August 17, 2017
McDaniel’s most recent Gilman Scholarship honoree, senior Grace Hounsou, arrived in the U.S. from her native Benin in West Africa only six short years ago at the age of 16. Since then, she’s graduated from high school while serving as sole guardian of her two younger siblings, become financially independent, earned her U.S. citizenship and worked her way to and through college.
Now Hounsou, the sixth McDaniel student to receive the prestigious award, will top off her studies during the fall 2017 semester at McDaniel Europe in Budapest thanks to $3,500 from the scholarship. The transfer student will graduate a semester early in December with a double major in Business Administration and Accounting Economics and 150 credits, enough to sit for the CPA.
A staunch believer in the importance of multicultural understanding and global perspective, she plans to use her study abroad experience to educate and inspire other students to reach for different cultural opportunities. Too many students who are low income or first generation or minorities overlook the advantage of a study abroad experience or perceive it as a privilege beyond their reach, Hounsou says.
“I know what it is like to struggle financially and not have the support you need to pursue all your dreams,” Hounsou, who worked full-time hours at Pizza Hut to support herself through college, writes in her application essay. “I have always known that studying abroad is a great privilege and I want to share this opportunity with others by creating structures to deliver information across various institutions and by serving as an ambassador for the (Gilman) organization.”
To that end, Hounsou plans to work with both study abroad and transfer student offices at McDaniel as well as Trinity Washington University, where she attended for three semesters before transferring, to provide information, panel discussions, workshops and the like to help all students navigate the financial aid possibilities as well as to understand the career and professional benefits of studying abroad.
“I will work as a mentor and an advocate not just for transfer students, but for anyone who wants to study abroad and thinks they are unable,” she says, adding that she will reach out to help classmates in two clubs where she is a member: Africa’s Legacy, which brings awareness of Africa’s languages, diversity and culture to students on campus, and Global Bridge, which supports international students and immigrants who just came to the U.S. and need help adjusting to the country.
Determined to show all students that study abroad is possible, Hounsou plans to create a presentation she can deliver during monthly study abroad information sessions and also create flyers for transfer students to use as a guide for their curriculum so they see clearly how to plan for a semester off campus.
“Earning a Gilman scholarship means becoming a part of something greater. It means joining a family of scholars who share my cultural curiosity and my commitment to giving back,” says Hounsou, whose sister Barbara also studied abroad through a Gilman scholarship. “This award is validation that every academic and personal sacrifice was not done so in vain and that if I work hard enough and stay focused, I can achieve any dream imaginable.”
The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, sponsored by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, provides grants to U.S. citizen undergraduate students of limited financial means to enable them to study abroad. The program aims to diversify the group of students who study abroad and their destinations, and prepares students to assume significant roles in an increasingly global economy and independent world.
Other students who received Gilman Scholarship as juniors at the College include: Rhaelynn Givens ’12, who studied in Budapest, Hungary; Izabella Baer-Benchoff ’12, who traveled to Amman, Jordan; Hayoung Kim ’13, studied in Beijing; and Serra Berry ’15, traveled to Costa Rica; and Jocelyn Diaz ’18, who studied at the International Center for French Studies (CIEF) at the University of Burgundy in France.