Six West Virginia University students have earned Gilman Scholarships for study abroad, the most the University has ever received in a cycle.
Elizabeth Dang, a freshman engineering and Chinese studies major from Morgantown; Sarah Johnson, a junior biology major from Martinsburg; Kirsten Minor, a senior criminology major from Beckley; Holly Purpura, a senior political science and geography major from Wheeling; Marisa Terwilliger, a freshman Chinese studies major from Philippi; and Hilary Woodrum, a history and French studies major from Winfield, were among the 1,100 students from 358 colleges and universities from across the country to be selected for the prestigious scholarship.
“These six students know that international experience is increasingly crucial for college graduates, whether they are interning or studying abroad in fields of study from Biology to French to Geography,” said Ryan Claycomb, assistant dean of the Honors College. “The Gilman Scholarship is so important, because it makes possible these opportunities for a diverse range of students who might not otherwise have the resources to take advantage of them.”
Prior to this year, WVU students had earned eight Gilman Scholarships since 2009.
The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs sponsors the scholarship, which gives students of limited financial means up to $5,000 to use toward study abroad costs.
The Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship, developed in honor of retired U.S. House of Representative and chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, was awarded to more than 850 students from 324 colleges and universities across the country. The program aims to diversify the students who study abroad and the countries and regions where they go. Scholarships are awarded as funds up to $5,000; additional funds for critical language study are available up to $3,000. Financial need is a consideration for applications.
As a Chinese-American, Dang has always held a keen interest for China. Now, with a Gilman Scholarship, Dang will be able to advance that passion.
“That’s the place where my mom is from,” said Dang, of Morgantown. “I was always curious and loved learning about the culture there, and how the culture there compared to our culture here.”
Dang is an engineering and Chinese studies dual major with a minor in music performance. She will be a sophomore in the fall.
While Dang hasn’t identified a dream job for the future, she knows she’d love to travel and learn about as many cultures as possible.
“To earn a Gilman scholarship is incredible,” she said. “This scholarship means a lot to me because it gives me the opportunity to pursue something I really enjoy. I have always had an interest in studying abroad.
“I will always have an interest in learning about different languages and cultures. My dream is to travel to many different countries so that I can experience their culture, and see things from a different perspective.”
Dang said she is thankful for the scholarship because, otherwise, she would not be able to afford the travel fees associated with studying abroad.
“The fees to study abroad can add up,” Dang said. “I am very thankful that the Gilman scholarship can help me financially so I can have the opportunity to go see and experience other places.”
Sarah Johnson wanted to be a doctor to begin with, but when her mother died suddenly last spring of a brain aneurysm Johnson was driven toward neurology.
The condition was hereditary and treatable, but her mother wasn’t able to get the right treatment in time.
“I hope that by becoming a doctor, I can bring awareness to this condition and help save someone else from the same fate as my mom,” Johnson said.
Johnson, of Martinsburg, will be a senior in biology next year. She likes that she can combine her desire to help others with her interest in biology in pursuing medicine. But she also has a third interest that prompted her to seek the Gilman scholarship.
Johnson has loved Japanese pretty much from the first time she met the language.
In her first taste of Japanese in a college class, she gravitated toward the artistry of Japanese characters, of learning it and speaking it. She’d taken Spanish in high school for years but it hadn’t been a match made in heaven.
Johnson will be using her Gilman scholarship to immerse herself further in the language. She’ll be traveling to Nagoya, Japan, for an intensive Japanese language summer program but even after that she wants to keep up with Japanese.
When she graduates next spring, she plans to take a gap year off school, ideally to live in Japan. Eventually she wants to apply to the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program in which non-Japanese teach foreign languages in Japan.
Returning to her roots has been a lifelong dream for Kirsten Minor.
“I am of African descent, but I’ve never been to Africa,” the senior criminology major and political science minor said. “But I’ve always wanted to go ever since I can remember.”
Though Minor is from Beckley, her maternal ancestry originates in Ghana, where she will spend a month learning about the history, culture and language of the country this summer.
“The opportunity to travel to Ghana is bigger than just studying abroad,” she said. “I am essentially able to trace my ancestral background through my mother’s side. So, it’s great to finally be able to do that.”
The study abroad program Minor selected will allow her to get in touch with Ghana’s culture through a series of experiences rather than lectures.
“I didn’t want something that was strictly within a classroom setting,” she said. “I am more interested in the in-depth cultural experience outside of the classroom not just textbooks and reading, but learning the people, practices and customs.”
Rather than notebooks, pencils and books, Minor will be packing instruments and colorful ensembles for her trip overseas.
“It’s a very broad experience. The final for one class is putting together a presentation either an original music composition or an interpretive dance,” she said. “I appreciate that I am excited to received the education in that hands-on way.”
Minor hopes her experience abroad will help inform her ultimate career goal of helping people via public policy especially addressing social inequalities in foreign policy.
This semester, Holly Purpura has been in Washington D.C. interning with National Geographic in its Network of Alliances for Geographic Education.
While her internship ended in April, National Geographic is keeping her on until June to continue to work in administrative support for the program, which promotes geography education in schools across the United States.
Shortly after she leaves D.C., she’ll be heading to London, England, where the senior political science and geography double major from Wheeling, will spend five weeks abroad with WVU’s London Summer Internship Program. The Gilman Scholarship will allow her to pay for that trip.
“I’ll have the opportunity to intern abroad in the field I want to work in, which combined with a long-term study abroad experience will be absolutely invaluable for my future career aspirations,” she said.
On the trip, she will spend some of her time interning with a London-based organization, hopefully dealing with development and working with humanitarian issues, as she has already has experience working with non-profits. When she’s not doing that, she’ll be taking cultural classes around the city.
“With London being a cultural hub, I think living, working, and studying there will be a really unique experience,” said Purpura, who will graduate in December from WVU.
In the future, Purpura would like to work for the United Nations or other inter-governmental organization. She’d like to deal with sustainability and international development within political systems, a direct correlation to her majors at WVU. If that doesn’t work out, she could also see herself at a non-profit in the developmental field.
Marisa Terwilliger has just finished her freshman year at WVU and she’s already headed to China.
The Philippi native was always intrigued by other places, and when it came time to choose a college, she chose WVU for its excellent Chinese program and its small-city feel.
“Growing up in a small town with a love of reading and big imagination gave me this curiosity and drive for adventure,” Terwilliger said. “I want to travel the world and see new places and meet new people.”
This summer she’ll be traveling to Beijing with about 20 other students to attend Beijing Normal University, one of the top schools in China. The Gilman Scholarship will enable her to learn more about Chinese culture from medicine to music and martial arts as well as travel throughout China and intensively study the language.
She still has a way to go toward deciding what her career might be but no matter what she does she’d like to help people and make new friends.
“Career wise I’m still not sure what I’m going to do, but I have a few years before graduation,” she said. “I just hope I will be happy.”
But no matter what she does, she wants to keep traveling even after this summer.
“The world is filled with such wonderful, beautiful things,” she said, “and I just want to see it all.”
It might’ve been the Disney movie “Beauty and the Beast” with its French-inspired storyline and francophone characters like the candelabra Lumiere that instilled a love for France in Hilary Woodrum.
That’s the only place to where the junior history and French major can trace her first experience with the country and its culture.
“But, really, I think my love for France is innate,” she said. “It’s in my DNA.”
Woodrum, a Winfield native, will be traveling to France this summer to work toward mastering the French language and learn the culture through first-hand experience. The scholarship will afford her the opportunity to gain skills in reading, which she hopes she can put to use translating French documents for future research.
She ultimately hopes to work as a French historian focusing on the French Revolution time period.
“If you really look at it, it’s like a real-life soap opera during that period. There’s just so much drama, and it’s so dynamic,” she said. “I don’t think we’ll ever run out of things to study about the French Revolution.”
Woodrum hopes her first trip to Europe will provide her with not only a better understanding of France, but also of America.
“I think it’s very important that we study other cultures because I think it gives us a better understanding of our own culture and identity and insight into those successes and failures,” she said.
“The French Revolution, for example, has given me a passion for civil rights and taught me not to be a passive citizen. It has instilled that desire to fight for civil rights and make society better.”
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