Montana State University

MSU student wins prestigious scholarship for summer study abroad

May 4, 2016 -- MSU News Service

Esther Oloff, a junior chemical and bioengineering student in the College of Engineering and Honors College at MSU, was awarded a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to study abroad in Peru this summer. MSU photo by Sepp Jannotta.

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Esther Oloff, a junior chemical and bioengineering student in the College of Engineering and Honors College at Montana State University, has been awarded a prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. She will use the award to study abroad in Peru during the summer academic term.

Gilman scholars receive up to $5,000 to apply toward their study abroad or internship program costs, and Oloff is one of approximately 1,150 American undergraduate students from 377 colleges and universities across the U.S selected to receive the award for the summer term, according to the U.S. Department of State. Oloff is the 10th MSU student to receive this award since 2012, said Alyson Roberts, study abroad adviser and outreach coordinator for MSU’s Office of International Programs

Oloff will be traveling to Cusco and Lima, Peru, for six weeks to participate in a multidisciplinary engineering and Spanish program, led by MSU College of Engineering faculty member Paul Gentile and the College of Letters and Science’s Modern Languages and Literatures faculty Heidi Dayhuff. Students will study engineering topics such as design process, creative design, project management, teamwork and technical leadership, as well as intensive Spanish language tutoring. While in Peru, students will stay with local families to be fully immersed in the local culture and language.

A native of Idaho Falls, Idaho, Oloff is interested in learning about Peruvian culture and ways to improve access to clean water, particularly in highly arid zones. She is also looking forward to visiting a health clinic in the country’s capital of Lima.

“I’m excited to experience new perspectives and meet a lot of different people, but I’m particularly interested in becoming more familiar with how engineers work in other countries,” Oloff said.

Oloff has also spent a summer studying abroad in Nicaragua, a trip she said would not have happened without the encouragement of Dayhuff, her beginning Spanish teacher.

“She encouraged the entire class to study abroad in Nicaragua, which I did two summers later,” Oloff said. “On that trip, (Dayhuff) told me about this trip to Peru and said that I should apply. She has been very supportive of my efforts to study abroad, and she has challenged me to continue to learn Spanish even when I am only able to take engineering classes. She has been instrumental in my decision to study abroad.”

Oloff also credits her family, especially her parents, for helping her to make the decision to study abroad. “My parents have shown me support by trusting me to make good decisions and by encouraging me to work hard for these (kinds of) opportunities,” she said. “Sometimes I think they worry more than they tell me, but they have never stopped me from pursuing what I want to do in any aspect, including traveling.”

The program aims to diversify the students who study and intern abroad and the countries and regions where they go, according to a press release issued by the State Department. Students receiving a federal Pell Grant from two- and four-year institutions who will be studying abroad or participating in a career-oriented international internship for academic credit are eligible to apply. Scholarship recipients have the opportunity to gain a better understanding of other cultures, countries, languages and economies, making them better prepared to assume leadership roles within government and the private sector. 

The award is named for Congressman Benjamin Gilman, who retired in 2002 after serving in the House of Representatives for 30 years and chairing the House Foreign Relations Committee. In a press release announcing the awards, Gilman said that “Living and learning in a vastly different environment of another nation not only exposes our students to alternate views, but also adds an enriching social and cultural experience. It also provides our students with the opportunity to return home with a deeper understanding of their place in the world, encouraging them to be contributors, rather than spectators in the international community.”

The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ mission is to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchange that assist in the development of peaceful relations. In an effort to reflect the diversity of the United States and global society, ECA programs, funding and other activities encourage the involvement of American and international participants from traditionally underrepresented groups, including women, racial and ethnic minorities and people with disabilities.  Artists, educators, athletes, students, youth and rising leaders in the United States and more than 160 countries around the globe participate in academic, cultural, sports and professional exchanges. For more information about ECA programs, initiatives and achievements, visit

The Institute of International Education, which administers the scholarship program, is an independent, nonprofit global higher education and professional exchange organization. Founded in 1919, the institute has a network of 19 offices worldwide working with more than 1,200 member institutions and more than 6,000 individuals with a commitment to the internationalization of their institutions. The institute designs and implements programs of study and training for students, educators, young professionals and trainees from all sectors, with funding from government and private sources. These programs include the Fulbright and Humphrey Fellowships administered for the U.S. Department of State.  

For more information on the Gilman program, please contact Lindsay Calvert, director of the Gilman International Scholarship, at 832-369-3481 or

The full list of students who have been selected to receive Gilman Scholarships, including students’ home state, university and host country, is available at

Contact: Alyson Roberts, Office of International Programs, (406) 994-7044 or