Seven URI students selected for prestigious Gilman Scholarship for international study

KINGSTON, R.I. – July 13, 2021 – Seven undergraduate students at the University of Rhode Island have been selected to receive the prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. The scholarship program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and supports study or internships abroad.

            The recipients are Jacob Arena of Newport, Steven Lee of Warwick, and Valeria Aguilar, Amari McDonald, Misty Shi, and brothers Gabriel Varga and Galo Varga, all of Providence.

            Arena, a senior majoring in pharmaceutical sciences and French, will travel to Rennes, France, in September to finish his degree. “I am going to Rennes because they have a fantastic language program that will help me achieve my ultimate goal of fluency in French, as well as a fantastic pharmaceutics program,” he said. “I hope to absorb as much of the French culture as possible during my time there, as I intend to enter graduate school in France to fulfill my ultimate goal of a career in psychiatry.”

            Aguilar, a junior studying medical laboratory science, will study abroad in South Korea in 2022. “I’ve dreamed of going to South Korea for the longest time,” she said. “I have so much appreciation for the culture, music, entertainment and much more.” She plans to take her first Korean language classes and looks forward to excursions around the country and meeting local residents. She plans a career as a laboratory technologist in a hospital, animal hospital or forensic laboratory.

            Lee, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry in May, had planned to use his scholarship to participate in the Semester at Sea program this fall, but it has been canceled due to the pandemic. He now plans to enter the Peace Corps or another volunteer humanitarian program. “I really enjoy helping those in need and making a difference where I can,” he said.

            McDonald is majoring in biological sciences and Chinese with the goal of going to medical school. He will travel to Taiwan in the fall to take classes for a semester, and he will participate in a biology-related internship in the spring. “I chose this place because the university I will be attending has great pre-med and medical related classes,” he said. “I hope to also explore the history and culture of the country while I am there.”

            Shi, a Chinese and global business management major, is learning about Chinese and Taiwanese culture through a virtual study abroad program with Yang Ming University in Taiwan this summer, after the in-person program was canceled due to the pandemic. She still hopes to spend a year abroad eventually and then go to graduate school. “I want to one day work internationally and become a bridge where two cultures meet,” she said. “For now, I am putting my best foot forward and will see what life brings me.”

            Gabriel Varga, a senior studying biomedical engineering and Spanish, will spend the fall semester at the University of Cantabria in Spain, where he will take engineering classes that will be taught in Spanish and later participate in an internship as part of URI’s International Engineering Program.  “I’m also hoping to join a soccer club and stay socially active while I’m there so I can make the most out of the experience,” he said. “I plan to go sight-seeing as much as I can to all parts of Spain and to different countries in Europe when possible.”

            Galo Varga, a sophomore studying kinesiology, will travel to Granada, Spain, where he will study Spanish and take other classes to learn more about Spain. “I’m hoping to make friends and memories that will last a lifetime, as well as explore and try the food all around,” he said. While he is uncertain of his career plans, he is considering becoming a physical therapist. “I honestly just want to find my specialty and make a fun living out of it, so I’ll see where that takes me.”

Gilman Scholars receive up to $5,000 to apply toward their study abroad costs. Since the program’s establishment in 2001, over 1,300 U.S. institutions have sent over 33,000 Gilman Scholars of diverse backgrounds to 151 countries around the globe. The program has successfully broadened U.S. participation in study abroad, while emphasizing countries and regions where fewer Americans traditionally study. The program is named for the late Congressman Gilman, who served in the House of Representatives for 30 years and chaired the House Foreign Relations Committee.

URI students interested in exploring the Gilman Scholarship and study abroad programs are encouraged to contact the Office of International Education at