Seven SUNY New Paltz students were awarded the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to study abroad during the spring 2014 semester.
According to the Gilman Scholarship website, it “offers grants for U.S. citizen undergraduate students of limited financial means to pursue academic studies or credit-bearing, career-oriented internships abroad.”
Bruce Sillner, the dean of international programs, said the Gilman Scholarship was created at SUNY New Paltz when the school’s former president, Ryan Bowen, approached Congressman Benjamin Gilman and said it would be a good idea to get funding for American students to study abroad. It resulted in an $11 million federal program to help students who are Pell Grant eligible study in a foreign country.
Sillner said receiving seven Gilman Scholarships for this semester shows the school’s dedication to trying to provide affordable study abroad opportunities to as many students as possible.
Christian Wilwohl, a study abroad coordinator, said the reason New Paltz has been able to receive the Gilman Scholarships is because of the Center for International Program’s close relationship with the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) and financial aid office, as well as the persistence that students exhibit to fill out their applications.
“We have excellent students here at New Paltz that are dedicated to their success,” Wilwohl said.
Wilwohl said the Gilman Scholarship favors students who want to go to underrepresented regions such as Africa, Asia and Latin America, as well as students who are studying in the education and science departments.
The study abroad staff work with students to find study abroad scholarships and financial aid, as well as helping them fill out their applications, Wilwohl said. The school recently hired a writing tutor to help students with the two essays that are a part of the application. One of the essays is a personal statement about the student’s life, why they want to study abroad and why they feel they deserve the scholarship. The other essay is about the follow-up service project the student will organize when they return from their time studying abroad.
Ashley Sanchez, a fourth-year sociology major who studied abroad in Ecuador, said the Center for International Program helped her revise her essays, answered all of her questions and helped her budget her money for when she is abroad.
“I wouldn’t have been able to study abroad without the Gilman Scholarship and the Center for International Programing,” Sanchez said.
Since the fall of 2009, 52 New Paltz students have been named Gilman Scholars. Thirty-nine percent of New Paltz applicants have been accepted since the spring of 2013, something Wilwohl said he is very proud of.
Wilwohl said he would like to see the percentage of students who study abroad increase from its current 15 to 18 percent to 30 percent by the end of the decade. To do this, he wants to start working more with the education and science students to show them that they are able to study abroad, when most believe they are unable to.
Looking forward, Sillner wants the Center for International Programs to continue networking and spreading the word about the Gilman Scholarship to allow students to be aware of their study abroad options.
“We’re really committed to making study abroad opportunities accesible to all students who are interested and there are other mechanisms we have as well,” Sillner said. “We’re working on making sure that our message is appropriate and received by students, so they know these options are available to them.”