Eastern Student Wins Prestigious Scholarship to Intern in Africa

Written by Michael Rouleau

Sierra Colon

Sierra Colon

WILLIMANTIC, Conn. — Sierra Colon ’17, a political science major at Eastern Connecticut State University from Wethersfield, is one of 250 undergraduate students from across the United States selected to receive the prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Colon will use the scholarship this summer to intern with the Surplus People Project (SPP), a nonprofit organization in Cape Town, South Africa.

According to Colon, communities in South Africa are reforming their land and food management systems. “SPP is a leading nonprofit organization that helps organize these movements,” she said. “I will be working with their team along with their new Youth Movement, made up of local college students fighting to decrease the price of food.” Colon will intern from June 8 to Aug. 8 alongside two other international students — one from Michigan State University and one from Sweden.

“I am excited to step out my comfort zone and meet new people on this trip,” said Colon, who is from Wethersfield. “It’s such a privilege to be able to experience another culture and interact with people with different backgrounds. No one in my family has done something like this, so I am excited to share with them my experiences and be a role model for my younger brother.”

Gilman scholars receive up to $5,000 to apply towards their study abroad or internship program costs. The program aims to diversify the students who study and intern abroad and the countries and regions where they go. Students receiving a Federal Pell Grant from two- and four-year institutions who will be studying abroad or participating in a career-oriented international internship for academic credit are eligible to apply. Scholarship recipients have the opportunity to gain a better understanding of other cultures, countries, languages and economies — making them better prepared to assume leadership roles within the government and the private sector.

The scholarship is named after Congressman Benjamin Gilman, who retired in 2002 after serving in the House of Representatives for 30 years and chairing the House Foreign Relations Committee. “Study abroad is a special experience for every student who participates,” said Gilman. “Living and learning in a vastly different environment of another nation not only exposes our students to alternate views, but also adds an enriching social and cultural experience.  It also provides our students with the opportunity to return home with a deeper understanding of their place in the world, encouraging them to be a contributor, rather than a spectator, in the international community.”

The Gilman Scholarship is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and administered by the Institute of International Education (IIE). According to Allan Goodman, president and CEO of IIE, “International education is one of the best tools for developing mutual understanding and building connections between people from different countries. 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.”