During a web presentation about the Panamanian rainforest, children from a fourth-grade class in New York City asked University of California, Davis, sophomore Brianna Pinto if she’d ever seen the Panama Canal. She turned her laptop camera to her office window to show a cargo ship on the canal.
“All of the kids yelled in awe, expressing exactly how I felt every time I walked outside here,” said the wildlife, fish and conservation biology major.
The San Diego resident, who just spent three months tracking fruit-eating mammals on Barro Colorado Island in the canal waterway, is among the thousands of UC Davis undergraduates who study, research and intern abroad. And like Pinto, dozens receive financial support through the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program.
Supports Big Idea of ‘Global Education for All’
UC Davis was recently recognized as a top producer of Gilman scholars for 2016-17 with the third highest number — at 47 — among universities with more than 15,000 undergraduates.
For this coming summer and fall, about 150 UC Davis students — about 50 percent more than last year — applied for the grants of up to $5,000. Named for the late congressman from New York, the Gilman grants are awarded to outstanding undergraduates who receive federal Pell Grants and, due to financial constraints, might not otherwise participate in global learning opportunities.
Supporting students in applying for the Gilman grants is among the ways UC Davis is helping more students of diverse backgrounds experience a global education — from introducing shorter intersession seminars abroad to creating intercultural experiences locally. Global Affairs at UC Davis is championing “Global Education for All” as one of the Big Ideas for the university’s next comprehensive fundraising campaign.
‘An incredible introduction’
Pinto was on Barro Colorado Island to help with a project comparing the foraging strategies of primates and nonprimates. The island is the site of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, an internationally recognized research station, and one of the most studied places on earth.
“The island’s population consists of visiting scientists from all over the world,” she said. “It gave me an incredible introduction to the international academic community.”
Studying abroad was a goal for Pinto, but she struggled to find a program that would integrate the natural world with her studies. She had been volunteering in the campus lab of Margaret Crofoot for about six months when the associate professor of anthropology at UC Davis asked her to serve as a field assistant for the project.
Help with unusual expenses
While the professor’s research grant covered room and board and airfare, Pinto said, a $1,000 Gilman grant helped with other expenses including the rent to keep her Davis room and the purchase of specialized clothing and gear — like binoculars, headlamps and lots of bug spray.
From the island, Pinto shared her experience through Reach the World, which matches travelers with K-12 students for classroom enrichment.
“I’ve come out of Panama with valuable field experience that I can use in future job and graduate school applications,” she added, “as well as a better understanding of myself and what I want out of my future career.”
Paying for study in Brazil
Ricardo Martinez, a senior majoring in political science–public service, is using a $5,000 Gilman grant for yearlong study at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio) in Brazil.
The first-generation college student from La Puente, California, said studying abroad is “one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.”
With a minor in Latin American and hemispheric studies, Martinez wanted to better understand Latin America, add Portuguese as a third language and intern at the PUC-Rio-affiliated BRICS Policy Center.
He received financial aid and another scholarship to help pay for tuition and fees of about $16,000 and an estimated $10,000 in room and board, books and other expenses.
Part of a community
“The Gilman scholarship has provided me with the opportunity to reduce loans, limiting my debt, and to substantially enjoy an experience filled with academic learning and once-in-a-lifetime travel adventures,” Martinez said.
“To be a Gilman scholar means to be part of a community of students yearning to learn of the world and with the potential to make dreams a reality with a bit of both guidance and assistance,” he added. “Nothing should deter you — be it your major, financial situation or background.”