Kingston – The University of Rhode Island has been recognized by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for being the largest producer of Benjamin A. Gilman International has been among the medium-sized colleges and universities for the past 20 years.
Since its inception in 2001, the State Department’s Gilman Program has reshaped study abroad to make it more accessible and inclusive for American students by offering scholarships to outstanding American undergraduate students who, due to financial constraints, might not otherwise participate.
URI has been among the top 20 institutions over the past two decades recognized for their support of equality, diversity, and accessibility in study abroad for American students through the Gilman Program, producing more than 100 Gilman Scholars since 2001.
“We’re really proud of that,” said Tom Hosbaud, assistant director of education abroad programs at URI, who helps oversee the Gilman program. “Historically, study abroad programs were thought to be primarily for students with financial resources. URI has been really supportive in making this happen for students, and the Gilman program has become a real cornerstone in helping to facilitate study abroad for students who would otherwise not be able to afford it. .”
The Gilman Scholarships are open to US undergraduate students who receive Federal Pell Scholarship funding at a two- or four-year college. By supporting undergraduate students with high financial needs, the program has successfully supported students who have historically been underrepresented in education abroad, including but not limited to first-generation college students, ethnic minority students, and students with disabilities.
“We do information sessions a few times in the classroom because we want to meet other students who have been through the program,” Hospod says. “We have a lot of students who have a lot of responsibilities — maybe they work, maybe they move, maybe they help support their families — so taking a break for a program like this is a big commitment. We want them to know that the State Department sees them as well — that through the program they can travel abroad and work as citizen diplomats and may open the door to other opportunities later down the road.”
Many alumni of the Gilman program have gone on to win additional scholarships and prestigious awards—including Fulbright and Critical Languages Scholarships, also administered by the U.S. Department of State, as well as the Boren Prize. In addition, graduates of an exchange program in any of the three programs administered by the Department of State are eligible for 12 months of non-competitive employment status within the federal government, with the possibility of extensions if certain criteria are met.
Tiverton’s Michael Rodrik graduated from URI in 2013 and credits the program with his interest in the Foreign Service. After his internship at the United States Embassy in Lithuania through the Gilman Program, Rodrik applied for and won a Fulbright scholarship, enabling him to teach English for two years in South Korea. He later served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Macedonia for two years and has plans to enter the United States Marine Corps Officer Candidate School.
“I have had a lot of support from the URI’s Office of International Education,” Rodrik said. “I certainly wouldn’t have had the opportunity to live and study abroad without Gilman. As my first time traveling abroad on my own, it was a stepping stone for me and really helped serve as a springboard for everything I’ve done since then.”
For Liana Tun, who is originally from Newington, Connecticut, and now lives and works in Atlanta, the opportunity to study abroad with a Gilman scholarship while majoring in nursing made her more marketable as a nurse. Although she studied Spanish in high school, the self-described “badly-examed” label did not feel as though she could fit into a second major in the required classroom as a nursing student. When she realized that it would take a little longer to graduate, the staff at the Office of International Education urged her to make the most of her extra time by applying for the scholarship. Ultimately, the time she taught in a faculty-led intensive Spanish program in Salamanca, Spain, allowed her to add a Spanish major, resulting in her graduating in December 2018 with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish.
“Growing up, my family’s income wasn’t very high. As a first-generation college student, I didn’t even know if I could afford higher education,” said Ton. “So it was a really emotional moment for me when I realized ‘If I get this scholarship, I can do it, I can get two degrees. “And I really wouldn’t have been able to do that without the Gilman Scholarship.”
When Providence ’21 Gilman Scholarship recipient Nathaniel Sandoval halted plans to study Spain abroad in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he was able to delay the start of the program by a year. Although conditions did not improve, Sandoval was able to keep his scholarship and transfer his original plans to study Spanish in Salamanca into a remote postgraduate internship with a pledge fund based in Barcelona.
“COVID has changed everything,” Sandoval said. “While I was certainly disappointed at not being able to study abroad, one of the great things about this experience is the network I have built and the knowledge of the organization I am working with now. I am excited to eventually travel to Spain and reconnect in person with the people I have met.”
But initially, Sandoval will travel to Nicaragua and Hawaii to work with local nonprofits on housing sustainability projects thanks to the Michael B. Fellowship. Metcalf acquired through the Rhode Island Foundation. He also applied for a Fulbright scholarship to teach entrepreneurship and business development in Columbia. The Gilman Program and the Office for International Education are credited with helping prepare for these competitive implementations.
As a first-generation college student, Sandoval is looking to push his good fortune forward. “I have a lot to look forward to. It is not just about making a difference in these scholarships in my life, but I will be able to make a difference in the lives of many people, in a completely different environment, in a completely different country.”
Since the Gilman Program began in 2001, more than 34,000 Gilman scholars from all US states, Puerto Rico, and other US territories have studied or trained in more than 155 countries around the world. The program is named after the late Congressman Benjamin Gilman, who served in the US House of Representatives for 30 years and chaired the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Gilman helped secure the International Academic Opportunity Act of 2000, which established exchange programs for American students to study abroad.
To learn more about the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, including application deadlines, information sessions, and upcoming workshops, visit the URI Office of International Education.