Keely Bakken, Indiana University Hamilton Lugar School alumna, is now a Supervisory Policy Analyst at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. As an analyst on the research team, Bakken’s work is to monitor and document religious freedom conditions in her regions of expertise: Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Turkey.
Bakken majored in International Studies and Spanish before earning a Master of Arts in Central Eurasian Studies from the IU Hamilton Lugar School and a Master of Public Affairs degree from the IU O’Neill School.
“I have a regional portfolio and I’m responsible for my organization’s work on Turkey, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and recently Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine,” said Bakken. “Speaking a couple of the languages spoken in those countries was a huge plus in their decision to hire me.”
As an IU student, Bakken gained extensive language training at the Hamilton Lugar School, supported by three Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowships. FLAS fellowships are generous awards from the United States Department of Education to support the study of languages of critical interest to the United States.
The FLAS awards funded Bakken’s language study in Tatar, Uzbek, and Russian, and coursework in the Central Eurasian Studies M.A. program.
Bakken now uses her language skills on a regular basis to conduct research, interacting with foreign government officials, human rights activists, and representatives of religious communities.
“Every year we produce reports and make recommendations to the U.S. government, meaning the White House, the U.S. State Department and Congress about steps or policies the U.S. government can take to improve the ability of people to practice their religion or beliefs,” she explained.
She described the Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowships as being invaluable to helping her reach her career goal.
“The FLAS awards were the only way I would have been able to fund my master’s programs and they entirely supported my graduate level academic work,” said Bakken. “For the position I am in now, you generally need a graduate level degree. I am a strong advocate for FLAS awards, and I always recommend people I know who are interested in grad school to apply.”
Bakken used one of her FLAS awards to study Tatar in the IU Language Workshop. “It allowed me to focus entirely on language study for the summer,” she explained. “Because I typically worked part-time during the semester, it was nice to have that time between semesters to only focus on language study with other students in the same program.”
Bakken’s FLAS fellowships also opened the door to other opportunities. She has received a Fulbright Award to Russia, a Boren Fellowship to Turkey, and scholarships from American Councils for International Education to study Tatar and Russian.
In addition to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Bakken has worked in the U.S. Department of State’s Office of International Religious Freedom, where she served as a Foreign Affairs Officer covering Russia, Eastern Europe, and the Caucasus, among other parts of Europe. Prior to joining the federal government, she was a Program Officer at American Councils for International Education and volunteered at Small Projects Istanbul, a Turkish NGO providing educational opportunities for refugees.
Bakken said she is grateful for a career that allows her to engage with foreign governments to find ways to improve people’s human rights and lived experience in their counties.
FLAS Fellowships are awarded by the United States Department of Education Title VI program to support undergraduate and graduate students in the study of languages deemed critical to the U.S. In 2022, Indiana University was awarded $17.7 million from the Title VI program – the highest total amount awarded to any university. Of the total, $8.6 million will be awarded directly to students through FLAS Fellowships. All Indiana University students are eligible to apply for FLAS funding (hls.iu.edu/flas) through January 30, 2023 for summer 2023 and the 2023-24 academic year.