WMU News

WMU student one of America's first Gilman Scholars

Sept. 18, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- A WMU student is among the first recipients of a new federal scholarship to broaden and increase study abroad opportunities for undergraduate students.

Maliesha Pullano, a junior from Benton Harbor, Mich., was one of just 139 out of 2,200 applicants to receive a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship for the 2001-02 academic year.

A 26-year-old nontraditional student, Pullano was awarded $5,000 to study Spanish language and culture at the University of Alcalá in Alcalá de Henares near Madrid. The elementary education major will leave for Spain Sept. 27 accompanied by her five-year-old son and will finish her overseas studies May 31, 2002.

The Gilman International Scholarship program debuted this past May as a result of the International Academic Opportunity Act of 2000. It provides scholarships of up to $5,000 to undergraduate students who study abroad for up to one year and demonstrate financial need.

The program is named after U.S. Rep. Benjamin Gilman of New York, the sponsor of legislation that set aside $1.5 million to fund the scholarships. The Institute of International Education, a New York-based nonprofit organization, is administering the program through its Southern regional office in Houston under a grant from the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

In addition to diversifying participation in study abroad, it seeks to promote international understanding and to help American students develop the proficiency in other languages and cultures that they need to compete successfully in the global economy.

To be eligible, applicants must be U.S. citizens or nationals receiving need-based financial aid from the federal government under Title IV, be undergraduate students in good standing at a U.S. higher education institution and participate in a study abroad program approved for credit by their home institution.

The inaugural recipients were chosen in part based on essays they wrote describing how studying abroad will impact their futures, especially in relation to their careers, and what community-service activities they will engage in to promote study abroad after they return home.

"I think a great thing about going over there will be to experience a whole new culture" Pullano says." I think that will broaden my horizons and help me relate better as a teacher."

It already has broadened her academic horizons, she says, influencing her to change a planned minor in Spanish to a major, given the numerous credits she will be able to apply toward the program when she arrives back at WMU.

Pullano says that picking up the second major is a practical career move because bilingual skills will give her added flexibility to pursue a variety of teaching as well as non-teaching jobs.

"Another major reason I'm going is because of my son," she says. "I knew that being older, I'd never really learn the language unless I was immersed in it. But this is an opportunity for my son to learn a second language at a young age, when it's easier to learn languages. I wanted him to have that opportunity."

But she notes that most universities and international study organizations are not geared toward nontraditional students, so finding a program that would allow her to bring her son was difficult and time consuming. In the end, she had to make arrangements directly with the University of Alcalá.

Consequently, Pullano says she will fulfill the community-service obligation of her scholarship by sharing what she has learned so other nontraditional students will be able to avoid some of the problems she encountered.

As for the trip itself, Pullano admits to feeling a bit anxious about studying and living abroad for an entire academic year.

"It's scary, but life's worth taking risks.," the novice traveler says. "I'm an African American single mother from a poor town. I'll be pushing myself past what I thought was possible and at the same time, I'll be showing by example that people are deeper than you think."

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, 616 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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