Gilman Scholar Advocates for Study Abroad Program for NOVA Interior Design Students 

March 29, 2024

Despite living in the Harrisonburg, Va. area near James Madison University, Ashley Herald chose to study interior design at NOVA’s Loudoun Campus, and she’s passionate about her chosen craft. “I drive two-hours each way once a week, because there’s nothing in my area, and I felt this was the best program for me,” she said. 

Portrait of Ashley Herald

For her, getting an online certification was not an option, especially since she knew she wanted to get an associate degree in interior design. Another important thing for her was having that in-person experience, which actually led to making great friends and studying under some amazing professors. 

Tell us a little about yourself and your background. 
After graduating from high school in 2016, I took about six years off from school. I started at NOVA in August 2022, and I’m about to graduate in May. 

Why did you apply for the Gilman Scholarship? 
Studying abroad has always been a dream of mine. Paired with my love of art history and architecture, it was a no-brainer; I had to apply. I think the Gilman Scholarship is great in all aspects, and it gives people who aren’t as fortunate the opportunity to study abroad. 

I’m not gonna lie. I danced in my room when I learned I had won. I was so happy! It was rewarding, so fulfilling. It was a significant accomplishment for me. It felt like the Gilman scholarship judges heard me and liked what I said in my essay. In one of my essays, I wrote how there was not a NOVA study abroad program already in place for interior designers. In general, interior design gets overlooked and should be showcased more. 

Many people think interior designers just make a space look pretty. In actuality, our work aims to make the space functional, and we add beauty on top of it. The beauty is like the cherry on top, but the functionality is most important. 

As part of the Gilman scholarship, I will need to do a service project after returning from my study abroad trip. My project will focus on helping implement a NOVA study abroad program for interior designers to make it easier for future students. It would be better to have a NOVA-approved program already in place because I had to do a lot of research to find the program that I wanted to go on. 

What are you studying at NOVA?  
It’s an Associate of Applied Science in Interior Design. 

Tell us about your experience at NOVA, i.e., professors you’ve liked and friends you’ve met. 
All the professors in the interior design program here at NOVA are outstanding, but two have made a fierce impact on me: Kristine Winner and Abby Lenon. Both have set me up to better understand how our profession works and the standard of our industry. Both have had successful careers in different areas of interior design before teaching, which helps students see the many opportunities there are for us in this field. They have so much knowledge between them, and I’ve learned an immense amount from them. 

What would you tell a student coming to NOVA? 
The most important thing is to be actively engaged in your classes. One of the biggest things I do is engage with my teachers and ask questions. I try to make other students feel comfortable so that they can ask questions, too. My advice is simple: be social, be open-minded and embrace the opportunities to connect with others—it’s all part of the college experience.  

After NOVA, what career pursuits are you exploring? 
I will be graduating in May, but after my Italy trip this summer, I’m not sure yet. I do want to further my education and get a bachelor’s degree, but there’s no rush on that. 

I am excited to gain more experience in the field. Currently, I have a full-time job at a kitchen and bath design company, which I enjoy. However, I have realized the design world is a small niche, and I am always ready to expand my skill set. I am not sure what my next step entails, but commercial design is on my radar. 

About the Gilman Scholarship: 
The U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship is an undergraduate scholarship program for U.S. citizens or nationals of limited financial means that helps fund a study or internship abroad experience. 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 three years alone, NOVA has had an impressive 10 students receive this highly competitive scholarship. Five in Fall 2022, and four in Spring 2023. A total of 12 NOVA students have received the scholarship since the program’s inception in 2001.  

Undergraduate children and spouses of active-duty military families have an additional scholarship opportunity of up to $5,000 in the Gilman-McCain Scholarship, which can be used for credit-bearing study abroad programs or internships. In addition to being part of an active-duty military family, eligible students must also be recipients of Title IV federal student aid administered by the U.S. Department of Education, which includes federal loans, grants and work-study programs.  

For more on the Gilman or Gilman-McCain scholarships, contact Abbey Jones, associate director of the Office of International Education & Sponsored Programs, at  

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