MACON – The U.S. Department of State today recognized Mercer University as one of the nation’s colleges and universities that sent the most scholars abroad through the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program during the 2020-21 academic year.

Mercer had a total of 14 students selected as Benjamin A. Gilman or Gilman-McCain Scholars, ranking first among institutions with less than 5,000 undergraduate students and first among Georgia colleges and universities.

The Gilman Scholarship expands access and equity in study abroad and international internship opportunities among U.S. undergraduate students with high financial need.

“In recognizing the top institutions with students studying abroad as Gilman Scholars, the United States continues to prioritize its commitment to provide access and equity to international experiences for all Americans,” said Lee Satterfield, assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which created severe obstacles for students to study abroad and participate in international educational exchanges, the Gilman Scholarship was able to support nearly 800 Gilman Scholars from 48 U.S. states and territories to study or intern, both in-person and virtually, in 77 locations around the world. 

“Although the pandemic made international study complicated, these students found creative opportunities for exchange that enriched their education and enhanced their personal development. We are proud of what they accomplished,” said Dr. David A. Davis, director of fellowships and scholarships and professor of English.

“When the pandemic started, many students were unsure if they would be able to get an international experience while at Mercer. With the help of Mercer’s global partners and the Gilman Scholarship, the Office of Global Education was able to offer virtual programs for students, allowing these students to utilize their Gilman Scholarship to still receive credit towards their degree and experience the world from their computer,” added Emily Dunn, assistant director of global education. “Their ability to transition to online study abroad shows how resilient this group of Gilman recipients was. Additionally, one student was able to defer her award until spring 2022 when it was safe to travel again.”

Nyiah Kelley in Morocco
Nyiah Kelley studied abroad in Morocco this past spring as a Gilman Scholar.

Junior Nyiah Kelley, a biology and women’s and gender studies double-major, was able to study abroad in Morocco this past spring as a result of a Gilman award she received during the 2020-21 academic year.

“As a low-income student, the Gilman scholarship opened doors for me to take advantage of Mercer’s study abroad opportunities that seemed unattainable before,” said Kelley. “Studying abroad on an exchange program to Morocco only made me more confident and assured me about my passions here at Mercer, while also influencing my future career goals.”

While helping high academic performing and socio-economically diverse students gain the professional skills, language abilities and knowledge needed for successful careers, Gilman Scholarships also allow these students to build relationships, foster mutual understanding and represent American culture and values, including in developing countries and countries critical to U.S. national security.

“My unique abroad experience not only impacted the perspective I bring to each classroom, but also the perspective I bring to the world by being more aware of my own culture as well as everyone around me,” said Kelley. “When I reflect on my study abroad experience, four words come to mind: self-discovery, happiness, life-changing and eye-opening. Mercer and the Gilman Scholarship gave me an eternal connection to the people and land of Morocco and impacted my life in more ways than I can express.”

Since the program’s inception in 2001, more than 35,000 Gilman Scholars from all U.S. states, Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories have studied or interned in more than 155 countries around the globe.

The Gilman Scholarship is a public diplomacy program of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and is implemented by the Institute of International Education.

Mercer administers the Gilman competition through the Office of Global Education. For more information, contact or (478) 301-2573.

Photos courtesy Nyiah Kelley