Hello! My name is Brandon Vanlandingham and I’m a senior at Mississippi State University studying aerospace engineering. I received my Gilman in the spring of 2020 to study abroad at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, and am currently serving as a Gilman Alumni Ambassador for the 2021-2022 term.
I still remember what it felt like when I stepped off the plane on day 0 of my study abroad experience. The air was luscious and fresh, and despite my body’s physical exhaustion from the 36 hour journey, my mind raced with possibility as I made my way from the airport to my accommodation for the next 6 months. I had spent the last semester setting intentions surrounding my professional and personal development while researching the culture of my host country, but the ensuing experience was more than I ever could’ve bargained for. Through the opportunities provided by the Gilman program, I was able to experience profound growth both internally and externally as the resultant expanded worldview has provided me with invaluable skills to unlock a whole new world of potential career opportunities.
Before I studied abroad, it was easy to fall into the one track mindset dominating so many of my peers within the engineering curriculum. Go to college, get an internship, attain your degree, transition immediately into an engineering firm upon graduation. It’s a very cut and dry process, and, frankly, wouldn’t have left me much room for making a real difference in the world. When I went abroad though, I was exposed to what it might mean to be a global engineer. I learned the ways that my engineering degree could be applied to a variety of international humanitarian issues within foreign service agencies. I was provided with further opportunities provided by the Department of State that might be utilized as a stepping stone towards engaging in those international projects. Above all, though, I found myself surrounded by like-minded individuals inspired by their abroad experience to share their story and help up the next generation of Gilman scholars.
Through my continued participation and engagement with the Gilman program, I have and continue to utilize the opportunities arising from my position as an alumni ambassador to increase engagement and awareness of the program. Whether it be through mentoring students within the current application process, conducting presentations on Gilman and study abroad with regional universities, or simply increasing awareness of study abroad opportunities on my campus, the tools made readily available to me through the Gilman program have exponentially increased my impact. My experience continues to be connective and inspiring with the boundless support of the Gilman community that has contributed to my development beyond anything a typical scholarship could ever offer.