Leketa Virgin, a Senior International Business major, has one piece of advice for future Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship applicants: “Just take advantage of the opportunity in front [you] and not worry about anything else.”
The Gilman Scholarship, which awards up to $5000 for people looking to study or intern abroad, received its namesake after the late congressman Benjamin A. Gilman. He led the effort to create the program in 2001 through the International Academic Opportunity Act.
“The Gilman Program provides grants for undergraduate U.S. citizens of limited financial means to study and intern abroad, thereby gaining skills critical to our national security and economic prosperity,” the official Gilman website explains.
Virgin, whose minor is Spanish, has elected to take the Spanish in Spain program offered by the Study Abroad Office at the University of Southern Mississippi. In addition to aid she’s seeking through the university, Virgin also applied for the Gilman grant. Because it is such a competitive grant, Virgin struggled just to get through the application part.
“It’s a lot, but it’s worth it,” said Virgin.
There are four different written parts to the application process. Students must first submit a general application, detailing their personal information, school records and chosen study abroad program. Then they must write a Statement of Purpose, which explains why the applicant wants to study abroad in the first place, including its benefits academically. They must then write how they will aid in “Building Mutual Understanding” between countries through meaningful relationships. Finally, in order to help other students find the Gilman program, the applicant must create a “Follow-on Service Project Proposal” to inform others about the scholarship.
There are some benefits to studying abroad, even more so with the aid of the Gilman scholarship. Students can gain new skills by studying abroad, as well as learn about new cultures that they may otherwise be unfamiliar with.
“Study abroad is a special experience for every student who participates,” Gilman once explained. “Living and learning in a vastly different environment of another nation not only exposes our students to alternate views, but also adds an enriching social and cultural experience. It also provides our students with the opportunity to return home with a deeper understanding of their place in the world, encouraging them to be a contributor, rather than a spectator in the international community.”
Anna Kate Baygents, the Program Manager for the Office of Study Abroad, says another major benefit of study abroad is its adaptability. Any student can utilize study abroad to complete their degrees.
“[Because when] you study abroad, you get Southern Miss academic credit,” said Baygents.
Since not every student can afford to study abroad, Southern Miss tries to expose its students to as many opportunities for international scholarships as possible. Southern Miss has also repeatedly proven that its students are capable of being Gilman recipients despite the steep competition throughout the country.
“One in four applicants become a recipient of the Gilman Scholarship. At Southern Miss, our students have proven those chances even better,” said Carlee Causey, the Project Director for Nationally Competitive Programs.
During the Fall 2020 cycle, nine out of 11 applicants became Gilman scholars. During the 2019-2020 school year, 50 Southern Miss students became Gilman scholars. These numbers are incredibly promising, especially for a national program that accepts roughly 3600 applicants per year.
Although COVID-19 has prevented some students from using the program to study abroad, the Gilman Scholarship has a way to make it so students can still make their trips. If a student’s program is canceled or in a high-risk area, the student can defer their grant to another semester. Students also have the option of taking a virtual or hybrid study abroad program.To apply for the scholarship, go to their website at https://gilmanapplication.iie.org before the extended deadline of March 9. To explore Southern Miss study abroad programs, please visit the Office of Study Abroad’s website at https://www.usm.edu/study-abroad/index or their office in the International Center.