UALR student Everett Elam earns Gilman Scholarship

A University of Arkansas at Little Rock student will spend the final weeks of his undergraduate studies in Spain this summer — thanks to a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship.

Everett Elam already participated in a UALR graduation ceremony in May, after completing the requirements for his degree in  ethnomusicology, the study of music from other cultures.  

Now, he only needs to put the finishing touches on his Spanish minor, and his graduation will be official.

Elam got the news that he was selected for a Gilman scholarship while reading through Spanish poetry for a class.

“That was a really happy day,” Elam said. “I didn’t know what to do with myself. That Spanish homework didn’t get done that day.”

As part of its goal to diversify who is able to participate in study and intern abroad opportunities, the Gilman program provides funds to undergraduates who might not otherwise be able to afford the experience. The U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs sponsors the scholarships.

Elam’s scholarship will provide $3,000 toward his trip, and he also received a Trojan Travels scholarship from UALR that will help cover some of his expenses.

While in Spain this summer, Elam will spend a week in Madrid and then four weeks studying at the University of Salamanca. He and his girlfriend, fellow UALR student Emily Phillips — who are two of the best fiddlers in Arkansas — will top off the trip with  a week-long fiddle camp, as part of Crisol de Cuerda.  

UALR student and traditional-style fiddler Everett Elam photographed while playing the fiddle
UALR student and traditional-style fiddler Everett Elam photographed on Sept. 8, 2015, at Stella Boyle. Lonnie Timmons III/UALR Communications

In order to earn the competitive scholarship and have the opportunity to study abroad, Elam needed to submit a transcript, letters of recommendation, and an essay.

He wrote numerous drafts and asked for feedback from acquaintances.

Their response? Try again.

On about the fifth draft, friends told Elam his essay was ready to submit — he finally produced an essay that reflected his personality and effectively made the case for how he would benefit from a study abroad trip.

In his essay, Elam, who is legally blind, wrote about how much he wanted to visit the Prado museum in Spain, which features copies of famous artwork that the visually impaired can touch, giving them a much fuller experience than the typical exhibits behind a rope.

Elam also mentioned how a fellow UALR student, who had studied abroad through a Gilman Scholarship, described the experience as life changing.

“I wrote that I wanted to have an experience like that, too,” Elam said.

During his time in Spain, Elam will take classes, spend time with his host family, do homework, and, of course, “eat lots of cool Spanish food.”

As part of the program, he will be required to complete a service project, and Elam plans to produce a documentary-style audio journal, sort of an “old-time radio story,” complete with the background sounds of Spain as he describes his experiences.

Elam would like to present the audio journal to various groups when he returns to Arkansas, sharing the sounds and special qualities of Spain with as many people as possible.

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