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Record number of Northwestern students earn Gilman Scholarship

Northwestern student Max Sigal has a clear vision for his life after graduation in 2020. It took a study abroad journey to Japan for his future to come into focus.  

“I was very wishy-washy about what I wanted to do before Japan,” said Sigal, a third-year chemistry and biology major in Weinberg’s Integrated Science Program. “Because of study abroad, what I want to do is now clear.”  

Sigal spent summer of 2018 in Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s four main islands, immersed in an intensive language program. Even before the program concluded Sigal decided he would return to Japan for graduate school.

Without financial assistance, this seminal experience of studying in another country likely would have been out of reach for Sigal, who was among a record number of Northwestern students to receive the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship in 2017-18.

With an impressive 18 undergraduates benefiting from the scholarship last year, Northwestern has been named a “top producer” of Gilman Scholars. The competitive scholarship is awarded by the U.S. Department of State for study abroad to students receiving federal Pell Grant funding.

Northwestern had the third most Gilman Scholars, behind Emory and George Washington universities out of approximately 165 “medium-sized colleges and universities” that participate in the program, according to a recent announcement. The University also was honored for the largest increase in Gilman recipients over the previous year.

By supporting undergraduate students who have high financial need, the program has been successful in supporting students who have been historically underrepresented in education abroad, including minority students, first-generation college students, students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields and students with disabilities among others.

In addition to the efforts of the students, the University’s success in earning Gilman Scholarships is due, in part, to a network of support staff from the Global Learning Office in the Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs, to Undergraduate Financial Aid and the Office of Fellowships, who work in tandem to identify students who might qualify and help them through the process.

The financial aid office contacts all eligible Pell recipients each cycle to inform them about the Gilman and encourage them to apply, then follows up specifically with those who have applied to study abroad. Northwestern’s fellowships office offers one-on-one advising for students seeking assistance with the Gilman application.

“The perception persists that study abroad is financially inaccessible,” said Krista Buda Bethel, senior assistant director of undergraduate financial aid and manager of study abroad financial services.

“This success disproves that,” she said. “We have expanded study abroad outreach and resources a lot in recent years, and the Gilman Scholarship has been a key resource in making study abroad accessible to Northwestern’s increasingly diverse student body.” 

The number of Northwestern students who qualify for the Gilman has also been steadily increasing.

President Morton Schapiro set a goal of having 20 percent of the incoming class be Pell Grant eligible students by 2020. Northwestern has already reached that goal with the latest class of undergraduates, two years ahead of schedule.

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