Once Homeless, Student Becomes Gilman Scholar

Orlando Fonte

PARAMUS, N.J. – Bergen Community College student Orlando Fonte, of Weehawken, has been awarded a U.S. Department of State Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to study abroad in Seville, Spain, during the fall 2017 academic term. His departure for Spain, though may represent the easiest part of his journey. As recent as this spring, Fonte was one of the 14 percent of U.S. community college students who identify as homeless, according to a recent study published by researchers at the University of Wisconsin.

Despite facing the daily decision to either purchase food or shelter, Fonte continued to take classes at the College, work and volunteer at a local nonprofit, helping victims of sexual abuse. Through the establishment of a GoFundMe page and with the help of Bergen professor Shari Franschman, faculty and staff, Fonte raised enough money to move into an apartment this summer.

Fonte now represents one of approximately 1,000 undergraduate students from 386 colleges and universities across the U.S. selected to receive the award, according to the U.S. Department of State. He is the 12th Bergen student to receive the award since 2011.

Seeking a greater understanding of his own Hispanic roots, Fonte, a social work major, has departed for Spain to take part in the study abroad program at the International College of Seville.

“I’ve lived in the U.S. my whole life,” he said. “Studying abroad in Spain gives me the opportunity to experience the culture, according to their customs, which will allow me to further explore myself.”

Fonte also hopes the immersive setting helps clear his mind of challenges and provide inspiration for other struggling students.

“Rely on yourself and trust that you have the perseverance and determination to make it through,” he said.

Gilman scholars receive up to $5,000 to apply toward their study abroad or internship program costs. The program, administered by the Institute of International Education, aims to diversify students who study and intern abroad as well as the countries and regions they visit.

Bergen student Caroline Moscatello, of Glen Rock, will also study abroad in Spain during the fall semester through the College’s study abroad program.

Based in Paramus, Bergen Community College (www.bergen.edu), a public two-year coeducational college celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2017-18, enrolls 15,000 students at locations in Paramus, the Philip Ciarco Jr. Learning Center in Hackensack and Bergen Community College at the Meadowlands in Lyndhurst. The College offers associate degree, certificate and continuing education programs in a variety of fields. More students graduate from Bergen than any other community college in the state.

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