By David Gulliver
Second-year student Victoria Parada has been awarded a Gilman Scholarship from the U.S. Department of State for study abroad.
The news of the $5,000 award – the maximum for her program – came as a surprise. “I did not believe I was going to get this award! I was so shocked when I got the email,” she said. “I guess somebody liked my essay.”
Probably so – she had quite a story to tell.
Parada, a second-year pre-med student studying biology and computer science, came to the United States from Bolivia when she was six years old. She arrived in a small town in Iowa speaking not a word of English.
Parada’s father, who drives trucks for a living, was away for months at a time – except for times when she was little and accompanied him for months, riding in the back of the cab.
The family’s life led them to be mobile – Parada recalls attending at least 10 different elementary and middle schools.
Along the way, her younger brother was born, and as a result, her mother became seriously ill. Parada – only eight years old – had to translate for doctors and nurses. Her mother recovered, but only after a long wait because the town had no surgeon available for the procedure.
That may have shaped her career ambitions. “I want to focus on public health and rural medicine,” she said. Rural hospitals often have little resources and insufficient staff for the cases they see, she said.
Parada will use her Gilman award to study at Cardiff University in Wales, where she plans to takes specialized classes in pathophysiology, clinical psychology and biophysics.
She also looks forward to the idea of international study. “I want that kind of international cohort, and getting to know people from all over the world and studying with them. And seeing how science education is approached at a UK university,” she said.
But she’s also looking forward to returning to her home state and home college. “Oh, I love everything about New College!” she said. “I love that everybody here just wants to learn. I like the environment where everybody’s learning something new for the first time. The campus is really nice, right next to the ocean. And the professors are amazing. The professors and the academics are the best part by far.”
The Gilman Scholarships, named for the late U.S. Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, are a State Department program intended to help students study abroad regardless of their financial constraints.
“That’s something I love about the Gilman program,” she said. “They want to show America as it is to the rest of the world.”
Looking back at her surprise success, Parada had a message for other students: “If somebody doesn’t think they can study abroad, because of cost, there’s the Gilman scholarship. If I can get, I’m sure many people can if they apply!”
— David Gulliver is interim associate director of the Office of Communications and Marketing at New College of Florida.