Cat Chau: Turning Experiences into Scholarships

UB student sitting outside on grass.


At first glance, Cat Chau is a typical college student: She’s interested in lots of different things, she’s involved on campus, and she doesn’t consider herself the most articulate person when it comes to talking about herself. But she has managed to take her experiences and tell a story, one that was intriguing enough to earn her a prestigious national scholarship.

The Gilman Scholarship is a competitive federal grant that gives students with limited financial means the opportunity to study or intern abroad. However, applying for this scholarship is no easy task—it took Cat two months to complete the process. Luckily, she didn’t have to go through it alone. When she first became interested in studying abroad, she contacted the Study Abroad Office and was assigned a study abroad advisor who first told her about the scholarship. This advisor then put her in touch with Megan Stewart, Assistant Director of Fellowships and Scholarships, who happens to be a judge for the Gilman Scholarship. Megan helped Cat through the process by showing her how to stand out from the crowd, and it worked: Cat was awarded the scholarship to study abroad in Japan during the Spring 2019 semester.

What made Cat stand out was her reason for wanting to go to Japan. While she’s there, she plans to become fluent in Japanese and investigate Japan’s unique views regarding mental illness. “The reason I picked Japan is because mental illness is still a big taboo over there. I want to throw myself into a country that looks at mental illness in a certain way and see the locals’ real perspectives.” As part of her scholarship, she is required to give back to her community and inspire others to go abroad in what the Gilman Scholarship calls a “follow-on service project.” When she returns to campus after her semester abroad, she will connect with the various campus groups she’s a part of and present on how study abroad can open your mind and allow you to try new things and challenge yourself.

Cat also stood out because of her experiences. As a member of last year’s Experiential Learning Network Sophomore Living Learning Community, she worked on a project within a small team for the full academic year, gaining experience and honing skills along the way. Cat credits the LLC with helping her not be afraid to reach out to those who can help her. Working on a project with a community partner required a lot of contact and reaching out to various people and agencies, which then made her more comfortable with reaching out to Study Abroad and Megan Stewart when it came time for her to apply for the Gilman Scholarship.

Cat’s experiences in the ELN Sophomore LLC and with other groups on campus were invaluable, and they ultimately ended up leading to an opportunity to keep following her passions through the Gilman Scholarship. If you’re interested in experiences that can help launch even more amazing opportunities, apply for the ELN Sophomore Living Learning Community!

Written by Amanda Hellwig ‘19