URI named twenty-year top producer of Gilman Scholars

Program has helped make study abroad accessible for students regardless of financial background

KINGSTON, R.I. – November 17, 2021 – The University of Rhode Island has been recognized by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for being a top producer of Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship recipients among mid-sized colleges and universities over the past 20 years. Since its inception in 2001, the Department of State’s Gilman Program has reshaped study abroad to make it more accessible and inclusive for American students by providing scholarships to outstanding U.S. undergraduate students who, due to financial constraints, might not otherwise participate.

Liana Tun ‘18 visiting the Old Cathedral of Salamanca in July 2017, while studying abroad on a Gilman Scholarship. (Photo courtesy Liana Tun)

URI is among the top 20 institutions over the past two decades recognized for their support of equity, diversity, and accessibility in study abroad for American students through the Gilman program, producing more than 100 Gilman Scholars since 2001.

“We really take great pride in this,” said Tom Hospod, URI assistant director of education abroad programs, who helps to oversee the Gilman program. “Historically, study abroad programs have been thought to be primarily for students who have financial means. URI has been truly 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 otherwise would not be able to afford it.”

Gilman Scholarships are open to American undergraduate students who receive federal Pell Grant funding at a two-year or four-year college. By supporting undergraduate students who have high financial need, the program has been successful in supporting students who have been historically underrepresented in education abroad, including but not limited to first-generation college students, ethnic minority students, and students with disabilities.

Due to the COVID pandemic, Nathaniel Sandoval ’21 was able to transition his Gilman experience to a remote internship with a Barcelona-based company. He has since won a Michael P. Metcalf fellowship and is applying for a Fulbright Scholarship. (Photo courtesy Nathaniel Sandoval)

“We hold information sessions several times a semester because we want students to meet others who have gone through the program,” says Hospod. “We have a lot of students who have many responsibilities – they may be working, they may be commuting, they may be helping to support their families – and so taking even a short time off for a program like this is a big commitment. We want them to know the State Department sees them too – that through the program they can go abroad and act as citizen diplomats and perhaps open the door to other opportunities later on down the road.”

Many Gilman program alumni have gone on to win additional prestigious scholarships and awards – including the Fulbright and Critical Language Scholarships, also administered by the U.S. Department of State, as well as the Boren Award. Additionally, exchange program alumni of any of the three Department of State-administered programs are eligible for 12 months of non-competitive eligibility hiring status within the federal government, with the possibility of extensions if certain criteria are met.

Michael Roderick of Tiverton graduated from URI in 2013 and credits the program with piquing his interest in foreign service. Following his internship at the U.S. Embassy in Lithuania through the Gilman program, Roderick went on to apply for and win a Fulbright Scholarship, which enabled 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 Candidates School.

“I got a lot of support from the Office of International Education at URI,” said Roderick. “I definitely would not have had the opportunity to live and study overseas if not for the Gilman. As my first time traveling overseas alone, it was a jumping off point for me and has really helped to serve as a launching pad for everything I have done since.”

For Liana Tun, originally from Newington, Connecticut, and now living and working in Atlanta, the opportunity to study abroad on a Gilman Scholarship while majoring in nursing made her much more marketable as a nurse. Though she took Spanish in high school, the self-described “bad test-taker” didn’t feel as though she could fit a second major in with her required classes as a nursing student. When she realized that it would take her a little longer to graduate, she was urged by staff in the Office of International Education to make the most of her extra time by applying for the scholarship. Ultimately, the time studying in an intense, faculty-led Spanish program in Salamanca, Spain, allowed her to add a Spanish major, leading to her graduation in December 2018 with a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish.

“Growing up, my family income was not very high. As a first-generation college student, I didn’t even know if I could afford higher education,” said Tun. “So, it was a really emotional moment for me when I realized ‘If I receive this scholarship, I can do it, I can have two degrees.’ And I really wouldn’t have been able to do that without the Gilman Scholarship.”

When Gilman Scholarship winner Nathaniel Sandoval ’21 of Providence had his Spain study abroad plans curtailed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he was able to delay his start of the program for a year. Although conditions did not improve, Sandoval was able to keep his scholarship and transition his original plans to study Spanish in Salamanca into a post-graduate remote internship with a pledge fund based in Barcelona.

“COVID changed everything,” said Sandoval. “While I was definitely disappointed not to be able to study abroad, one great thing about this experience is the network I have built and the knowledge of the organization I am working with right now. I am excited to travel to Spain eventually and reconnect in person with the people I’ve met.”

But first Sandoval will be traveling to Nicaragua and Hawaii to work with local nonprofit organizations on housing sustainability projects thanks to a Michael P. Metcalf fellowship he was awarded through the Rhode Island Foundation. He’s also applied for a Fulbright Scholarship to teach entrepreneurship and business development in Colombia. He credits the Gilman program and the Office of International Education with helping him to prepare for these competitive application processes.

As a first-generation college student, Sandoval is looking to pay his good fortune forward. “I have a lot to look forward to. It’s not only about these scholarships making a difference in my life, but that I’ll be able to make a difference in multiple people’s lives, 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 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, and other U.S. territories have studied or interned in more than 155 countries around the globe. The program is named for the late Congressman Benjamin Gilman, who served in the United States House of Representatives for 30 years and chaired the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Gilman helped to gain passage of 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 and upcoming information sessions and workshops, visit the URI Office of International Education.