaning towards law, but I’m also open to moving directly into foreign service after I complete school,” she said. She is now applying to graduate schools to study international affairs.

Alongside her academic and professional achievements, her induction into Phi Beta Kappa encouraged her to think about the liberal arts in broader terms, she said, which is evident in her Boren studies and her desire to pursue education at the graduate level. “It means a lot to me,” she explained. “I felt like I became a part of a new family—a family that is committed and really values a lifelong pursuit of learning, of increasing your knowledge about many areas. You’re not limiting it to one field.” Henry has also found community through her induction and wishes to continue the legacy of the key. “I feel very fortunate to have this camaraderie with so many renowned thinkers and contributors to how the world continues to change, continues to develop and grow.”

Julia Albertson is a senior at Temple University pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in environmental studies with a journalism studies minor. She was inducted by Temple University’s Rho of Pennsylvania chapter in May 2021.