Before even graduating high school, Grace Yepez-Connors dreamt of studying abroad. Her older sister had shared that not doing so was her one regret from college, so Yepez-Connors was determined to have the experience—but knew she would need help with the funding.
“Thankfully, the study abroad office [at Case Western Reserve University] was ready and available to help with just this thing,” the fourth-year student said. “[They] immediately had a list of scholarships I qualified for, out and ready.”
One of those listed was the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship from the U.S. Department of State. Known more commonly as the Gilman Scholarship, the program is designed to offer students with limited financial means the opportunity to study or intern abroad to help them develop skills that can aid in national security and economic prosperity.
Yepez-Connors was one of five Case Western Reserve University students who was awarded the Gilman Scholarship for 2023, earning part of $18,000 in total scholarship funds.
Autumn Beechler Stebing, director of the university’s Office of Education Abroad, said her team is pleased to once again see high-achieving and deserving CWRU students be recognized in this prestigious way.
“We are very aware that the transformational experience of studying abroad is not always possible without additional funding,” Beechler Stebing said. “We are steadfast in our commitment to supporting all CWRU students who wish to further their goals through international opportunities.”
Junlong Kwan, a fourth-year Japanese studies major who will study abroad at Temple University Japan this spring;
Jacqueline Ferrufino, a fourth-year student majoring in biochemistry and pre-health and minoring in bioethics and medical humanities and chemistry, who will study abroad this spring in the Netherlands as a part of Drugs, Detention and Decriminalization: Netherlands; and
Kine Buie, a third-year student majoring in international studies and environmental studies, who will study abroad this spring in Nice, France, as a part of IES Abroad Nice.
During her trip last month, Yepez-Connors spent the majority of her time with her peers in Sevilla, Spain, while visiting other cities such as Cordoba and Granada.
“We took a variety of walking tours of historical landmarks representative of multiculturalism in medieval Spain,” she noted. “These were often religious sites such as mosques and cathedrals. We also had free time everyday to explore the city, eat different foods, visit shops, or just relax and hang out. We usually took every meal together as a group, and those were important moments for us to regroup as a community.”
While these culturally immersive experiences were invaluable, the biggest draw of the Gilman Scholarship program for Yepez-Connors was the post-graduate opportunities it offered.
As a Gilman alumna, she now qualifies for non-competitive hiring at any federal job, meaning she’s in a completely different hiring pool and will have a leg up when applying and competing for federal jobs upon graduation.
“Not only was the Gilman Scholarship instrumental in getting me to Spain and having a once in a lifetime experience,” Yepez-Connors said, “it will continue to help me as I take those experiences with me into adulthood.”