Five GVSU students selected as Gilman scholars

GVL / Courtesy -  Justice Briggs in France.

GVL / Courtesy – Justice Briggs in France.

Tylee Bush

Five Grand Valley State University students have been recognized and rewarded for their achievements and academic scholarship. These students, along with more than 1,000 others at different institutions, were named as Gilman scholars and each received $5,000 to put toward a global experience and cultural immersion. 

The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship is available to any student receiving a Federal Pell Grant and attending a two- or four-year institution with plans to study abroad or take a career-oriented international internship for academic credit. The scholarship enables students to cover program fees and makes it possible for them to experience and understand other cultures, countries, governments and economies.

Out of the 2,800 applicants, five high-achieving GVSU students were selected to help diversify the students studying and working abroad: Justice Briggs (Byron, Michigan); Crystal Juarez (Kentwood, Michigan); Krystle Lewis (Williamsburg, Michigan); Rachel Villafuerte (Wyoming, Michigan); and Cameron Zbikowski (Wyoming, Michigan).

With the help of the Gilman Scholarship, Briggs flew to France on Wednesday, Jan. 10, to pursue her study-abroad program. Briggs always knew she wanted to study abroad. Having been raised in a small town, Briggs felt an urge to experience diversity. When she enrolled in the international business program at GVSU, she was pleasantly surprised to learn that the major required a study-abroad experience in order to graduate. She chose France as her destination, hoping to master her French skills and apply them to her French minor.

After being in France for a few weeks, Briggs is finally feeling settled in. 

“My first few weeks have been overwhelming in the best possible way,” Briggs said via email. She arrived a day later than anticipated due to a flight cancellation, and finding her classes and getting oriented in her location was a whirlwind. Neverthess, Briggs is now feeling more established. 

“I have begun to find my place in the city,” she said.

A few adjustments were particularly difficult for Briggs, such as the change in currency and cost of living. 

“I find that it is important to look at the price in euros and remind myself that my bank account reflects U.S. dollars and to reduce my spending accordingly,” Briggs said.

Briggs has now gotten into a routine and has established a budget for herself, but she reflected on how critical the Gilman Scholarship has been in making this whole experience possible. 

“Receiving the Gilman Scholarship was a huge financial burden off my shoulders,” she said. “It’s still important that I budget while I am here and spend my money wisely, but I know I’ll be all right. It ensured that I would have enough money while abroad.”

Briggs recalled the application process for the Gilman Scholarship as being “the most exhaustive and time-consuming scholarship application (she has) ever done.”

“I spent close to a month writing, editing, meeting with the Writing Center and the Office of Fellowships, and editing again to make sure my essays were the best they could be,” Briggs said. “I believe that the sheer amount of effort I put into the application process showed through.”

After receiving the Gilman Scholarship and a check for $5,000, Briggs said it was “the most rewarding scholarship experience” she has ever had.

Lewis, another recipient of the Gilman Scholarship, chose to continue her studies in hospitality and tourism management in Thailand. She has been in Thailand for a few weeks now and is excited to share that her experiences so far have been nothing short of amazing.

“In the short time I have been here I have had the opportunity to do so many amazing things,” Lewis said via email. “One of my favorite days so far has been volunteering at the Agape House, an orphanage for HIV-positive children.”

Along with volunteering, Lewis has visited an elephant nature park, seen the Bhubing Palace and been pleasantly surprised by how much she enjoys wearing her uniform to Chiang Mai University.

“I wasn’t excited at first, but I love the fact that I don’t have to think about what to wear every day,” Lewis said.

Lewis always had a desire to study abroad, and she is grateful for the Gilman Scholarship enabling her to make this dream a reality. 

“My parents are not able to help fund my college expenses, so I rely heavily on financial aid,” Lewis said. “Thankfully I received the amount I needed through grants and scholarships in order to make my semester abroad happen.”

Students interested in learning more about the Gilman Scholarship can visit