Grateful Gilman Scholar, Future Physician Heads to Bali to Study Marine Life 

February 17, 2023

Kimberly Mitchell was stunned to learn she won the Gilman Scholarship. “I’m so thankful because I didn’t think I had it in me, I did not think I would win, but I’m so glad that I did!”  

Kimberly Mitchell

The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship provides students who could not otherwise afford to the opportunity to study abroad. “It’s exciting because not many people have the opportunity to even leave their state, let alone the country,” said Kimberly.  

Her original plan was to leave last month and study safari life and conservation in Kenya. Instead, she will be leaving in July and heading to Malaysia and Bali for about five weeks to study marine life.   

“I am completely honored and proud to be a Gilman scholar. I am honored to be a part of a community of people that want to travel abroad, step out of their comfort zones and learn new opportunities that are going to challenge them in the real world.” 

Kimberly shares her journey on winning a Gilman:   

Receiving the Gilman scholarship is a privilege, but it was hard work. It wouldn’t have felt possible if it wasn’t for Matthew Niziol, my advisor on the Alexandria Campus who shared with me the key to writing essays. He said it had to captivate the audience and, if not, then I was doing it wrong. 

He told me he used to read the essays of students who were applying for scholarships. He said sometimes, when he and others were reading these essays at their homes, stirring spaghetti, making dinner for their families and being very busy, that your essay had to be so compelling that it makes them stop what they’re doing and read! Every single time I read my essay, I made sure that it was enough to stop someone in their tracks, that they had to keep reading and not put it down!  

The reason I am going to Bali is because they have a marine biology and ecology conservation study. The program I’m taking is called Marine Mammals: Biology and Global Conservation Policy. In Bali, I will be studying the marine life of corals, different types of dolphins, whales and other sea animals. We will be learning about current conservation and policy impacting marine mammals globally and off the waters of Malaysia.  

For me to be able to go, I must have a very strong support system where I’m able to leave my autistic child in the right hands and not have to worry, so I can get a better education and a better experience.  

It’s an opportunity to see different types of people, cultures, places and try new foods. I want to learn and take these experiences home with me. It’ll make me appreciate what I have in front of me more or make me want to open my eyes to see what else is out there that might be better.  

I want to be able to reach out and experience as many cultural differences as possible. Even though America is a melting pot, we still have a lot of things that we can improve on, but we can’t improve on them without experiences like this. I feel that studying abroad is one of the best opportunities that you can ever have to get that type of emotional intelligence and cultural awareness.   

Tell us a little about yourself and your background: 
My lifelong dream is to become an anesthesiologist. My son was born prematurely, so I’ve seen a lot in the medical field, which led to my passion for helping people.  

I am a 29-year-old single parent with an autistic child, working full-time from home as a travel agent. My specialty is booking cruises. I am busy most of my workday, but the benefit of being a travel agent is that I travel the world sometimes for free or at a majorly discounted price. I love it!  

 I’m the baby in the family of four girls, and I’m the first in my family to win an international scholarship to study abroad. In my spare time, I practice doing makeup, watching a good binge-worthy series, or going on cruises. 

What are you studying at NOVA?  
My major at NOVA is applied science. I have been at NOVA on and off since 2020. Right now, I’m only taking one class at a time. I’ve been trying to do it full-time, but I just failed each time, because life just hits you! I learned with many trials and errors that it is better for me to take one class at a time and get an A than take multiple classes at once and struggle to pass them all. 

Tell Us About Your Experience at NOVA; i.e., professors you’ve liked and friends you’ve met: Professor Francesca Rand helped me edit my essays and is an all-around amazing professor! Professor Elizabeth Oliban has been one of my biggest supporters! Last semester, when my son was having surgery, and I was missing class almost half the time, she was patient with me. She was willing to work with me. It’s awesome to have teachers rooting for you, even when you don’t have the energy to root for yourself. 

What would you tell a student coming to NOVA?  

This is your future. So, if you want to live a lavish lifestyle, or if you plan to achieve the goals that you’ve set for yourself, you’ve got to put the work in because it doesn't come with no work.  

  • Don’t take on more than you can handle. You’re responsible for passing and paying for these classes.  
  • Be patient with yourself. Try not to compare your journey with anyone else’s. 
  • When you have a new class, immediately take as many students’ numbers as you can. There will be days you need help with the assignments and your peers will help make sense of things you didn’t fully understand. 
  • Try to get the homework done the day it is given to you, that’s when it’s the freshest in your mind.  
  • Time management is everything! 
  • Don’t give up and don’t get distracted. 
  • Set aside a specific time every day or every week that you dedicate to each class.  
  • It’s okay to be frustrated and cry when things get tough. College is not easy so don’t think of it as such. It’s supposed to be hard sometimes and stressful. Just know, you can do it! 

Where do you see yourself after NOVA or what career pursuits are you exploring? My major at NOVA is applied science, but for full-time, four-year, I’m looking to do pre-med. It’s either George Mason or somewhere in Atlanta, Georgia. My minor will be conflict resolution because, as a doctor, you’re going to be dealing with so many people from all walks of life and cultures. I want to be as empathetic and as patient as possible. People want to feel safe, and I want to make sure I do my job so well that my patients will feel they are in the safest hands imaginable! 

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, 

Topics: international connections, featured article, scholarship and research, student success