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Three Eastern Kentucky University students recently received Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarships for education abroad, a record number for any academic year at EKU and exceeded this application cycle by only one public university in Kentucky.

Out of 3,970 applications during the Summer 2017 cycle, approximately 1,200 American undergraduate students from 354 colleges and universities nationwide earned the prestigious award, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Gilman Scholars receive up to $5,000 to apply toward their education abroad or internship program costs.

The EKU recipients include Ivan Olivas, a junior network security and electronics and Spanish major from Lexington, and Kenadii Williams, a junior nursing (pre-RN) major from Lexington. The third EKU recipient declined the scholarship. Olivas, whose parents emigrated to the U.S. from Chihuahua, Mexico, will study in Argentina. Williams will study in Tanzania.

“What excites me most is being able to experience another country and its culture,” said Olivas. “I plan to develop a greater appreciation for diversity by becoming open-minded about a new culture, form meaningful friendships with local people through homestays and cultural activities, and improve language fluency and vocabulary through academic classes and constant local engagement. Improving my Spanish fluency and vocabulary is something that can be used in any major or career. Being bilingual sets you apart in the job market. I will also be able to benefit from a global perspective, which is something that many lack within the technology career field.”

Olivas, president of the University’s Latino Student Association, a member of EKU Honors and a peer mentor in the Freshman Academy for Diverse Students, said Eastern has changed him in a number of ways.

“I have gained confidence in my skills and abilities through organizations and programs on campus,” he said. “In addition, the professors here are great mentors who have helped me along the way. I have been encouraged to take full advantage of the opportunities that college has to offer, which is why I am now studying abroad in Argentina.”

Williams said the opportunity excites her “because I will be able to encourage other students and youngsters whom I mentor to possibly study abroad, to reach beyond their dreams and pursue something greater for their lives despite what adversities are facing them, such as coming from a single-parent home, coping with dyslexia, or having a low socioeconomic status.”          

While in Tanzania, Williams plans to gain knowledge about HIV prevention strategies and proper communication within communities and different healthcare cultures. “I hope from this trip that I am able to be confident in choosing what field of practice I want to work in as a nurse,” she said.

Eastern, Williams added, “has allowed me to form relationships and connections with different professors and peers who have helped me to achieve more.”

Dr. Minh Nguyen, coordinator of the University’s Office of National and International Scholarships and Fellowships, attributed the uptick in EKU Gilman Scholars to several factors, including an increased interest in education abroad among Eastern students, an increased number of Gilman applicants, and a “fruitful collaboration” between his office and the Office of Education Abroad.

The program, administered by the Institute of International Education (IIE), offers grants that allow U.S. citizen undergraduate students of limited financial means to pursue academic studies or internships abroad, thereby gaining skills critical to national security and economic competitiveness.

“International education is one of the best tools for developing mutual understanding and building connections between people from different countries,” said Allan Goodman, president and CEO of IIE. “It is critical to the success of American diplomacy and business, and the lasting ties that Americans make during their international studies are important to our country in times of conflict as well as times of peace.”

The University’s Office of National and International Scholarships and Fellowships, housed in EKU Honors, assists students with the deliberation and application process. The office offers individual advising assistance to all EKU students in determining appropriate fellowships or scholarships to pursue, coordinating application materials, selecting recommenders, preparing compelling personal statements, developing project proposals or proposed programs of study, and interviewing. For more information, contact Nguyen at 622-8667 or

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Bottom photo: Gilman Scholar Kenadii Williams