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Military Veteran Receives Gilman Scholarship to Continue in Global Engagement

Jonathan Morrell, Class of 2025

In the most recent Benjamin A Gilman International Scholarship award cycle, 7 University of Tennessee, Knoxville students were awarded $21,500 to fund study abroad programs or international internships. Among the seven recipients is sophomore Jonathan Morrell, a 26-year-old Communication Studies major and Entrepreneur minor who received $3,500 to be applied towards his selected program, UTK in Bologna. The journey that led him to attending UT, to enrolling in the study abroad program, and to receiving the nationally competitive scholarship captures his unique Volunteer experience and tells a story of success.

Morrell pictured in Helmand Province, Afghanistan on February 1st, 2020

After becoming the first person in his immediate family to serve in the United States Marine Corps, Morrell returned home from service in August 2020 and decided to pursue an education at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK). Although this decision was one many family members before him had made, Morrell wanted to ensure his own Volunteer experience fulfilled his educational and personal goals. “I took Italian with the intention of going back abroad and doing it differently,” Morrell shares. “I spent four years serving in the Marines. I was able to see different parts of the world, [including Italy], but because I was there to do a job, I feel like I missed out on things.” 


Finding a Program: UTK in Bologna 

It was Dr. Annachiara Mariani, Morrell’s Italian professor and a faculty leader of the UTK in Bologna program, who made him aware of the summer abroad opportunity. “I first met Jonathan Morrell at the beginning of the academic year when he enrolled in my Italian class,” says Dr. Mariani. “Teaching him has been a truly rewarding experience…He is diligent, inquisitive, and always eager to engage in class discussions. His ability to grasp complex linguistic concepts quickly and apply them is impressive…[and] his enthusiasm and dedication to learning not only enrich[es] his own experience but also positively influence[s] his peers, making the classroom environment more dynamic and interactive.” 

Morrell looks forward to participating on the UTK in Bologna program this summer, sharing how the faculty directed program option appealed to him because it provides a structured abroad experience while allowing students to exercise independence. “I am every emotion you can think of – excited, anxious, happy, scared. I am proud of myself for doing something that a lot of people are scared to do,” says Morrell, but the international experience comes with opportunities for growth.

Like many other Volunteers, Morrell has never bought a plane ticket, navigated an airport, or boarded a plane independently before, but he does not shy away from the experience saying, “What better way to satisfy [academic] requirements than to travel abroad?…If I’m going to fail this, I’m going to fail this confidently.”

Cultural exchange opportunities allow individuals to discover more about the world and themselves. Morrell plans to continue in global engagement through an immersive and educational experience. He says, “I want to go to places that I’ve always read about, I want to see the local culture and integrate with the community, and I want to change the narrative of what it means to be an American abroad,” sharing how, as a United States Marine, his identity and purpose had already been defined for him when oversees previously.


Funding a Program: Benjamin A Gilman International Scholarship 

Of course, finding a program is, for many, the easy part. Funding the experience is often more challenging. “I started by researching military scholarships and came across the Benjamin A Gilman International Scholarship,” says Morrell. “It wasn’t as intimidating to apply for as other scholarships,” he says, but he wanted to take advantage of campus resources to enhance his application.  

“My academic coach in the Veterans Success Center, Kianna Zolkiewicz, directed me to Ryan Lee in the Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships. From there, I attended their workshops hosted throughout the semester.” Christian Canizales, Program Coordinator in Programs Abroad of the Center for Global Engagement, was also present for the workshops and shared information on the process to go abroad. “They were like Batman and Robin,” Morrell says of Lee and Canizales. “I don’t really know who Batman was in this situation.” 

Amid a busy fall semester, Morrell began to lose focus. “I almost dropped out [of the Gilman application process] …I was missing deadlines. Gilman fell to the backburner,” he shares. The completion of his Gilman application Morrell credits largely to Ryan Lee, who reached out and encouraged him to continue.  

“[The Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships] do a lot more than the workshops,” says Morrell, sharing about the support he received setting up his account, ensuring application materials were uploaded, and the advice he recalled Lee gave above all else during the essay workshops: “Be specific.” 

Even after completing the application, Morrell managed his expectations by reminding himself of the scholarship’s competitive nature. “I didn’t think I was going to get it… Italy is the most requested place to go. It came down to the quality of the materials,” he shares.  

After receiving the news that he was among the recipients, he admits, “It was a nice feeling…I’ve never won a competitive scholarship before…The news was like a happy surprise waiting around the bush.” When asked what he felt strengthened his chances and what advice he would give other students interested in applying, he says, “Use your resources, lean into the components they are looking for…[and] leverage whatever you’ve got. Go to the workshops and utilize the staff as support.” 

More about the Gilman 

The next Gilman cycle will open in mid-January 2024 for applicants whose in-person programs or internships start between May 1, 2024, to April 30, 2025. This cycle encompasses Maymester 2024, Summer 2024, Fall 2024, academic year 2024-2025, and Spring 2025 programs or internships.  

To learn more about the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship or the Gilman-McCain Scholarship, visit 

 To explore fellowship opportunities or for support applying to nationally competitive awards, such as the Gilman Scholarship, visit or contact Undergraduate Research and Fellowships: 865-974-8560 | 


More about Programs Abroad 

Programs Abroad is one of seven units within the Center for Global Engagement at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. To explore undergraduate opportunities to go abroad, visit or contact the office at 865-974-3177 | 



Albrianna Jenkins (865-974-3177,