CLS Staff


CLS Staff at American Councils

Jeanette Owen
Project Director, Critical Language Scholarship Program

Jeanette Owen is the CLS Program Project Director for American Councils for International Education. Jeanette oversees all programmatic components and faculty development plans for over 20 intensive summer language institutes in the Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Central Asia, East Asia and Pacific, and Eurasia.

Before joining the CLS program, Jeanette administered short-term and long-term study abroad programs in Russia and Eurasia, as well as research grant programs for fieldwork in Russia, Eurasia, and Southeast Europe.

Jeanette received her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Russian and Second Language Acquisition from Bryn Mawr College. Her research examines second language acquisition in a study abroad environment, with a particular focus on intercultural communication and politeness norms. Prior to joining American Councils, she was a faculty member in the School of International Letters and Culture at Arizona State University, where she taught courses in Russian language, literature, culture and linguistics.


Andrew McCullough
Assistant Project Director, Critical Language Scholarship Program

Andrew McCullough is the Assistant Project Director for CLS at American Councils for International Education. He also spent four years working on CLS institutes in East Asia Pacific and the Middle East, including those in Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Oman and Morocco.

Andrew graduated from the East Asian Languages and Civilizations program at the University of Chicago and has lived extensively in China and South Korea. He has worked with progressive education organizations in Korea through the Seoul Alternative Learning Communities Network, a coalition of youth centers and schools that work to address issues in Korea's primary education system. 

Andrew studied Korean literary translation at the Korean Literature Translation Institute in Seoul.


Stephanie Li
Senior Program Officer, Chinese Programs, Critical Language Scholarship Program

Stephanie Li works on the CLS Chinese institutes, and also manages various financial aspects of the CLS Program. In addition to the CLS Chinese institutes, Stephanie has also worked on the CLS institutes in India as well as served in the role of the Data and Reporting officer.

Originally from Beijing, Stephanie graduated from Old Dominion University with a B.S. in International Business and minors in Economics and Accounting.

Prior to joining American Councils, Stephanie established and worked in the Beijing office of a U.S.-based international trade and consulting firm, and also worked as a contractor analyst at the U.S. Department of Transportation. In addition to living in the United States and China, she has also lived in Australia.

In her free time, Stephanie keeps an active physical fitness regimen and runs two CrossFit gyms with her husband. She can also be found studying new languages, including French, Korean, and most recently, Japanese.


Jessica O'Higgins Zanikos
Senior Program Officer, Arabic Programs, Critical Language Scholarship Program

Jessica O'Higgins Zanikos works on the CLS institutes in North Africa and the Middle East.

Prior to joining American Councils she worked as a Program Officer for International Student Exchange Programs (ISEP), where she facilitated college-level exchange programs for incoming and outgoing students in Mediterranean Europe and the Middle East.

Jessica has an M.A. in Comparative Politics and a B.A. in International Relations and Psychology from Central Michigan University. She started learning Arabic in 2006 after studying abroad in Jordan and then studied in Egypt in 2008.

In her free time, Jessica loves spending time with her son. When she isn’t chasing him around she enjoys taking photographs and running.


Natasha Bashir Din
Program Officer for Data and Reporting, Critical Language Scholarship Program

Natasha Bashir Din is the Program Officer for Data and Reporting, assisting all sites in administering the CLS program. Prior to joining American Councils, she interned at the nonprofit Global Fund for Children supporting grants management. Natasha also taught English to primary students in South Korea through Teach and Learn in Korea (TaLK) and has lived in Pakistan and Singapore.

Natasha holds a Master of Public Policy from Georgetown University with a concentration in International Development and a B.S. in Psychology from Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah. She is conversational in Urdu and French and has recently started learning German


Janice Feng
Program Officer, Indonesian, Japanese and Korean Programs, Critical Language Scholarship Program

Janice Feng works on the CLS institutes in Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea. Previously, she worked as the Program Officer for Alumni Affairs and managed programming for alumni across all CLS sites.

Prior to joining the CLS team at American Councils for International Education, Janice worked at the T. Howard Foundation, a nonprofit focused on increasing diversity in the Media and Entertainment Industry by connecting minority college students with career advancement opportunities.

After graduating from Marist College with B.A. degrees in Psychology and Fine Arts, Janice moved to Malaysia for a year to teach English as part of the U.S. Department of State's Fulbright program. She remains involved in alumni outreach by serving as a Fulbright Alumni Ambassador.

In her free time, Janice enjoys to paint, take photographs and go on hikes.


Bo Knutson
Program Officer for Recruitment and Selection, Critical Language Scholarship Program

Bo Knutson works as the CLS program’s Program Officer for Recruitment and Selection. In this role he works with program outreach to help bring the CLS program opportunity to wider and more diverse audiences across the country, and coordinates CLS’ participant selection process. In 2010 he worked as a CLS Russia Resident Director in Ufa, Bashkortostan in the first year it was administered by American Councils and subsequently as a Resident Director in Nizhniy Novgorod, Russia with the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y). He has also worked in recruitment and selection with the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) and other Secondary School programs and in Moscow as the FLEX Hub Director for the Central, Southern, Urals and Siberia regions of Russia.

Bo has a M.A. in International Development Studies from The George Washington University with a concentration in Global Health and a B.A. in English Literature and Composition from St. Mary’s College of Maryland. He has also served in the Peace Corps in Eastern Ukraine as a secondary school teacher, worked in the Republic of Georgia on public health monitoring systems for high-risk populations, and worked in Tajikistan with the World Food Programme.


Noelle Little
Program Officer, Chinese and Turkic Language Programs, Critical Language Scholarship Program

Noelle Little is currently the Program Officer for Azerbaijani, Turkish and Chinese. Prior to her position as Program Officer, she worked as both a Program Associate and a Program Assistant for CLS – offering support to program sites for 14 different languages.

Before joining American Councils, Noelle was an AVID tutor for the Albuquerque Public Schools System, where she helped AVID students learn organizational and study skills, develop critical thinking, and participate in enrichment and motivational activities to make their college dreams reality.

Noelle earned a B.A. in International Development Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles with a focus on women's rights and the right to education for women and girls in conflict zones. She was a 2010 NSLI-Y Turkish Participant (Istanbul, Turkey) and a 2012 CLS Turkish participant (Ankara, Turkey).


Nellie Manis
Program Officer, Russian and Persian Programs, Critical Language Scholarship Program

Nellie Manis works on the CLS institutes for Russian and Persian languages.

Before joining the CLS team, Nellie worked as a Program Officer for the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y). Prior to this, Nellie received a Fulbright U.S. Student Grant to study translation and interpretation in Russia. Nellie completed a CLS for Russian in 2011.

Nellie has an M.A. in Russian, East European and Eurasian studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a B.A. in History and International Studies from the Pennsylvania State University. She began learning Russian in 2004 as an undergraduate and has also studied French and Ukrainian.

In her free time Nellie spends time running, reading, and baking and eating desserts.


Natalie Spencer
Program Officer, Alumni Affairs

Natalie Spencer joined CLS in 2016 as the Program Officer for Alumni Affairs, working with the vibrant CLS alumni community, which counts over 5,000 members. Before joining the CLS team, Natalie was a graduate assistant at International Student Exchange Programs (ISEP) in Arlington, VA where she worked to improve the organization’s alumni engagement and formed strategies to assess student learning abroad.

Natalie earned her MA in International Education Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, CA and holds a dual BA in Mass Communication and French from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. She has studied and taught in France and maintains a passion for cultural exchange and the value of the study abroad experience.


Rhea Vance-Cheng
Program Officer, Indic Language Programs, Critical Language Scholarship Program

Rhea Vance-Cheng works on the Bangla, Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu CLS institutes in India.

Prior to joining American Councils, Rhea was the Associate Director of Civic & Global Engagement at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia, where she supervised the colleges study abroad and international student programs.

Rhea holds a B.A. from Mary Baldwin College in Theatre, and a M.A. in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University. Her M.A. thesis was a discourse analysis of the Kashmir conflict. She completed a CLS for Hindi in 2011.

In her free time she enjoys cooking and gardening at her family’s farm in Virginia.


Claudia Anderson
Program Assistant, Critical Language Scholarship Program

As a Program Assistant with the CLS Program, Claudia Anderson helps to support all of the program sites across all languages. Prior to joining American Councils, Claudia was a Staff Assistant for The George Washington University Office for Study Abroad, where she helped process application and transfer credit materials and advised on over 300 programs for all undergraduate study abroad students.

Claudia earned a B.A. in International Affairs from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. with a concentration on international development and economics. During her junior year she studied abroad in Pune, India through the Alliance for Global Education.


Zeke Caceres
Program Assistant, Critical Language Scholarship Program

As a CLS Program Assistant, Zeke provides support to all of the program sites across all languages. Prior to joining American Councils, Zeke worked as an English Teaching Assistant with the Fulbright Program in Agadir, Morocco and interned at the Middle East Institute, AMIDEAST and National Democratic Institute. He is a proud alumnus of the 2015 CLS program in Madaba, Jordan.

Zeke earned a B.A. in Middle East Studies from Middlebury College in Vermont. As an undergrad, he studied abroad in Jordan and volunteered as an English teacher in Morocco.

A native Spanish speaker and Francophile turned Arabic aficionado with an interest in Hebrew, Zeke enjoys studying foreign languages and sees it as a window to understanding cultures more intimately.