Life Is Turning Around for NOVA Gilman Scholar Christopher Aviles-Sanchez

February 22, 2023

“Initially, I was pursuing a degree in computer engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst during the 2021 spring semester,” Christopher Aviles-Sanchez said. “But I couldn’t handle the academic pressures and had some personal mishaps. So I returned home to Alexandria. But because of what I’d gone through, I debated if higher education was right for me.”

For Christopher, UMass was one of his dream schools; but after his experience there, he doubted himself. Still, he persevered and began turning things around. During the fall 2021 semester, he began attending NOVA to pursue an associate degree in math. “I came to NOVA to try to get myself back on track.” 

One of the main reasons Christopher applied for the Gilman Scholarship was to prove that he could be and do so much more. The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship allows students to study or intern overseas. These students would otherwise be unable to afford such an amazing life experience.

“It’s still surprising and shocking to me. I want to say ‘thank you’ for this scholarship. It truly means a lot to me!” Another reason Christopher applied for the Gilman was because he had never been overseas or to another country before. He said it would have never happened if he had not been at NOVA. I’ve maintained a good academic standing here, and my newfound discipline and confidence in my studies allowed such an opportunity to be presented to me.

Christopher’s Story:

Tell us a little about yourself and your background I have been in school for some time. I realized that I needed to put myself in a position where I can succeed and accomplish my goals. As my mom has always said to me, what I accomplish as an individual will allow me to reap the rewards of success.

I’m a 23-year-old, first-generation college student. My mother is from El Salvador. She had me at 16 and raised me as a single parent. I do not have a significant attachment to Central America because I consider Virginia and the United States my home. Also, I have a little sister, who I adore. It’s important for my little sister to see what’s possible so she, too, can have a brighter future. 

What are you studying at NOVA?  I’m completing my associates in mathematics this spring. I’m currently taking differential equations. It’s the only class I need to graduate.

Initially, my intentions for this spring were to use my Gilman scholarship to attend the University of Liverpool with their math department. But, circumstances prevented such an endeavor.

However, I’m looking forward to interning abroad this summer. Through the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE), I will be interning in Seville, Spain, for two months. I am waiting to hear what company I will be interning for, but I hope to perform business operations, consultant research and data management.

Tell Us About Your Experience at NOVA; i.e., professors you’ve liked and friends you’ve met: I’ve always been interested in math, but only realized it once I got to NOVA. I know math has a major influence on the world around me, and I’m slowly starting to realize that.

I really loved math and being able to channel myself and use it as a language. I embrace that with my studies. Being able to make those connections to math and the world around me is incredible.

My time in ART-101 exposed me to artworks and their history. I began dreaming of visiting these destinations—from the beauty of the stained glass of the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris to the numerous cathedrals throughout Europe. I want to visit these places, but if I didn’t put myself in a financially stable position, I would be limited to seeing these works of art in images online and in books only. That reinforced my intentions to continue my pursuit of a degree.

What would you tell a student coming to NOVA? Don’t be intimidated. With my poor academic history, I didn’t think I would qualify for any scholarship or anything! I never thought I was going to win the Gilman Scholarship. But it would never have happened had I been intimidated by my past.

Failures do not define anyone or who they are as an individual. It’s how you respond to such adversities like a failing grade or, in my case, getting dismissed from a university. Being 23 and being in college for a little too long, I’ve learned that it’s unfair to compare yourself to others. You have no idea what other people are going through.  

Where do you see yourself after NOVA or what career pursuits are you exploring? I believe my time here and my overall academic experience have allowed me to focus on attaining a bachelor’s degree in applied math. Between George Mason and UMass, whichever institution I attend, one thing I have learned from my past is that I will always believe in myself.

I aspire to work for the government, specifically the Department of Defense, and even private industry contracted by the defense sector. By having the Gilman Scholarship awarded by the State Department, I plan to take advantage of opportunities that could help jumpstart my career in the federal government. Not only this, but the Gilman Scholarship will allow me to have exposure to foreign ideas and concepts I might not have ever considered.

The U.S. Department of State’s Gilman Scholarship is an undergraduate scholarship program for U.S. citizens or nationals of limited financial means to enable them to study or intern abroad. The program provides awards of up to $5,000 for students who are U.S. citizens, Federal Pell Grant recipients and studying at the undergraduate level at a two- or four-year institution. In the past two years alone, NOVA has had an impressive ten students receive this highly competitive scholarship! In fall 2022, eight applied and five received the scholarship! We are here to help NOVA students be the next recipient!

For more on the Gilman Scholarship, contact Leeza Fernand, associate director of the Office of International Education & Sponsored Programs,