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Seven VCU undergraduate students earn federal Gilman scholarships to study abroad this year

The program expands diversity for international experiences, with VCU’s Global Education Office supporting students’ applications.

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Seven Virginia Commonwealth University students have been awarded scholarships through the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program that will allow them to study abroad during the spring, summer and fall of 2024.

The seven VCU students were among approximately 1,700 American undergraduates who applied in the October 2023 cycle of the Gilman program, which enables students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad. The scholarships, available to undergraduates who receive federal Pell Grant funding, broaden the diversity of students who benefit from study-abroad opportunities.

“The Gilman Scholarship is one of the most effective tools in our toolbox for expanding access to global learning opportunities for VCU students,” said Stephanie Tignor, director of global learning in VCU’s Global Education Office. “It enables us to send students abroad who more accurately reflect our nation’s beautiful diversity, which is a cornerstone of VCU and one of the U.S.’s greatest strengths.”

Students navigate a rigorous application process, with staff in the GEO as well as VCU’s National Scholarship Office offering support to enhance their applications.

“It is truly thrilling to witness our students receive the Gilman Scholarship, as we become incredibly invested in their success throughout the application process,” Tignor said. “In fact, we celebrate their achievements with the same enthusiasm as if we had secured the funds ourselves. Through helping students tell their stories in their essays, we gain a profound understanding of the transformative impact studying abroad will have on their academic, professional and personal futures.” 

In 2024, the Gilman program marks 20 years of providing scholarships – more than 34,000 undergraduates in total have had international academic and internship experiences that enhance their global and cultural competencies. Awards of up to $5,000 support their study abroad.

Two rows of portraits of students with the Gilman Scholarship logo between the rows and a VCU one on the bottom row.

The following seven VCU students have been awarded Gilman Scholarships for the upcoming 2024 session:

Sara Abdelrahim, a senior from Richmond who is majoring in criminal justice and homeland security and emergency preparedness in the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. In spring 2024, Abdelrahim will participate in an exchange program with Rabdan Academy in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, a specialized institution focusing on homeland security.

Nonso Akunwafor, a junior Honors College student from Richmond who is majoring in urban and regional studies in the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. In spring 2024, Akunwafor will study in Granada, Spain, in ISA’s Spanish Language, Culture and Electives program, enrolling in two Spanish classes and two elective classes.

Buffy Bui, a senior Honors College student from Gainesville in Northern Virginia who is majoring in political science in the College of Humanities and Sciences. In fall 2024, Bui will enroll in health and law courses at the University of Bristol in England.

Catherine Nguyen, a senior from Virginia Beach who is majoring in mass communications in the Robertson School of Media and Culture. In spring 2024, Nguyen will study at Chung Ang University in Seoul, South Korea, studying the Korean language, culture and the intersection of media and sociology. In addition to the Gilman Scholarship, Nguyen has been awarded the program’s supplemental Critical Need Language Award to support her semester abroad.

Aseel Packry, a sophomore Honors College student from Sudan (and now in Richmond) who is majoring in medical laboratory sciences in the College of Health Professions. In summer 2024, Packry, as a student in VCU’s Emerging Leaders Program, will participate with the School of the Arts in an independent study on leadership in the health care field.

Meg Stallard, a junior from Mechanicsville who is majoring in International Studies with a minor in Environmental Studies. In spring 2024, Stallard will attend Chung Ang University in Seoul, South Korea, to study the Korean language and culture. Stallard’s study-abroad experience will extend from March through December and will include language-intensive coursework over the summer. Stallard also served as a GEO peer advisor in the fall 2023 semester, offering information to prospective study-abroad students about the opportunities available.

Grace Tammaro, a junior from Virginia Beach who is majoring in fashion merchandising in the School of the Arts. In summer 2024, Tammaro will participate in a four-week program at Santa Reparata International School of Art in Florence, Italy.

Nguyen, the senior with the Gilman and language awards who will study in South Korea this spring, shared a thought that was echoed by all seven of VCU's newest scholarship recipients.

“These awards make this transformative experience financially possible and allow me to immerse myself in new cultures and communities," Nguyen said, "enriching my education in ways I had only dreamed of until now.”

VCU students who receive federal Pell Grants are encouraged to connect with the GEO’s global learning team to identify study-abroad programs and apply in the Gilman Scholarship’s current application cycle by the March 7 deadline.  

The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program is sponsored by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the Institute of International Education. It was established by the International Academic Opportunity Act of 2000.