Scholarship initiative blazes international trails for student success.

By Cary Estes

hunter drinkard

UAB junior Hunter Drinkard

For UAB junior Hunter Drinkard, preparing for a tough test or making career plans no longer seems so daunting after spending four months studying abroad in southeast Asia. He simply flashes back to a subway station in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where he had to find his way surrounded by a language he did not understand.

“I did that trip alone, and that gives me confidence that I can do anything I set my mind to,” says Drinkard, a native of Creola, near Mobile.

Drinkard’s trip was made possible by a travel fund created by Lydia Cheney—and the UAB Education Abroad Scholarship Match Initiative. Through the program, UAB is matching the first $250,000 in spendable gifts dollar for dollar, potentially creating a $500,000 boost that can help more than 200 students realize their dreams of learning and living overseas. UAB currently offers more than 170 education-abroad programs in 53 countries. 

hunter drinkard

Lydia Cheney

Journeys of transformation

Cheney was prompted to donate because of her own college experiences studying history and art in France and Italy in 1970, when she was a student at Birmingham-Southern College. “Those trips have made an impact on my entire life,” Cheney says. “They taught me the value of travel as education, and I want other students to have those types of trips.”

Sanjay Singh agrees. In the mid-1990s, he helped establish the first study-abroad program for UAB’s Collat School of Business. He and his wife, Dora, continue to help students enjoy similar experiences through the UAB Education Abroad Scholarship Match Initiative.

“These trips are transformational. They have a profound impact on learning,” Singh says. “You can read about different cultures. But you cannot really appreciate it until you are in those countries, seeing and interacting with the people. There is no substitution for that, just like there is no substitute for on-the-job training.

“That was the motivation to set up the gift. It doesn’t pay for the student’s entire trip, but it pays a significant amount. And there cannot be a better opportunity, since UAB is matching gifts dollar for dollar. UAB understands there is nothing more important than investing in the future.”

hunter drinkard

Sanjay Singh

Global perspective

Cheney says her matched investment will continue to pay dividends long after students like Drinkard come back home. “When they are immersed in the culture of a country, they have an enhanced understanding of the world, and they’re going to have a stronger worldview as a result,” she says.

That reflects Drinkard’s experience. A political science and communication studies major, Drinkard spent time in Thailand taking courses on globalenvironmental politics, intercultural communication, and southeast Asian diplomacy (taught by a diplomat). And since Cheney’s generosity funded much of his trip, Drinkard could afford to visit more of the region, including Malaysia and Singapore, when he wasn’t in class.

“On a program like that, you’re no longer a tourist. You become a resident,” Drinkard says. “You appreciate the cultural norms more. Along with the academic experiences, study abroad gives you personal experiences.”

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