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Biology Senior Awarded Gilman International Scholarship

By Whitney Hale

(Dec. 10, 2015) — Two University of Kentucky seniors have been awarded Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarships to study abroad this spring. The scholarship will fund studies in the Czech Republic for human nutrition major Rebecca Blair and in Germany for biology major Austin E. Eirk.  

The Gilman Scholarship is a congressionally funded scholarship sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State and administered by the Institute of International Education.

The scholarship supports students who have been traditionally under-represented in study abroad, including but not limited to, students with high financial need, community college students, students in under-represented fields such as the sciences and engineering, students with diverse ethnic backgrounds and students with disabilities.

Award recipients are chosen by a competitive selection process and must use the award to defray the cost of tuition, room and board, books, local transportation, insurance and international airfare.

Rebecca Blair is excited about the opportunities the Gilman Scholarship will make possible in advancing her studies. "I hope to gain pragmatic life skills and an insight into a diverse culture with a rich history that will impact me for years to come in my academics, in my career as a medical professional, and forge me into a better human being."

A native of Louisville, Kentucky, Blair graduated from Eastern High School in 2012. At UK, she is pursuing her bachelor's degree in human nutrition to further her understanding of the interplay between the environment and health. Blair participated in undergraduate research as part of a fellowship this past summer at University of Michigan (UofM) Department of Pathology. She credits both schools for introducing her to her mentors, Tammy Stephenson, assistant professor of human nutrition at UK; Dr. Anuska Andjelkovic-Zochowska, associate professor of pathology and neurosurgery at UofM; and Svetlana Stamatovic, assistant research scientist in general pathology at UofM.

Outside of the classroom, Blair has been active as a shift captain for the Campus Kitchens Project and as a member of both the Pre-Dental Society and Greenthumb.

Blair plans to attend dental school and pursue a career in dentistry after graduating from UK.

Austin Eirk will use his scholarship to travel to Germany this spring semester where he plans to build on his German language skills and conduct independent research at the University of Regensburg.

Like Blair, Eirk also hails from Louisville and graduated from Eastern High School in 2012. At UK, he is pursuing a major in biology, as well as a minor in German studies. Eirk selected biology as a conduit to serving society. "I believe that the problems of today are solvable. I seek to create a better tomorrow for mankind and the life sciences are the avenue that I am using to do so."

While at UK, Eirk has also been involved in undergraduate research as part of the National Science Foundation-Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF-REU) in toxicology at University of Montana Center for Environmental Health Sciences in 2014 and in chemistry at Miami University's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in 2015. It is through these programs and his studies at UK that Eirk was introduced to his mentors Sheldon Steiner, professor of biology at UK; Estel Sprague, professor of chemistry at University of Cincinnati; and Tony Ward, associate professor at University of Montana.

Upon completion of his undergraduate degree, Eirk plans to attend medical school at an institution dedicated in their service to humanity and pursue a career in medicine.

UK students interested in the Gilman Scholarship may apply through the university’s Office of Nationally Competitive Awards. Part of the Academy for Undergraduate Excellence within the Division of Undergraduate Education, the office assists current UK undergraduate and graduate students and recent alumni in applying for external scholarships and fellowships funded by sources (such as a nongovernment foundation or government agency) outside the university. These major awards honor exceptional students across the nation. Students who are interested in these opportunities are encouraged to begin work with Pat Whitlow at the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards well in advance of the scholarship deadline.