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Gilman Winner Using Scholarship for Real-World Experience in Human Rights Advocacy Work

Gilman Winner Using Scholarship for Real-World Experience in Human Rights Advocacy Work

Jannatul Ferdaus is a first-generation student from South Asia. For as long as she can remember, and following the death of a close family member when she was very young, she has wanted a career in medicine. Helping people was always her passion. Even during high school, she volunteered at a hospital for three years. 

Jannatul couldn’t convince herself, although she kept trying, that she would really love a medical career, so she changed gears.

Fortunately, she did find her true passion. “It was the summer before my senior year. Seeing the injustice in the world and everything that was happening, I became passionate about doing advocacy work to fight human rights abuses.” Although she wanted to be a change maker, she thought, “Even if I can’t make the change right now, I can do it in the future. But I need to get the knowledge. I need to have the experience to be that person.” 

Jannatul is still about helping people, but how she wants to help them has changed. “Now, I tend to lean toward law, public policy, foreign affairs and women’s empowerment.” 

She’s using her Gilman Scholarship this summer for a program in the Philippines that’s about a month long and focuses on human trafficking and community engagement. “This experience will bring a lot of perspective,” she said. Human trafficking is an issue that strikes at the heart. “It gives you the fire and strength to fight. It comes really from the bottom, it’s something really from deep down,” she said.

Jannatul’s Story in Her Own Words:

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background:
I’m from Bangladesh, born and raised there for 14 years. Then, I came to the U.S. five years ago and am now an American citizen. I went to high school in Woodbridge. I didn’t have a lot of extra time to socialize with my peers since I had volunteered at a hospital, worked part-time at a restaurant and was in my high school’s leadership program.  

I started at NOVA in the fall of 2022. I’m pretty determined to get what I want. So, I guess that’s a good trait. I’m a self-supporting student. I pretty much work full-time, go to school full-time and have an internship with the U.S. Department of Education, which ends in May. It’s a nine-month-long virtual internship with the office of Federal Student Aid (FSA).

It’s not a paid internship, but because I am a Pell grant recipient, I felt I had to do something to give back. My work helps serve the public and provides a youth perspective to the FSA office. Also, I am hoping this internship can help open doors and allow me to make connections.

Some things I like to do in my free time; are read books, go on walks and hang out with my friends.

What brought you to NOVA?
I enrolled at NOVA with the hopes of furthering my education without getting into six-figure debt. NOVA offers affordable in-state tuition and flexible course scheduling, which is helpful for someone working full-time.

Even now, I could transfer to other colleges, but I do not want to go to those schools just for the prestige. Although part of me would like that, I cannot get into debt now because I'm going to pursue a law degree or maybe a master's or doctorate.  

What are you studying at NOVA?  
I’m a liberal arts major at NOVA. I plan on transferring to a four-year university, majoring in global affairs with a minor in international politics. I’m going to go to JMU as of now, but I’ll see how that goes. JMU is my first choice because it’s in-state. You have to think of that perspective because it’s affordable and will help me.

Tell Us About Your Experience at NOVA; i.e., professors you’ve liked and friends you’ve met:
Professor Nicole Cintas, who I have for biology-101, she's very passionate and down-to-earth. You can see in her lectures; she is all about it! When she's talking about something, she really gets into it! I admire her a lot, and I just love her. 

Also, I've established friendships that I plan to maintain beyond NOVA. I love my peers; I love each of them! They all bring me joy, just little sparks in my boring life. 

I really like my librarians. My best one is at the Alexandria Campus. Every time I go to the campus once a week, I say hi to him. He's very nice. Before I sent in any of my scholarship essays, I would ask him what he thought about them. Not proofread them, but just get his feedback, a stranger that never knew me before. 

What would you tell a student coming to NOVA?
You are what you make of yourself. There are lots of opportunities here. Consider what aligns with your major and what you believe will be of long-term benefit. Additionally, be sure to enjoy yourself!

Where do you see yourself after NOVA or what career pursuits are you exploring?
I plan on attending law school in the future and hope to obtain a degree that will help me do what I vowed to do–advocate for the underrepresented and bridge the gap between what is and what should be. I want to advocate for injustice and victims whose rights have been violated, especially women, children and minorities.

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,

Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) is the largest public institution of higher learning in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls nearly 80,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield (Medical Education Campus) and Woodbridge, through NOVA Online and high school dual enrollment. We offer more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs to help our students reach their academic and professional goals through university transfers and access to the most in-demand careers. At NOVA, we strive to ensure that every student succeeds, every program achieves and every community prospers. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, visit our website, www.nvcc.eduor call 703.323.3000.