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DENVER –  An evaluation of the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship program, which funds study abroad and international internships for American undergraduate students with limited financial resources, as defined by Pell Grant eligibility, found that many program participants build on their experiences abroad in their future academic and career choices. 

The evaluation is based in part on survey responses from 1,591 Gilman Scholars who studied abroad from 2002-3 to 2009-10.  Researchers also conducted interviews and focus groups with individual scholars, and interviewed representatives from 42 U.S. colleges.

Of the 1,441 survey respondents who returned to undergraduate studies after studying abroad on a Gilman scholarship, 35 percent reported choosing a major or minor with an international or cross-cultural focus and 31 percent undertook an undergraduate research project with such a focus.

Of the 819 survey respondents who were attending or had completed graduate school at the time of the evaluation, more than a third (36 percent) had studied abroad again or pursued international field research. Nearly half (48 percent) chose a concentration or specialization with an international or cross-cultural focus.

As for career goals, 73 percent of all survey respondents said participation in a Gilman-funded study abroad experience had broadened the geographic locations in which they were willing to work and 67 percent said it promoted a desire to work in a cross-cultural or international field. Thirty-nine percent said they had changed their career direction to reflect a more international focus.

Significantly, the report found that the Gilman program participants saw themselves as different from the "typical" study abroad student, primarily as a result of their lower socioeconomic status. Close to half -- 44 percent -- of survey respondents reported being the first in their family to attend college. 

In 2013-14, just 32 percent of Gilman Scholars identified as white, compared to 76 percent of all U.S. students studying abroad.  Seventy-one percent of Gilman Scholars studied in locations outside Western Europe, which compares to 47 percent for all American study abroad students.

Seventy-nine percent of the Gilman Scholars surveyed said they had studied a foreign language while abroad. 

"The Evaluation data shows that the Gilman Scholarship is diversifying the kinds of students who study and intern abroad and the countries and regions where they go by offering awards to U.S. undergraduates who might otherwise not participate due to financial constraints," the evaluation report states. "From changed perspectives on the world and new interests in working on global issues to focusing academic pursuits on international topics and deepening foreign language skills, the Gilman Scholarship has enabled students of limited financial means to develop the knowledge and competencies required to compete in a global economy."

Slightly more than 10,000 applicants from 1,100 U.S. colleges competed for 2,800 Gilman scholarships in 2015. The scholarship program was started in 2001. 

The evaluation of the program was released during the annual NAFSA: Association of International Educators conference. In an interview at the conference, Leeanne Dunsmore, the chief of the U.S. Study Abroad branch at the State Department, said what stood out for her in the evaluation report is the potential for the Gilman program to expand pipelines into careers in international affairs.  

“That’s what struck me about this report, is how this is actually diversifying participation in careers in international affairs potentially because they [Gilman Scholars] become much more engaged with international work on their campuses," she said.


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