GW has produced more State Department scholarship recipients to study abroad than any other US institution of its size.
A total of 207 GW students have received funding from the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, which awards Pell Grant recipients up to $5,000 to study and intern abroad, the highest among other “mid-sized” higher education institutions in the US With between 5,000 to 15,000 students. Officials from the Office of Study Abroad said the university has become a top producer of Gilman Scholarship recipients due to increased overall study abroad participation prior to the pandemic along with higher levels of promotion through information sessions, support and outreach programs at GW.
Kimberly Rush, director of advisory services at the office, and Jennifer Donago, executive director of international education, said in a joint email message that the Gilman scholarship lowered the costs of studying abroad and allowed more students to experience an international education. They said the scholarship helped the office accomplish its mission of ensuring that study abroad was available to all students.
“The Gilman scholarship has aided us in our efforts to break down barriers and improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in study abroad,” they said.
GW was the second highest producer of a Gilman scholarship among the university’s peer schools, according to State Department data. New York University, with more undergraduates, ranked first with 307 recipients while Syracuse University ranked third with 180 students, followed by University of Southern California, University of Rochester, and Georgetown University at 159, 153, and 151 students, respectively.
Rush and Donaghue said 15 students received the scholarship for the March 2021 deadline cycle, which includes study abroad programs for this summer, fall and next spring, and 13 students received a maximum of $5,000. Officials said the number of grantees peaked in the fall 2018 session with 20 students, but that GW averaged 10 to 15 per semester in its “last” application courses.
“We believe our position as the Gilman Scholars Program’s top product is largely a result of the hard work and dedication of GW students in submitting competitive application essays as well as our office resources, support, and outreach to the program with the help of campus partners such as the University Writing Center,” they said.
Rush and Donaghue said the spring semester before the COVID-19 pandemic attracted the most Gilman scholarship applicants to GW and the largest number of students enrolled in a study abroad program, with a total of nearly 600 students studying in a different country. They said the level of outreach and promotion of the Study Abroad Scholarship Office, such as information sessions, essay workshops, alumni events, and newsletters, spreads the word among students interested in programming and helps them develop “competitive applications.”
Officials said the scholarship provides students with “direct funding” for any fees related to studying abroad, such as transportation costs, books and supplies, while most higher education scholarships can only be used to cover tuition and billable fees.
“This scholarship has supported students in defraying both billable and personal expenses associated with studying abroad, making the experience possible for them more often,” they said.
Rush and Donaghue said the scholarship also provides recipients with a year of “non-competitive” employment status within the federal government for vacancies outside the normal process. They added that Gilman scholarship recipients join a “diverse” alumni network with opportunities to attend networking events and conferences around the world.
“As international educators, our office believes in the power and value of studying abroad as a tool to enhance the intercultural competencies and skills needed to succeed in the global marketplace,” they said.
Study abroad experts have said that universities with a high profile of Gilman scholarship producers hold workshops to promote the opportunity and help students with the application process. They said the scholarship allowed more students, especially from low-income families, to study abroad and broaden their “worldview”.
Jess Mercier, a study abroad advisor and outreach coordinator at the University of Florida, said the Gilman scholarship allowed students who were “traditionally underrepresented” and could not normally afford to travel abroad to expand their educational experience. She said she’s heard from UF recipients that they were only able to study abroad with Gilman Scholarship funding and had a “life-changing” experience while doing so.
“Even the mere possibility of earning a Gilman degree makes studying abroad more realistic for these students, rather than an unimaginable goal,” she said.
Janelle Waldrib, the study abroad coordinator at San Francisco State University, said universities should answer questions, promote the scholarship and help students create their portfolios to help more students get the award. She said officials are advising students of the benefits of studying abroad, such as expanding global relationships and professional opportunities regardless of race and socioeconomic status, to promote the award.
“Spending a year abroad is the best investment you can make in yourself in terms of your future,” she said. “You will have opportunities to travel and make progress in your degree and you will find open doors that you could not even imagine until now.”