MURRAY – Three Murray State University students studied abroad or interned this summer through a national scholarship program. Maranda Barker of Louisville, Mariah Cox of Campbellsville and Lacy Risner of Benton were selected to receive the prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship.

The Congressionally-funded scholarship broadens the U.S. student population’s worldview by providing scholarships to outstanding undergraduate Pell Grant recipients to fund new opportunities.

Murray State Education Abroad Advisor Robyn Pizzo works with students to strengthen their Gilman Scholarship applications. She said the scholarship has a significant impact on her students.

“This particular scholarship allows students who might not otherwise be able to afford to study abroad the opportunity to do so without financial worries,” Pizzo said. “They can focus on the academics of the program and the experiences they are having abroad rather than worrying about money.”

Risner, a liberal arts major, studied abroad at an archeological field school through the Cooperative Center for Study Abroad in Bluefields, Jamaica.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Risner said. “To receive training in underwater and terrestrial archaeology would not have been possible without the help of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship and the research grant from the Office of Research and Creative Activities (ORCA). The outstanding staff at the Murray State University Education Abroad and financial aid offices, along with the writing center and my professor, Dr. Marcie Venter, were instrumental in receiving these awards.”

Cox, an English education/teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) major, studied abroad in Mérida, Mexico, with the Kentucky Institute for International Studies.

“I faced some linguistic and cultural barriers while abroad, but the program provided me with an experience I will never forget,” Cox said. “Because of this experience, I believe I will be able to be more empathetic and understanding toward my future students.”

Barker majors in pre-veterinary medicine; she studied abroad with Loop Abroad in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

“I was able to contribute to Thailand conservation efforts, become SCUBA certified on a Thai island and learn about elephant veterinary care under a veterinarian,” Barker said.

Since the Gilman program’s establishment in 2001, more than 1,300 U.S. institutions have sent more than 28,000 Gilman scholars who represent the rich diversity of the United States to 145 countries around the globe.

“The Gilman program aims to make study abroad and its career advantages more accessible and inclusive for American students,” said Heidi Manley, chief of USA Study Abroad at the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. “These diverse American students gain critical skills overseas that expand their career options and ability to make an impact in their home communities.”

Manley also noted that the program particularly focuses on supporting first-generation college students, students in STEM fields, ethnic and racial minority students, students with disabilities, students who are veterans, students attending community colleges and minority serving institutions and other populations underrepresented in study abroad.

Murray State University’s Education Abroad program encourages students to challenge themselves to learn anew and interact with people from around the world. There are programs for nearly any field, country or subject in which a student may be interested. Learn more about Education Abroad and scholarship opportunities at, contact the office at 270-809-2277 or email

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