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Four Blugolds awarded 2021 Gilman International Scholarships for fall study abroad

| Denise Olson

Photo caption: This photo of Castello di Duino in Duino, Italy, was submitted by a former Blugold student traveling as part of an international music tour.

Four University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students have been awarded the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship for study abroad in fall 2021, the university’s Center for International Education has announced. Additionally, one 2020 award recipient will be applying her Gilman Scholarship this fall after her travel was postponed due to COVID-19.

Upholding a long tradition of Gilman recipients at UW-Eau Claire, the Blugolds are four of only 11 total award winners representing UW System schools in this award cycle. UW-Milwaukee and UW-Stout each had two students selected this round. In total, more than 1,500 undergraduate students from 467 institutions across all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have earned awards for the fall term.

Cheryl Lochner-Wright, study abroad coordinator at UW-Eau Claire, says this announcement brings great optimism for Blugold students planning to study abroad. After a year of cancellations and postponements, she hopes that students soon will be packing their bags once again to broaden their experiences and education at campuses around the globe.  

“It is wonderful to be able to celebrate the accomplishments of our Gilman winners. It has been such a difficult time for students planning to study abroad,” Lochner-Wright says. “While fall 2021 is still not totally guaranteed, the students continue to plan, prepare and make the best of the uncertain situation. We applaud their resilience and look forward to them putting their Gilman projects into action.”

The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program has a 20-year history of enabling students from underrepresented groups or with limited financial means to study or intern abroad. With more than 33,000 program alumni who have studied in over 150 countries, the Gilman award has successfully supported underrepresented students in their desire to gain proficiency in diverse languages and cultures.

Since 2004, 73 Blugold students have become Gilman Scholars, studying in 23 countries. The countries hosting the highest numbers of Blugold students over the years are Costa Rica, with nine past scholars, and Ghana, with seven. 

Fall 2021 Gilman Scholars

Alexis Polencheck

Alexis Polencheck, a public history major from Ashland, will study in Florence, Italy, this fall.

Alexis Polencheck
Public history major from Ashland
Instituto Lorenzo de’ Medici
, Florence, Italy

When Alexis Polencheck transferred to UW-Eau Claire in 2020, she was relieved to find so many opportunities to study abroad, saying that it was one of the main factors influencing her choice to attend.

“The vast array of study abroad programs at UWEC were a huge relief because I’m a transfer student and plan on graduating in two years,” Polencheck says. “With all the options, I was able to find this one in Italy that allowed me to stay on track academically, which was great. Undoubtedly, that influenced my decision to come here.”  

Polencheck will study art history, history and the Italian language at the Instituto Lorenzo de’ Medici in Florence. As a public history major, what she most looks forward to is simply taking in all the art, architecture and geographical history the region offers.

“I am most excited to learn about the art history of Florence and see Michelangelo’s ‘David’ and ‘Perseus with the head of Medusa’ by Benvenuto Cellini,” she says. “I would love to go on a tour of Tuscany but I’m not sure how travel might be limited due to COVOD-19. Experiencing the general community of Florence will be amazing, and I’m really excited about the open markets.”

Along with this long-awaited opportunity to study abroad, Polencheck has been grateful for high-impact Blugold experiences like a public history internship project, collaborating with Dr. Cheryl Jiménez-Frei, assistant professor of Latin American studies, and Greg Kocken, associate professor of history and head of special collections and archives in McIntyre Library. This project, an archive of rural voices documenting the COVID-19 experience, is a supplement to classroom learning that Polencheck is grateful to have.

“This experience beyond the classroom has impacted my career goals. I have had an inkling of where I want to work in the history and art history field with archives and collections, and this experience is exactly that. I have learned so much over these months, lessons that can’t come from a classroom.”

Polencheck says she is greatly looking forward to the Gilman Scholarship opportunity to further expand this type of real-world experience.

Ricky Schiff

In preparing to become a broadfield social studies teacher, senior Ricky Schiff believes that gaining perspectives from educators, students and citizens in the U.K. will be a positive influence on his teaching.

Ricky Schiff
Broadfield social studies education major, history emphasis from South Range
University of Winchester, Winchester, England

Education majors at UW-Eau Claire can all attest to the compact structure of the degree plan, one that can be somewhat limiting for chances to add a study abroad experience without careful planning.

Luckily for senior Ricky Schiff, the careful planning and support from faculty assisting him with recommendations for the Gilman Scholarship, the opportunity to study history at the University of Winchester is now a reality. For the northern Wisconsin native, this first-ever international travel is exciting on its own and adding in the rich history of the U.K. and some European stops as allowed has Schiff anxious to get the semester started.

“My study abroad plans have been canceled twice already due to COVID-19, so I am really just grateful to finally be able to go,” Schiff says. “I am really excited to learn about history and political science from the perspectives of other nations. I’ll be taking a class titled ‘The American Presidency’ and am looking forward to hearing the British perspective on the subject, especially given the long history between the nations.”

For Schiff, a member of the U.S. Air National Guard, this study abroad is yet another unique opportunity to represent his country. In the fall of 2019, Schiff ran a half marathon in Madison as a fundraiser to help send Wisconsin veterans on the Badger Honor Flight, a foundation that provides military veterans from any U.S. war or conflict the opportunity to visit Washington, D.C., and witness the beautiful war memorials erected to honor their service and sacrifice.

This past January, Schiff was sent with the National Guard to support the preparations for the inauguration of President Joe Biden, something he felt extremely proud to do.

“It was a really humbling experience knowing that I was doing something so significant,” he says. “During my time there I met some really exceptional people from all forms of diverse backgrounds.”

Schiff says that like these past experiences, the friends and contacts he will meet at Winchester will allow him to build connections and a higher level of objectivity about people from all walks of life.   

Tina Schwartz

A senior from Cottage Grove, Minnesota, Tina Schwartz will further her psychology degree plan with a semester of courses at the University of Winchester in Winchester, England.

Tina Schwartz
Psychology major from Cottage Grove, Minnesota
University of Winchester, Winchester, England

When senior Tina Schwartz departs for the University of Winchester this fall, she will be experiencing a first that might sound unusual for someone starting her fourth year of college — it will be her first time living in a campus residence hall. It is a “first” for her life that Schwartz is excited to experience.

“I’m most excited to live on campus,” the Cottage Grove, Minnesota, native says. “I lived at home my first two years of college, and after transferring to UWEC I’ve stayed at home because of the pandemic, so this will be my first experience living on campus. I am also hoping to travel to some other places in Europe while I am there.”

As a junior seeking better offerings for international education, Schwartz says the stellar reputation for study abroad opportunities is precisely what drew her to UW-Eau Claire in the first place.

“At my previous university, it would have added two years to my program just to study abroad for one semester,” Schwartz says. “I’ve known for a while that UW-Eau Claire has a great study abroad program, so I transferred here, where I could study abroad and still graduate on time. I have wanted to do this since middle school, so it was something I strongly considered when looking at schools.”

After spending her whole first term as a Blugold in a fully online learning platform for the spring semester, Schwartz is also thrilled to get back to in-person education; doing so in another country will be a bonus.

“I haven’t had a chance to meet many people or develop academic relationships with faculty, so that will be nice,” she says. “I am hoping this will advance my learning in psychology by experiencing how psychology is taught and applied in a different culture.”

Additional Fall 2021 Gilman Scholars

Along with Polencheck, Schiff and Schwartz, another Gilman Scholarship for fall 2021 has been awarded to Madeline Crandell, a senior history major from Excelsior, Minnesota, who will be headed to Ajou University in South Korea. Also traveling on a Gilman Scholarship this coming fall is Shaelyn Talley, a junior geography major from Wausau. Talley, who will study at Valladolid University in Valladolid, Spain, was awarded a 2020 Gilman Scholarship, but her travel has been delayed due to the pandemic.