UAB junior heading to West Africa after landing competitive scholarship

Shanquela Williams, junior social work major, will spend the spring semester in Ghana as part of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship program.

shanquela williams 2As the spring semester begins, University of Alabama at Birmingham junior and Tuscaloosa native Shanquela Williams is preparing for classes at a university more than 5,000 miles away.

Williams is one of 800 American undergraduates from 355 colleges and universities across the United States selected for the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship.

The Gilman Scholarship is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The program aims to make study abroad experiences accessible to a more diverse population of students and to encourage students to choose less traditional study abroad destinations, especially outside of Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand. It also gives students the opportunity to gain a better understanding of other cultures, countries, languages and economies — making them better prepared to assume leadership roles in government and the private sector.

Students are selected for the Gilman Scholarship through a highly competitive application process. The program receives more than 10,000 applications each year and awards about 2,500 scholarships. Gilman scholars are awarded up to $5,000 toward their study abroad or internship program costs.

The program aims to support students who traditionally have been underrepresented in education abroad, including, but not limited to, students with high financial need, first-generation college students, students in STEM fields, students from diverse ethnic backgrounds, and students with disabilities.

Williams will spend the spring semester at the University of Ghana in West Africa. It will be her first time studying abroad.

“What I’m looking forward to the most is meeting and interacting with new people and learning about their culture,” Williams said.

Her passion for helping others is what led her to the UAB College of Arts and Sciences Department of Social Work. While in Ghana she will continue working toward her degree in social work while taking courses in service learning and one of the country’s secondary languages.

“I have a passion to want to change the world,” Williams said. “In the profession of social work, you aim to improve the quality of life for people and their families in many ways. It’s a major that is perfect for what I desire to do in life.”

The program aims to support students who traditionally have been underrepresented in education abroad, including, but not limited to, students with high financial need, first-generation college students, students in STEM fields, students from diverse ethnic backgrounds, and students with disabilities.

Williams credits the help that she has received as a UAB student for her academic success and selection for the scholarship. Williams’ academic journey at UAB began with admission to the Blazing Start program. The program is aimed at students who may have the required 3.0 GPA but do not meet the requirement of a minimum score of 20 on the ACT. The program is designed to help students transition from high school to college.

During their first year, students admitted to the program receive personalized attention through advising sessions and attend six monitored study hours each week in the University Academic Success Center. The center provides a variety of resources for students, including peer mentors. Williams now serves as one.

“If it weren’t for the academic success center, I wouldn’t be here,” Williams said. “The tutors and staff are all amazing. They go above and beyond to help you with anything you need.”

The center is the hub for tutoring and supplemental instruction at UAB. Its services are free to all students. Academic success workshops, academic coaching and exploratory advising for undeclared students are also available.

“Every student has a transition period when coming from high school to college, even those who may have excelled previously,” said Andrea Bennett, academic programs coordinator for the University Academic Success Center. “We cater to any kind of student. We encourage students to come see us as soon as they begin to have trouble academically, so we can help them maintain their success.”

The Office of National and International Fellowships and Scholarships encourages students to explore the Gilman Scholarship program. For students who wish to study abroad this summer or fall 2016, the next deadline to apply is March 1, 2016. Click here for more information.

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