College celebrates success in Gilman Scholarship program

College celebrates success in Gilman Scholarship program

Dec. 7, 2017

Next month, Maryville College junior Myka Bland ’19 will begin a memorable chapter of her undergraduate career when she enrolls for a semester of study at the University of Worcester in England.

Bland, a writing communication major and English literature minor from Bessemer, Ala., is the latest MC student to study abroad with funding from the prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. A U.S. Department of State-sponsored program, the Gilman Scholarship has, since 2001, supported approximately 25,000 American undergraduate students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad.

According to Kirsten Sheppard, Maryville College’s director of international education, MC has seen five students selected for the Gilman Scholarship in the last year – an unprecedented number and something of which to be proud.

“With their selection, these students have achieved nationally recognized academic excellence,” she said. “The Gilman Scholarship program receives over 10,000 applications per year, and they award less than 3,000.

“It is an extremely competitive process, and students are evaluated on several criteria, including need, academic performance and their ability to articulate how study abroad will help them achieve academic and vocational goals,” she said. “Study in a foreign language is encouraged, and this program supports a diverse range of students from across the United States.”

Gilman Scholars receive up to $5,000 to apply towards their study abroad or internship program costs with additional funding available for the study of a critical language overseas.  The program, named for the late New York congressman who chaired the House Foreign Relations Committee, has successfully broadened U.S. participation in study abroad, while emphasizing countries and regions where fewer Americans traditionally study.

The Gilman Scholarship, combined with the College’s Ragsdale International Scholarship, the Ken Tuck International Award, the TRAAVEL Scholarship and strong partnership with the ISEP study abroad membership network, is making semesters and summer abroad not only affordable for MC students, but easily pursued in more countries and with more benefits.

Maryville College senior Hannah Kirby ’18, an environmental studies and political science double-major from Knoxville, Tenn., received the Gilman Scholarship and is currently finishing up an ISEP Study Abroad program at Radboud University in the Netherlands. Byjan Kajaei ’18 of Antioch, Tenn., and Brittney Mack ’17 of Springfield, Tenn., both Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) majors, spent last summer studying in Japan through an ISEP Study Abroad program with the help of Gilman funding.

The Gilman Scholarship and ISEP partnership also helped Albrianna Jenkins ’18, a senior writing communication major from Lenoir City, Tenn., spend the spring 2017 semester in Normandy, France, studying at the University of Caen. In addition to the Gilman Scholarship, Jenkins received the Ragsdale International Scholarship and the Ken Tuck International Award.

“Those scholarships cemented my financial security to allow me to go,” she said. “I had saved up as much as I could, but without that funding, I wouldn't have had enough,” she said.

Jenkins advocates for study abroad

Inspired by the College’s French language classes and instructor Emily Pace’s “enthusiasm for teaching and love for every aspect of the French culture,” Jenkins said she decided to pursue the possibilities of a semester abroad in France. Befriending a French student at Maryville College motivated her more.

“Marie was so similar to me, and her differences intrigued me,” she said. “I had to know more about her culture.”

Jenkins said she chose the Normandy region because of its post-World War II English flavor and the opportunity to learn more about that period of history. In addition to attending classes and improving her French, she explored the cuisine, geography, economy and public school system of the country. She also took advantage of opportunities to visit England, Ireland and Italy while across the Atlantic.

Jenkins is now co-chair of the College’s Study Abroad Ambassadors, a group of students dedicated to empowering students to build on their global experiences and helping them develop an international scope within their academic experience. Ambassadors also utilize skills learned abroad to plan outreach events and marketing campaigns to make study abroad more accessible for all students.

In a recent blog post, Jenkins likened the value of travel abroad to superhero powers.

“My experiences TRANSFORMED me from indecisive to independent, from timid to travel-loving. I realize that this change wasn’t caused by a radio-active spider or powers gifted to me from gods that did such a thing. It was the International House at Maryville College that provided me with the tools I needed to become a self-proclaimed {Wander} Woman, a person who possesses the heart of a sojourner, a passion for traveling, and the power to inform other Maryville College students of the possibilities that come from studying abroad.”

More are studying abroad

Among the goals of the College’s current “Renewing Our Strength” strategic plan is “to enhance existing international experiences, identify new international experiences and maximize their accessibility to students.” Progress is evident, Sheppard said. More than 40 percent of the Class of 2017 had an international travel experience, which was about 8 percent above the previous graduating class and the highest among any class in the previous five years.

Sheppard attributes some of the recent success to improvements that the Center for International Education has made in marketing scholarships and advising.

“We offer two scholarship workshops each year and work one-on-one with students on tips for applying,” she said.


Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the Fall 2018 semester is 1,146.