Office of Scholar Development celebrates $1M+ earned in Gilman Scholarships for study abroad
- Thursday, January 19th, 2023
With the conclusion of the most recent application cycle, WKU students have earned over $1 million from the nationally competitive Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program. Recipients earn funding for international education, promoting the U.S. Department of State’s goal of broadening the student population that studies and interns abroad.
Since the program’s inception in 2001, 291 WKU students have earned $1,155,000 in Gilman Scholarships toward study abroad. This success reflects the exceptional support students find in the Office of Scholar Development (OSD). Prior to the office’s establishment in 2008, only 7 students were awarded a Gilman Scholarship.
OSD mentors students applying for national scholarships to fund “academic extras” beyond what tuition covers. OSD helps Hilltoppers make more possible by increasing access to study abroad, research, professional experience and more.
“Through our institution’s investment in support for nationally competitive awards such as the Gilman Scholarship, WKU students make more possible for their academic and professional goals—including international experiences,” said Lindsey Houchin, Assistant Director of OSD.
"Few, if any, Gilman Scholars could fund study abroad without significant scholarship support. This is over $1 million in transformative educational experiences, made possible by our strong partnerships with supportive faculty and staff at WKU,” she said.
TRANSFORMATIVE EDUCATIONAL EXPERIENCES
To be eligible for the Gilman Scholarship, students must qualify for the Pell Grant, a federal need-based grant awarded to undergraduate students with exceptional financial need. As a result, the population of students representing WKU while studying abroad through WKU Global programs has diversified. Of WKU’s Gilman Scholars, 43% were first-generation college students, 40% were students of color, and 8% were nontraditional college students.
“WKU students in these minority groups are given opportunities every day. However, without financial support and personalized encouragement, they can’t take advantage of the opportunities sometimes go unmet,” said Dr. Martha Sales, Dean of Students and Assistant Vice President for Student Life at WKU.
“This recognition highlights the resilience of these students,” she said. “Because of this experience, students sharpen their view of themselves. They see themselves beyond their current circumstances and the categories they have been placed it. They expand their possibilities.”
A WRITING-INTENSIVE APPLICATION PROCESS
Every applicant prepares three essays, which OSD supports students from first drafts to final submissions with multiple revisions in between. A strong application explains the value of the international experience for their goals and demonstrate their commitment to building mutual understanding across cultural and linguistic barriers while abroad, as well as propose a detailed plan to promote the Gilman Scholarship and study abroad upon return.
“After applying, I recognize all of the lessons I learned about myself along the way: that I am worthy of the same opportunities as others, that I am capable of hard things, and that dreaming about my future doesn’t make my ‘silly,’ but makes me strong,” said Skyler Markwell, 2021 Gilman Scholar and graduate of the learning behavior disorders and elementary education dual certificate program.
While the national selection rate averages approximately 20%, WKU’s selection rate is significantly higher. Since the establishment of OSD, 50% of WKU applicants were awarded the scholarship, and in the 2021-2022 academic year, 87% of applicants who worked with OSD were selected.
“I am much more confident in every opportunity I pursue because of what started in my Gilman application,” said Shwe Win, a 2022 Gilman Scholar who studies public health in the Joint Undergraduate-Master's Program (JUMP).
“It’s more than the scholarship itself," she said. "It’s application essays that connect my personal stories with my goals, instilling a sense of personal agency. Now I realize my strengths and my ability to make more possible.”
OSD'S HISTORY OF MAKING MORE POSSIBLE
This is the vision Dr. Craig T. Cobane, Executive Director of the Mahurin Honors College, had in mind when establishing the Office of Scholar Development in 2008. “Our philosophy is that dollars should never be the reason a student does not study abroad. OSD provides the intensive mentorship and support that puts scholarships like Gilman within their reach,” he said.
The Gilman Scholarship is one of several OSD-supported national scholarships. Since 2008, WKU students from all majors and backgrounds have earned nearly $6.5 million in external funding through OSD-supported national scholarships.
About the Office of Scholar Development: The Office of Scholar Development team mentors students applying for national scholarships for “academic extras” beyond what’s covered by tuition, such as study abroad, research, professional experience, and more. From first drafts to final submissions with multiple revisions in between, OSD helps students make more possible regardless of their major or means. By conceptualizing and revising the stories they tell in application essays and interviews, students better understand their strengths, interests, and purpose—and explore multiple possible pathways to that work.
About the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship: Funded by the U.S. Department of State, the Gilman Scholarship program funds internships or study abroad programs for undergraduate Pell Grant recipients. Since 2001, the Gilman Scholarship has enabled more than 36,000 Americans to study in countries around the world, representing diverse backgrounds including ethnic minority students, students with disabilities, and first-generation college students.
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