With the sweet smell of fresh-baked bread clinging to the hot summer air, MyKeisha Wells ’22 and her mom tearfully embraced. Away from any customer’s view, they gently swayed from side to side for a moment. They were working in a bakery when MyKeisha learned she would be trading Coe’s campus for the bustling streets of Istanbul as a recipient of the prestigious U.S. Department of State Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship.
“There was a lot of excitement and joy that overcame me when I found out because I worked really hard. I realized everything I do in my life is driven from wanting to just be there for other people through tough times,” she said.
MyKeisha will be studying in Turkey this fall with a $4,000 Gilman Scholarship. Coe’s robust study abroad program, which features 22 exchange programs and more than 40 off-campus study opportunities around the world, spiked her interest as a first-year student. Although 40% of Kohawks study off campus during their time at Coe, MyKeisha didn’t think she would be able to until Associate Professor of German and Director of Off-Campus Study John Chaimov introduced her to the Gilman Scholarship.
The scholarship program supports underrepresented students. It was created in 2001 to honor late Congressman Benjamin A. Gilman and promote the cultural exchange of ideas gained from studying abroad. The U.S. Department of State funds an award of up to $5,000.
“Dr. Chaimov said it’s really competitive, which scared me, and he encouraged me to apply. I liked that their target populations are students who come from backgrounds like me and who look like me,” she said.
The rising senior decided to approach the application process in a way that made her feel the most comfortable — she simply told her story.
For MyKeisha, a Gilman Scholarship will enable her to step outside of the Midwest for the first time. The first-generation student wants to study abroad to enhance her cultural awareness with aspirations to serve a diverse community as a counselor. Her own experiences volunteering for a youth mentorship program through 4-H revealed the need for providers of color with emphasis on the Black community.
“In the Black community, we don’t talk about mental health very much. This is a really big thing that has encouraged me to want to be a counselor. I’m a psychology and social criminal justice major. I have been learning and discussing what multicultural competency and cultural humility is going to look like in my field. I want to put this into action,” MyKeisha said
“I think it's important to actually put yourself in a place where you're going to be really uncomfortable because it’s a language and culture different from your own. The main thing for me is to learn from others and what their experiences mean to them because as a counselor I'm going to be working with so many different populations,” she added.
MyKeisha specifically chose Turkey because of the community-centered culture.
“They're really big on community and connection, and I felt like I was going to feel safe and secure. I’m a member of the Black community, and we’re also really connected. We use terms like we and we're all about family and culture, and they're also all about those things,” MyKeisha said.
An equally important reason for studying in Turkey is to attend Altinbas University in Istanbul. The school’s psychology program is ranked as a leading institution in the field. MyKeisha will be taking courses in social and cognitive psychology, and fulfilling her last sociology minor requirement with a history of Turkey class. She is looking forward to getting involved in extracurricular activities, volunteering in the community and sightseeing.
“I'm just really excited to go, explore and learn,” she said.
MyKeisha’s ultimate goal is to attend graduate school. She aims to work with domestic violence and sexual assault survivors. Naturally, MyKeisha’s passion for helping people doesn’t stop with counseling. She wants the focus of her scholarship follow-on service project to be in support of Coe students who may feel study abroad is out of reach.
MyKeisha will be leading a Gilman Scholarship information session with Coe’s TRIO Academic Achievement Program, an educational assistance team supporting underrepresented students on campus.
“I want to let them know there are opportunities and resources if they want to study abroad. I’m going to talk about my time in Turkey and go over the Gilman process. Essentially, I want to encourage them that studying abroad is possible, and they can also apply for the scholarship,” she said. “I’m pretty sure it’s going to be life-changing. I’m going to come back and see things from new perspectives and have a whole new outlook on the experiences I have. I think it’s really beautiful to encourage someone else to go and have those same experiences wherever they decide to go.”
Because MyKeisha’s fall term in Istanbul is set to end after Christmas, Assistant Professor of Psychology Scout Kelly, one of MyKeisha’s favorite professors, currently is helping her prepare for graduate school applications to apply to in the fall.
“I'm going to be eternally grateful for this scholarship opportunity,” she said.
MyKeisha’s only regret is not filming her reaction to receiving the news with her mom.