Two Wesleyan students set to travel to Australia, China after receiving the Gilman International Scholarship

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Pictured, from left, are scholarship advisor Dr. Tamara Bailey, Gilman Scholarship recipients Madisyn Fox and Christopher Neil and Wesleyan President Dr. Joel Thierstein.

BUCKHANNON – Two West Virginia Wesleyan College students have earned the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship for the 2020 summer.

Scholarship recipients physics and political science double major Madisyn Fox, of Caldwell, W.Va., a freshman, and junior biochemistry major Chris Neil of Kenna, W.Va., were honored for their achievements Thursday at the Chambers Lounge in the Martin Religious Center. There, they shared their experiences with earning the scholarship – as well as where and why they intend to travel.

“Last year, in my senior year of high school, I was on the engineering team and I worked as project foreman on a design project focusing on sustainability, where we were designing a recreation area for younger students,” Fox said. “There were 12 of us here in America and 12 of them in Brazil working on the project.”

She said while she was working with assistant history professor and scholarship advisor/mentor Dr. Tamara Bailey, she initially chose a program that would take her to Rio in Brazil.

“I was passionate, and I was really hoping to be able to see the country and we were going to go, but because of the civil unrest in South America, we weren’t able to go,” she explained.

Fox said the class she would be taking was called Global Change in the Environment where she would be learning about population trends and how they affect the environment. She said when she received the news that she won the Gilman scholarship, she also learned the U.S. Embassy was reviewing whether it was safe for her to go to Brazil, but it was found to be unsafe.

“I’m looking at other programs,” Fox said. “I found one in Sydney, Australia, and I think that I’d still be getting the immersive experience, my education abroad experience through Australia, even though I wouldn’t be experiencing another language or as many other cultures, I would still have the focus on the natural environment and the sustainability that I’ve been focused on.”

“I was a bit hesitant about the idea of studying abroad by myself through a program like the one I chose because I just got here, I just turned 18 when I got to college and I’ve never been on a plane before,” Fox added. “The farthest I’ve been is Boston, so I’ve not seen much of the world at all. But (assistant history professor) Tamara Bailey, she told me that she really thinks that I should go for it, and so I did, and we met constantly.”

Neil said he never imagined he would travel abroad.

“When I decided to go to Study Abroad 101, I wasn’t thinking about going to study abroad. I just wanted to see what it’d be like,” he said. “I got there, and I saw everybody had these wonderful experiences, that they had all done something that they never thought they would do before, and I knew I had to do it. It was completely out of character. I was amazed at myself for making a decision like this.”

He said he was looking for programs focused in the medical field.

“At first, I was going to go to London and The Netherlands to do a comparative medicine course there because ever since I’ve been a little kid, I’ve always wanted to be a doctor, especially with pediatric cardiology because I had a heart condition myself, so I just want to give back to those kids and give them a chance like I had,” Neil said.

However, Neil said he decided to go with another program that will take him to China.

“The comparative medicine course in the Netherlands and England was a really good course, but I was scrolling through sites and other programs, and other study abroad trips, and I found a trip to China, and it offers comparative medicine with traditional Chinese medicine and modern medicine,” Neil said. “I get to compare that to the United States system, so I’ll be going over there and learning acupuncture, cupping other traditional techniques with medicinal herbs and comparing them to modern techniques.”

Wesleyan Vice President for Advancement Bob Skinner said Fox and Neil are the eighth and ninth students to become Gilman Scholars.

“This is a big day for the college scholars,” Skinner said. “We have 25 international scholarship winners from the State Department as a result of these two folks winning scholarships, and that’s an exciting accomplishment for a small college in West Virginia. I’m not sure any other school in West Virginia can lay that claim other than our friends to the north in Morgantown (WVU).”

President of West Virginia Wesleyan College Joel Thierstein said college officials are always proud to see their students succeed.

“The Gilman Scholarship and the international scholarships are especially important to us here at Wesleyan because it brings West Virginia out to the world and it brings us out to the world in a big way,” Thierstein said. “We are honored that the students have excelled.”

Bailey, Gilman Scholarship mentor, said she had a feeling both would earn the scholarship.

“I have the pleasure of working with students every year to apply for the Gilman Scholarship and I knew whenever Chris and Madisyn walked in the door that it was going to be very likely that they would be able to earn the scholarship, not just because of where they were choosing to study, but because of the reasons why they wanted to study,” Bailey said.

The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship enables students with limited financial resources to study or intern abroad, thereby gaining skills critical to U.S. national security and economic prosperity, according to a Wesleyan press release. The congressionally funded program is named after the late Congressman, Benjamin A. Gilman from New York, who served as a member of the House of Representatives for 30 years, chairing the House Foreign Relations Committee.