Four UB students have won Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarships, a significant increase in the number of UB students receiving this undergraduate award and an indication, UB administrators say, that the university’s new initiative to expand fellowship opportunities to more students is working.
The four students, who will receive from $2,500 to $4,000 to study abroad, are Wanly Chen, a communication and media study major who will go to Singapore; Kelly Aldinger, a Spanish major who will study in Peru; Michael Pilgrom, a psychology major who will travel to the United Kingdom; and Brandon Reilly, an exercise science and French major who will go to France.
“The Office of Fellowships and Scholarships has begun to make considerable inroads to increase the number of undergraduate and graduate students applying for nationally and internationally competitive fellowships and scholarships,” says Elizabeth Colucci, director of fellowships and scholarships.
Colucci’s office has fostered a significant increase in the number of UB undergraduates chosen to receive nationally competitive scholarships, among them Goldwater, Boren and Fulbright scholarships.
Colucci says the Gilman scholarship is the “first impact” of this initiative, adding that the addition of Megan Stewart as an adviser in the Office of Fellowships and Scholarships increases the opportunity meet with departments and encourage more deserving students to apply.
“UB students who have a Pell Grant are eligible to apply for this study abroad scholarship,” says Colucci. “Megan worked with over 16 students this fall to submit for spring and summer funding. Another round of funding for summer, fall and the 2017-2018 academic year is due March 7 and we anticipate an even larger pool of students will apply.”
Stewart, who joined Colucci when UB created the new office in September, says this scholarship often proves to be the difference between students having the life-changing experience of studying abroad and not having that opportunity.
“International experiences are so transformative for students’ personal, academic and career development, but some believe the financial costs will be too prohibitive,” Stewart says. “Funding like the Gilman scholarship makes time abroad realistic for a broader range of students.”
The recipients of the Gilman scholarship credit the award with giving them the opportunity to pursue their academic aspirations, while extending them to another level.
Kelly Aldinger, 20, says that ever since her first Spanish class in middle school, “I fell in love with the language and its associated cultures, and promised myself that I would someday be bilingual.”
She says her interest in the language stemmed partly from growing up in a rural town that lacked ethnic and racial diversity. “From a young age, I desired to experience the other perspectives of the globe and think critically about my place in such a diverse community,” she says. “By the time I finished high school, my pursuit of Spanish had diminished somewhat due to the education system’s strong emphasis on STEM fields that consequently caused the humanities to more or less fall by the wayside.”
But after a “chaotic and eye-opening” freshman year at UB, Aldinger says she decided to major in Spanish language and literature, with minors in linguistics and anthropology. After that, “I realized that my nearly lifelong dream of participating in and learning from another culture could be realized through study abroad,” she says.
“Studying in Peru is something I never thought I’d be able to do, primarily due to financial constraints,” she notes. “Now, thanks to the Office of Fellowships and Scholarships and the Gilman scholarship program, I’ll be venturing abroad for the very first time to develop my Spanish and learn from another culture. I can’t wait to share everything I learn abroad with both my hometown and UB community.”
Wanly Chen, 20, calls her scholarship for travel to Singapore “a gateway and first step” to enhancing her social media presence, essential for her majors in communication and media study.
“Being a writer and having a love for photography, I hope to utilize my phone, my GoPro and the unforgettable experiences I will have to successfully use Instagram or create a blog to share this incredible journey,” Chen says.
“Winning the Gilman scholarship proved that I wasn’t just lucky; I had successfully worked hard to earn something. I’m one of five kids; I’m the fourth child, almost the bottom of the rut and I’ve learned from a small age that everything I wanted was to be earned,” she says.
“Tacking on scholarships to my already busy schedule wasn’t easy, but I submitted my application and I hoped that it was worth the extra work, and it was. I didn’t realize that what I have just won was more than a national scholarship, but a renowned scholarship that opened doors to opportunities that I undoubtedly will seek in my near future.”
Michael Pilgrom, 26, a self-described nontraditional student living with a learning disability, says he has dreamed of studying abroad all his life, but never would have been able to afford it without the Gilman scholarship.
“My long-term goal is to study medicine, specializing in psychiatry,” Pilgrom wrote in his application essay. “I feel studying in England will further develop the skills that are required for this, as it will enable me to meet an even broader range of people. After all, one of the most important things with any psychology-related profession is communication.
“By studying abroad in the United Kingdom, I will not just be a tourist; I will be able to immerse myself into their culture. I will be able to study and see English, Scottish and Irish history, which will allow me to grow and become a more cultured person.”
Brandon Reilly, 21, a senior majoring in exercise science with aspirations to become a physical therapist, says he loves traveling and learning different cultures as much as learning how to write an exercise plan and how the body works.
“During my sophomore year I declared French as my second major,” Reilly says. “Since then, I have been looking for a way to combine both of my degrees. After a year of planning, I set up an internship where I will be working in a gym as a counselor/manager in Paris.
“I am no better than the next UB student, and winning this scholarship has made me realize that if you apply yourself to something you are passionate about, then you can surprise yourself with how much you will accomplish,” he says. “In light of recent events, I believe it is more important than ever to educate ourselves and each other about people from different walks of life, and that is exactly what I plan to do with this scholarship.”