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Blugolds win Gilman Scholarships to study abroad this summer

| Judy Berthiaume

Photo caption: Blugolds have once again been selected for the prestigious Gilman Scholars Program. The three students will be immersed in new languages and cultures as they study abroad this summer in various parts of the world.

Three University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students have been awarded the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarships to study abroad this summer.

Through the Gilman program, Hallie Sheridan will study in Chaing Mai, Thailand; Grace Bigbee will study in Aberdeen, Scotland; and Carissa Prestholdt will study in Valladolid, Spain.

The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program enables students from underrepresented groups or with limited financial means to study or intern abroad.

The newest awards continue a long tradition of Blugolds being selected for the prestigious scholarship program, says Mikaela Reid, a study abroad coordinator in UW-Eau Claire’s Center for International Education.

Since 2004, more than 70 Blugolds have been selected for the prestigious program, studying in nearly 25 countries throughout the world. This year is the first time UW-Eau Claire has had three students selected for the Gilman summer study abroad program, Reid says, calling it a “great accomplishment.”

With more than 33,000 program alumni who have studied in more than 150 countries, the Gilman award has successfully supported underrepresented students in their desire to gain proficiency in diverse languages and cultures.

“It’s an honor for our students to be selected because this is an incredibly popular program with a very competitive selection process,” Reid says. “We are thrilled that three more Blugolds will have the opportunity to study in diverse countries and regions in the world through this program.”

Summer 2022 Gilman Scholars

Grace Bigbee
Special education unified early childhood major with certificates in intellectual and emotional behavioral disabilities
Aberdeen, Scotland

Grace Bigbee

Grace Bigbee will study in Scotland this summer as a Gilman Scholar.

Grace Bigbee will travel this summer with a UW-Eau Claire special education faculty-led immersion program to Scotland, where she will earn her emotional behavioral disabilities certificate. She will be in a school placement and attend classes at the University of Aberdeen during her study abroad.

“I am excited to extend my knowledge and understanding of EBD and special education in Scotland,” Bigbee says. “I look forward to connecting with teachers to share experiences in the field, as well as building relationships with the students I meet. I also look forward to attending a new university to build my content knowledge and experience the campus. I'm just happy to have the chance to be in a new country where I get to immerse myself in the culture and new learning opportunities.”

In Scotland, Bigbee says she hopes to build her teaching skills as well as her confidence.

“Considering I only have experience teaching in the United States, seeing firsthand how it compares in Scotland will expand my current understanding and grant me new perspectives in how I can support my students in the classroom,” Bigbee says.

UW-Eau Claire’s “welcoming” special education department and the university’s many international programs are among the reasons she became a Blugold, says Bigbee, who is from Farmington, Minnesota.

Ever since she traveled abroad as part of a high school trip, Bigbee knew she wanted to study abroad in college. The special education immersion program was exactly the kind of international experience she was hoping to find, she says.

“I am excited to share this opportunity with close friends, peers and the professors I have grown to know very well over the last four years,” Bigbee says, noting that she feels fortunate to be part of an immersion program that is tied to her specific academic area. “The relationships I’ve already established will get even stronger and make the whole experience all the more meaningful.”

Carissa Prestholdt
Health care administration major with minors in Spanish and management
Valladolid, Spain

Carissa Prestholdt

Carissa Prestholdt will study in Valladolid, Spain, this summer.

Carissa Prestholdt grew up in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, immersed in Spanish language and culture, including attending a Spanish elementary school. It’s long been her dream to go to a Spanish-speaking country so she can experience the culture and immerse herself in the language that she’s learned so much about over the years.

“I absolutely love the language and always enjoyed learning about the culture and history of other countries,” Prestholdt says. “I truly believe that the best way to learn a language is by being completely immersed in the culture.”

While in Spain, Prestholdt hopes to expand her knowledge of and comfort with the Spanish language, skills she says will help her in her future career. She plans to work in the health care field, hopefully in other parts of the world. Her experiences in Spain this summer will help prepare her.

“Everyone around the world needs care for their bodies, so in the future I will have the opportunity to use what I learned from the Spanish experience in my work,” Prestholdt says.

Prestholdt says that being “well rounded culturally is of high importance” to her, so she is eager to meet new people, experience new foods and learn about the history of Valladolid, Spain, during her time abroad this summer.

“I aspire to be comfortable traveling to other countries so that in the future I can travel to run marathons,” Prestholdt says. “I believe the only way to get comfortable is by being uncomfortable. By immersing myself in a culture in which I am completely foreign to, I also would like to learn how it feels for people who are foreign to the United States.”

When she returns to UW-Eau Claire’s campus in the fall, Prestholdt hopes to share her “amazing experience” with others by becoming involved in the study abroad services. She also wants to find ways to interact more often with native Spanish speakers.

“Something I really liked about being a volunteer at a hospital and also having a customer service job was that I had the opportunity to use Spanish in conversations with other people,” Prestholdt says. “There are many customers who have difficulty speaking English and I break the language barrier and converse with them in their primary language. After my study abroad experience, I will be much more comfortable putting my Spanish into practice when those situations arise.”

Hallie Sheridan
Kinesiology major in the rehabilitation science program with a minor in psychology and a certification in American Sign Language
Chiang Mai, Thailand

Hallie Sheridan

Hallie Sheridan will study abroad in Chaing Mai, Thailand.

UW-Eau Claire’s successful women’s hockey team was among the reasons Hallie Sheridan became a Blugold. At UW-Eau Claire, she could continue to play the sport she loves while also achieving her academic goals by studying kinesiology-rehabilitation science.

However, since the hockey season spans both fall and spring semesters, Sheridan couldn’t study abroad as she’d hoped. Thanks to the Gilman Scholarship Program, this summer she finally will have the international experiences she’d dreamed of, without falling behind in her athletics or academics.

“I had always wanted to study abroad in college, but I never thought I could do it because the hockey season goes through both semesters,” says Sheridan, from Fergus Falls, Minnesota. “So, when I heard about the summer program, I was so excited and applied right away.”

As a Gilman Scholar, Sheridan will study in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where she will take classes in Buddhist psychology, Thai cuisine, and social and cultural dynamics in the southeast Asia country.

“I hope to meet so many new people and friends that will last a lifetime and fully experience the Thai culture,” Sheridan says. “I also hope I learn to cook Thai food really well through my Thai cuisine class.”

Sheridan says she is eager to explore Chiang Mai and the regions around the city.

“I’m looking forward to the day trips I will be going on, especially the elephant sanctuary tour and bamboo rafting,” Sheridan says.