2020-2021 OSU Gilman Scholars Adjust their Study Abroad Plans in Show of Resilience

October 7th, 2020

Story by Ashley Weibel, ashley.weibel@oregonstate.edu

When Dayne Smith, a junior studying Tourism, Recreation, and Adventure Leadership, was applying to the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to receive funding for her semester abroad in New Zealand, she imagined herself going backpacking, hiking, and skiing in the beautiful backdrop of New Zealand’s many national parks and ski resorts. She imagined herself meeting new people and empowering herself to travel independently. What she did not imagine was that the COVID-19 pandemic would strike, changing her study abroad plans completely. 

Oregon State University students have always been adaptable, but the seven undergraduate students awarded the prestigious Gilman scholarship for the 2020-2021 academic year have had to put their resilience to use in new and creative ways. 

Smith was initially discouraged when she made the decision in March to not travel to the University of Canterbury over the summer of 2020 due to the worsening pandemic. After putting so much effort into her Gilman application, it was hard to believe that all of her planning would be for naught. Two months later, when the University of Canterbury contacted her to give her the option to defer to the summer of 2021, she was ecstatic. Smith’s time in New Zealand will allow her to explore issues of biodiversity and national park management near Canterbury, knowledge that will be useful to her future career in tourism. 

OSU’s Gilman Scholars were awarded a combined total of $27,000 for summer and fall 2020 programs that have been canceled due to COVID-19. However, the Gilman Program has offered many options to scholars including deferral of the awards through 2021 (even if students have graduated) and using the scholarships for online international study and internship programs. 

Catie Boucher, a junior in Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences, was selected for a Gilman award to study in Bhutan during fall 2020. Boucher was most looking forward to diving deeply into the nation’s culture of Buddhism and sustainability, and living in a society drastically different from her own. As Bhutan is a small and vulnerable country, it has been stringent with its protocol for addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not allowing the operation of study abroad programs through at least spring of 2021. Although Boucher is committed to studying abroad in Bhutan, she is flexible and intends to pivot her plans if necessary. She has discussed her options with a study abroad advisor and is planning to attend the Butan program in summer/fall of 2021, if possible, or attend an alternate program in New Zealand, Australia, or Ireland. 

Metzin Rodriguez, a senior in Bioresource Research for a Language, Culture, and Civilization program, was awarded a Gilman scholarship to study in Castilla y Leon, Spain for the summer of 2020. With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rodriguez now has plans to defer to the summer of 2021. She is particularly excited to contribute to philanthropic work during her time in Spain. “To future study abroad students, don’t just choose a program because it looks fun. Choose one that fits with your personal purpose. Choose it because you want to learn something and bring it back to your community,” Rodriguez urges. Personally, she is looking forward to learning about differences in the Spanish spoken in Spain and the Spanish that she learned growing up in Mexico. In the case that Spain does not accept incoming students at this time, Rodriguez has secondary plans to attend a shorter program in South Korea. She is interested in investigating the nation’s fashion industry and bringing this knowledge back to the United States, where fashion is overwhelmingly dominated by European influences. 

Rodriguez also encourages prospective study abroad students to take advantage of resources on the OSU campus, such as the OSU Global Opportunities office. “It can be intimidating, but go set up a meeting with a study abroad advisor. They love to chat with you and help you find the resources that you need.” 

To future Gilman applicants, Rodriguez encourages students to simply apply. “Even though it might feel competitive, you never know. Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes you need to hear a no and sometimes you need to hear a yes.” 

Boucher offers similar encouragement to future applicants. “Don’t let financial restrictions hold you back,” she says. “There are resources out there if you put the work in. You just have to find someone to help you find them, and for me that person was LeAnn.” LeAnn Adam, OSU’s National and Global Scholarships Advising Coordinator, is available for advising and support to OSU students who wish to apply to the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship program. 

For more information, please contact LeAnn Adam at leann.adam@oregonstate.edu or visit the National and Global Scholarships Advising Office at https://topscholars.oregonstate.edu/.  

The Congressionally funded Gilman Program aims to make study abroad, and its career advantages, more accessible and inclusive for U.S. students. The program provides scholarships to outstanding undergraduate Pell Grant recipients who, due to financial constraints, might not otherwise study abroad. Since the program’s establishment in 2001, over 1,300 U.S. institutions have sent more than 31,000 Gilman scholars who represent the rich diversity of the United States to 151 countries around the globe. The program particularly focuses on supporting first-generation college students, students in the STEM fields, ethnic and racial minority students, students with disabilities, students who are veterans, students attending community colleges and minority serving institutions, and other populations underrepresented in study abroad, as well as broadening the destinations where scholars study or intern. Please visit OSU's Gilman Scholarship page for a list of OSU students who have been recipients of the Gilman scholarship since 2012.