Traveling scholars

Three Wheaton juniors this winter won awards from the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program to study abroad during the spring semester in Egypt, Spain and Brazil.

Maya Ennis, of Brooklyn, New York, traveled to Egypt with a $4,000 scholarship. Gilda Rodrigues, of Boston, went to Brazil with a $4,500 award, and Alexis Nieves, of Brooklyn, headed to Spain with an award of $3,000.

The Gilman Scholarship program aims to diversify the kinds of students who study abroad, as well as the countries and regions to which they go, by supporting undergraduates who might not otherwise participate because of financial constraints. Sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State, the program is intended to help prepare U.S. students to play meaningful roles in an increasingly global economy and interdependent world.

Nieves traveled to the city of Córdoba in January to participate in the Programa de Estudios Hispánicos en Córdoba, known as PRESHCO.

“Living in Spain for several months will give me the opportunity to improve my Spanish speaking and writing skills, which will be beneficial as I seek to help the members of my community,” he said before leaving.

A double major in Hispanic studies and international relations, Nieves has a keen interest in diplomacy and positive social change. He is interweaving these interests during his time abroad, particularly through a course called “Community Organizations and Local Politics in Córdoba.”

“That course directly engages me with an NGO committed to local issues, including gender inequality, integration of immigrants, rights of the differently abled, LGBT rights, ecology and poverty,” he said.

Embarking on a School of International Training program in Brazil, Rodrigues is living with local families and participating in an academic program focusing on public health, race and human rights through June 3. She is investigating health care delivery models in Brazil and studying Portuguese with an emphasis on health sciences.

As a religion major on a pre-med track, Rodrigues wants to learn more about how the Brazilian health care system incorporates spiritual practices, thus connecting her two main interests. She also plans to conduct an independent study of the role of spiritual healing in medical care.

Ennis is attending the American University of Cairo, continuing to work toward her psychology major and sociology minor. She is particularly excited about taking an urban development course, “to study the various ways individuals interact within their communities.”

Last summer, with the support of a Wheaton fellowship, Ennis worked at the Brooklyn Young Mothers’ Collective, an organization that helps young women move out of poverty by getting educated and becoming self-sufficient.

She says she is enjoying “experiencing an ancient culture that has not been completely influenced by Western culture,” and hopes “that living in a vastly unfamiliar place will sharpen my self-awareness and arm me with the tools needed to be an agent of change.”