Gilman Scholarship provides opportunities for study abroad

Olivia Blakeslee, Contributing Writer

The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program offers annual scholarship opportunities for undergraduate students who are U.S. citizens. Scholarships, worth up to $5,000, will be awarded to as many as 2,900 Federal Pell Grant recipients this year to allow them to study abroad in any country not currently under a United States Travel Warning, according to the Gilman Scholarship Program website.

The scholarship is funded by the U.S. Department of State and administered by the Institute of International Education.

“A Gilman Scholarship enables American students to gain proficiency in diverse languages and cultures, skills that are critically important to their academic and career development,” according to the scholarship website.

The scholarship is unique in that it is exclusively offered to those who are also recipients of a Federal Pell Grant, and Allegheny has what some staff consider to be a significant population of these recipients in attendance.

“Currently, right now, I’ve been told it’s 37 percent on campus,” said Lucinda Morgan, director of international education. “Which is a very high percentage, it’s increased a lot over the years at Allegheny.”

Students receiving Federal Pell Grants can be less likely to pursue study abroad opportunities, according to Director of Fellowship Advising Patrick Jackson.

“One of the problems is that students who are Pell Grant-eligible are getting Pell Grants because they’re concerned about the money it takes to go to college and they think of study abroad as something that’s out of reach for them,”  Jackson said. “And I think what Gilman wants to make clear is that it’s not out of reach, it’s actually quite within reach.”

Allegheny students are not only eligible for study abroad programs, but they also have a unique resource available to them on campus. The Allegheny Gateway aids students in the scholarship application process, and multiple resources are in place to ensure that students have the opportunity to pursue a study abroad experience.

“[Morgan] will help find the right study abroad program, given your interests and career and life trajectory and then it’s my job to help craft the application essay,” Jackson said.

The Gateway provides 22 college-sponsored programs as well as advice and applications for opportunities not supplied by the school for which a Gilman scholarship is applicable.

Students who study a language deemed a “critical need language” stand to benefit even further from the Gilman fund.

“Applicants who are studying a critical need language while abroad, in a country in which the language is predominantly spoken, can apply for a supplemental award of up to $3,000 for a combined total of $8,000,” according to the scholarship website.

These 14 languages range from Azerbaijani to Urdu and Allegheny offers classes in Arabic and Chinese, both of which are considered to be critical need languages. Allegheny also offers sponsored programs in countries in which these languages are predominantly spoken, including China, Japan, Israel and Kenya.

The application process for Pell Grant recipients, whether they are students who study a critical need language or not, is relatively simple.

“You basically have to write a short essay about why you want to study abroad,” Jackson said. “You have to find a program that appeals to you and then write a convincing essay about why that program makes sense given the trajectory of your life as you currently understand it.”

The Gilman Scholarship Program states on its website that students must either be in the process of applying to or have already been accepted to a study abroad program, and if they are students in a four-year college, this program must be at least three weeks in duration. Those interested in studying abroad in the spring of 2018 or applying early for the summer of 2018 must submit a completed application online by Oct. 3, 2017. The application and more information on the process are also available through the website.

By providing this scholarship, the United States government is able to partake in what Jackson called “soft diplomacy,” an indirect way for the United States to represent itself on the international stage. The students who are selected for the scholarship are evaluated based on their “academic preparedness,” “diversity of background and experience” and “impact to community,” according to the scholarship website. The U.S. Department of State, and by extension America, thus presents to the international community a prepared, diverse and involved group of young Americans.

The nation as a whole is rarely viewed as the sole beneficiary of study abroad programs, as the undergraduates themselves are often the focus of such opportunities.

“Going abroad is, in my view, as a part of an undergraduate education, necessary … when you are going abroad to live, you need something to sort of ground you, and the academic experience does this,” said Barbara Riess, associate professor and chair of the department of modern and classical languages.

The Gilman Scholarship Program is one way in which this experience may be opened to students in financial need, and this opportunity extends here to students on Allegheny’s campus.