From designing her own research project to independently conducting interviews and sourcing information, Abbey Smith ’18 CLAS finished her spring 2017 semester with impressive credentials. She earned the prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and spent her semester in Cusco, Peru researching the effects of globalization on the country’s education system.
Abbey did most of her research in a local school, Pillao Matao, comprised of students who had migrated from other parts of the country. Indigenous people often face discrimination in Peru, and the small school works to combat that by teaching the students to celebrate their differences. At the commencement of the program, Abbey handed in her final research paper—written in Spanish—and gave an oral presentation on her findings, which proved the positive effects the school had on the students’ sense of self-identity.
“My research was extremely rewarding. I worked in a school filled with students who come from extremely diverse backgrounds and cultures,” Abbey says. “I hope that my research can make some contribution, even if it is a small one, to the mission of the school.”
The opportunity to participate in hands-on research, from a global perspective was an invaluable experience. Abbey admits she was intimidated by the amount of independence the program required; however, she contends that many of the most challenging aspects of her research were also the most rewarding.
“The project pushed me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to experience an immense amount of personal growth. That is something I will be able to carry with me for the rest of my life,” she says.
Integral to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is its emphasis on critical thinking and the pursuit of knowledge for the betterment of society. As a student pursuing a degree in Sociology with minors in Spanish and Peace and Justice, researching topical and complex issues was not new to Abbey.
“One class that best prepared me for my research was Perspectives on U.S. Poverty taught by Dr. Robert DeFina,” Abbey says. “The class prepared me to conduct research that deals with complex, sensitive and sometimes controversial societal issues.”
Since 2011, Villanova University has sent more than 30 undergraduate students abroad as part of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program. Gilman Scholarship recipients have opportunities to gain a better understanding of other cultures, countries, languages and economies—making them better prepared to assume leadership roles within government and the private sector. The program is administered by the Institute of International Education.