Two Butler University students traveled a combined 15,000-plus miles to conduct research abroad, thanks to the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarships.
International Studies major Ashley Altman and Biology junior Dakotah Harris are the first Butler recipients of the nationally competitive scholarship, which enables students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad while gaining skills related to national security and economic prosperity. The program was established in 2000.
Altman left for Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on January 16. She is studying political science at the American University of Sharjah.
Harris is stationed in the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa, where he’ll gain experience in public health. He will learn outside the classroom via one-on-one mentorships through April 4. Harris will also work with a volunteer group from the Human Sciences Research Council. Their mission will be to educate nearby populations about HIV while diagnosing and treating those with the disease.
“There’s a lot of very dangerous myths around HIV,” Harris says. “I’ll be working on getting information to the townships that don’t necessarily have all the resources they may need.”
Receiving $4,500 from the Gilman Scholarship, Altman’s trip is part of the International Student Exchange Programs. His time in South Africa will help pave a career path in epidemiology and the prevention of infectious diseases.
Harris says the opportunity will get him in on the “ground level” for his future work in public health.
“I’m excited for this life-changing experience. I’m ready to serve the people,” says Harris, who will leverage two years of research experience in Assistant Professor of Psychology Jennifer Berry’s lab for his work abroad.
“Dakotah’s drive and dedication to research will help him further investigate vaccines. Specifically from my lab, Dakotah has learned several skills and techniques—like animal handling—that will be useful for him in his future research endeavors,” says Berry, adding that Harris has become a student leader in her lab. “I think this trip will give Dakotah a chance to help a lot of people, and that’s what he’s all about.”
About 40 percent of Butler students take advantage of study abroad opportunities. For Harris and Atlman, The Gilman Scholarship has made that easier.
“To me, receiving a Gilman means that the students are motivated personally and academically to jump any hurdle in order to study abroad,” says Jill McKinney, Director of Global Engagement at Butler. “Not only are the students likely going abroad for the first time, but they’re also going to locations that have significant cultural and linguistic differences.”
McKinney expects Altman and Harris to benefit from their experience by improving language and communication skills, gaining intercultural agility, and making contacts from around the world.
“Study abroad is a great talking point in job interviews,” McKinney says. “In fact, we’ve anecdotally heard from our former students that they are asked more about their study abroad experiences than anything else they list on their resumes.
“For many Gilman Scholarship recipients, this scholarship is the reason they can make study abroad happen.”
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