In April 2019, senior international studies and german major Elena Akers was announced as one of Ohio State's 150 Sesquicentennial Scholars — 32 of which are in the Arts and Sciences. The Sesquicentennial Student Leader Scholarship program aims to increase access and affordability, as well as recognize students’ academic and non-academic accomplishments and diverse interests.
Why did you choose your major?
I've always loved learning about history, cultures and languages, and so I was always certain I wanted to pursue a degree and a career in something related to those. I tried linguistics and geography, and though I enjoyed learning about both, neither was quite the right fit. I finally settled on international studies, focusing on international relations and diplomacy, to give myself the most interdisciplinary, globally focused major I could. I also declared a minor in German — the language I had continued studying from high school — but after studying abroad in Dresden the summer before my sophomore year, I decided German was an essential part of my education and my life, and I elevated it to a second major. I’m very glad I chose these majors, as now I hope to continue to graduate school in one or maybe even both fields!
What does being a Sesquicentennial Scholar mean to you?
I love coincidences. When I realized that Ohio State's sesquicentennial fell during 2020, which also happens to be the year I graduate, it felt like an auspicious sign, for both myself and the university. In this way, I feel that being a Sesquicentennial Scholar is not only a signifier of how much Ohio State has accomplished, but how much more there is to still be done. As a senior, it's easy to feel that everything is coming to an end, and sure, this chapter is, with plenty of accomplishments to show for it. However, with Ohio State behind me (both chronologically and metaphorically), I feel that my best successes are yet to come, and I think that can be widely applied to the other Sesquicentennial Scholars and Ohio State students as well. As a community, we are consistently growing and achieving bigger and better things, but we still have a long way to go. Throughout my years here, I've seen students change campus in ways for the better, whether that is through sustainable waste practices, mental health access or academic policies. However, each of these is a reminder that we can do more. We can change more, we can achieve more, both on campus and beyond. The sesquicentennial is a reminder to me that it's not over yet — that while we can certainly celebrate these victories, we must keep going. I didn't apply to this program because I think Ohio State is perfect, but because I think Ohio State sets students up for success and gives us a chance to make our own changes. As a Sesquicentennial Scholar, I’m proud to serve as a representative of Ohio State’s continuing progress.
Explain what you love about being in the College of Arts and Sciences at Ohio State.
I owe much of my college experience to the academics and the extracurricular opportunities offered by the College of Arts and Sciences. I came to Ohio State as an out-of-state student unsure of what exactly I wanted here. I was fortunate to start my college career welcomed with open arms by the International Affairs (IA) Scholars program, one of the Scholars programs housed within ASC. IA helped me find my friends, my voice and my passions through interesting, multidisciplinary programming, exciting field trips and camaraderie. IA helped connect me with some of the amazing faculty within ASC that outside of my majors I may have never met otherwise. The IA Scholars program has been a perfect gateway between my extracurriculars and my academics, as well, being as it was one of the major reasons I decided to change my major to International Studies. I loved Scholars so much that after completing the program sophomore year, I decided to return as a Teaching Assistant for the freshman seminar class this fall.
IA is only one example of the immersive experiences ASC has offered me. In addition to interesting classes within my majors — ranging from "Intelligence for Diplomacy" to "Winter in German Culture" — I’ve had many opportunities to explore classes outside of my majors, such as creative writing and steel drum ensemble. One of the most rewarding classes was a hands-on, service-learning course, where classmates and I taught our foreign languages to middle school students at a summer camp. These classes are only a piece of the ASC experience — I could go on and on about fantastic professors, study abroad opportunities and more. I love the diversity ASC has to offer in all of its various ways, and I love being a representative of the college to others. Currently, I am honored to serve as member of the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Student Advisory Board, along with being a Sesquicentennial Scholar, as these two opportunities allow me to give back to the college and community that has given me so much.
How do you hope to inspire the next generation?
I find that the best way to inspire others is to continuously seek inspiration yourself. The only way to stay motivated, to pursue goals and passions, is to find the things that you love and keep working towards them. When others see you doing what you love, it makes them want to do what they love. While I have my focus areas, I know not everyone cares about education, bicycles or European politics (to list a few examples) as much as I do. But I hope they can find their own focus areas, and care about those as much as I care about mine.
When I first came to Ohio State, as I didn’t know many older students who I could seek advice from. I relied on my own intuition to find my way. Now that I am an older student, with my seminar class of IA first-years looking up to me, I hope I can serve as a guide for them but also reflect a way to figure it out on their own. There is a balance to be found. I know that I will continue to keep working on the things I am passionate about, and maybe, while I’m here, some of that passion will rub off on them — even if they don’t like bicycles.