Adrian Gillem ’15 sees U.S. ambassadorship in his future

Roanoke College freshmen typically are not permitted to take upper-level international relations courses.

Adrian Gillem was different.

His first year at Roanoke, Gillem approached Dr. Andreea Mihalache-O'Keef, his academic advisor and a professor in Roanoke's Public Affairs department, about enrolling in her 200-level international relations theory class.

"He was curious about the world," O'Keef said.

The driven Gillem, now a junior at Roanoke majoring in international relations, is taking his curiosity and intellect to a new level. In March 2013, he headed to Japan to study and research the country's government system, in particular, the traits that Japanese prime ministers embody and the reasons that some in the past few years have held office for just one year.

Gillem's Asian study trip is funded, in part, by two prestigious scholarships - the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship and the Freeman-ASIA scholarship. Both support travel and study in a foreign country. Gillem's total scholarship award is $10,000. He is taking classes at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan, through the International Student Exchange Program. He also received $2,500 from Roanoke's Fowler Legacy Program.

Gillem, a native of the Virgin Islands, dreamed of studying in Japan before he came to Roanoke. As a high school student, he spent a month in China with Junior State of America, a civics education and leadership program. The experience sparked his intense interest in Asia's culture of strong family values and unique cuisine.

"I fell in love with the people," said Gillem, who began teaching himself Chinese using Rosetta Stone material when he returned to the Virgin Islands.

At Roanoke, Gillem dived into international relations classes, including a research methods course in which O'Keef helped him develop a research topic about Japanese government. With study in Japan at the forefront of his efforts, Gillem applied for the Gilman and Freeman scholarships last fall at the suggestion of several professors and staff at Roanoke.

Gillem is only the second Roanoke student to receive the Gilman scholarship, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. (The first was Ebony Spriggs '13.) The Freeman-ASIA scholarship is funded by the Freeman Foundation, a private group that aims to strengthen American and Asian ties.

Gillem received hands-on guidance from several Roanoke professors and staff members who worked with him on everything from applying for scholarships to refining his research.

While in Japan, Gillem is researching the history of the country's government after 1945. His research includes interviews with key Japanese government officials, in particular, the son of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who had one of the longest leadership terms. He also plans to talk with college professors, students and residents about their views on the country's government.

Gillem will continue his independent study project on Japan's modern leaders when he returns to Roanoke in the fall and work toward publishing his research in peer-reviewed journals. Scholarship recipients also are required to complete a service project at the end of each research trip. Gillem said he plans to organize campus gatherings for Roanoke students to share their experiences abroad.

Gillem is very involved in Roanoke campus life. He's a member of at least six organizations, including the Student Government Association and the College Democrats. Also, he recently was chosen as a monthly student blogger for Sigma Iota Rho, an international studies honor society. His blogs, which will appear on the society's website, will focus on issues in international political economy.

Beyond Roanoke, Gillem aspires to work for the U.S. State Department and eventually, become a U.S. ambassador.

"I want to know that I can serve my country in a capacity that represents what I've learned," he said.