The Opportunity to Serve

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Underrepresented Students Gain Exposure to Public and Foreign Service Careers Via National Fellowships

Recently released statistics revealing that the majority of U.S. civil and foreign service employees are white and male, as well as public scrutiny regarding the lack of diversity among America’s foreign policy workforce, have demonstrated the urgent need to recruit more underrepresented individuals to U.S. Department of State and other public service careers.

Two national programs are designed to do just that by creating increased awareness of career opportunities for and encouraging the inclusion of underrepresented groups in public and foreign service.

Martha Chavez
Martha Chavez

“There are numerous reasons for the lack of minorities pursuing careers in foreign service, international policy, and public service,” says Martha Chavez, senior assistant dean for academic programs and dean of students at the University of California, Berkeley’s (UC Berkeley) Goldman School of Public Policy. “First, there is a significant lack of representation of diverse and underrepresented minorities within these fields, which translates into few role models and individuals who can inspire diverse students to pursue these careers. Second, minorities are often not exposed to or encouraged to gain the quantitative, analytical, and communications [skills] to pursue graduate school in these areas and ultimately careers in public and international affairs.”

One way to inspire students of color, Chavez says, is to offer programs designed to introduce them to and prepare them for careers in public service. UC Berkeley is one of five graduate-level public policy schools that host the Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) Junior Summer Institute (JSI), an intensive program consisting of classes and co-curricular activities that promote the professional and personal development of emerging diverse leaders in this field. JSI is open to junior undergraduates who plan to pursue graduate studies in public policy and a career in public service.

[Above: Students in the 2017 PPIA cohort at UC Berkeley]

“While there is no specific GPA requirement, students must showcase strong academic potential,” says Chavez. “As part of the application process, applicants are required to write an essay that addresses their commitment to public service as well as cross-cultural and social issues and specifically describes their experiences working with diverse and underrepresented communities — particularly African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders.”

Acceptance into JSI includes full tuition costs for the institute, a stipend, university housing, a meal plan, books and other materials, a graduate school application fee waiver for institutions in the PPIA Consortium, and a $5,000 scholarship that can be applied toward graduate school tuition. In addition to UC Berkeley, four other schools host JSI each year: University of Minnesota, Carnegie Mellon University, Princeton University, and University of Michigan. These five universities are part of the PPIA Consortium, which is composed of more than 50 institutions committed to increasing inclusion in public service careers.

Participants in Princeton University’s 2017 JSI

The seven-week JSI program offers courses that help participants learn methods to analyze public policy, understand the political processes behind the creation of policies, and address the challenges related to their implementation. “Policies are studied both at the domestic and international levels, and students learn to develop and apply strategic thinking, quantitative reasoning, memo writing, and communication skills,” explains Laura De Olden, PhD, director of JSI for the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

“This summer, the domestic policy workshop examined the intersection of social determinants of health and state healthcare programs, specifically Medicaid,” Olden says. “The workshop’s final report examined how economic instability, [access] to healthy food, the quality of housing, the safety of neighborhoods, and environmental conditions affect health outcomes for Rhode Island’s poorest residents.”

Tricia Schryer
Tricia Schryer

JSI is open to all applicants, but host schools make a concerted effort to reach out to underrepresented students to create awareness of the program and public service career opportunities, explains Tricia Schryer, recruiting and PPIA coordinator for the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. Through presentations to a wide variety of student groups, including African American, Asian, and Latino organizations; visits to historically black colleges and universities; and communication with PPIA alumni and professors who have recommended past applicants, program staff work to attract more students of color to the program.

2017 JSI participants at the University of Michigan
2017 JSI participants at the University of Michigan

Of the nearly 600 applications received by the PPIA national office this year, Schryer says that African Americans represented about 23 percent, Asian and Pacific Islanders 22 percent, Latinos 31 percent, Native Americans 2 percent, and Caucasians 29 percent. Additionally, about 10 percent of individuals identified as multiracial.

Although the applicant pools vary every year — which affects the final profile of each school’s cohort — UC Berkeley’s PPIA program is typically 60 percent women and 40 percent men, according to Chavez. “Last year’s participants were 37 percent Latino; 27 percent African American; 23 percent Asian American, Pacific Islander, or South Asian; 7 percent Native American; and 7 percent Caucasian,” she says.

Foreign Service Fellowships
Designed to attract young, diverse talent to foreign-service careers, the State Department’s Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship and the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship programs actively encourage students from historically underrepresented groups and those with financial need to apply. Fellows receive financial support, mentoring and professional development training, and two summer internships to prepare them academically and professionally for a career with the State Department.

An additional program, the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Summer Enrichment Program (SEP), known as the Rangel Scholars Program, is a six-week initiative designed to provide undergraduates with a deeper appreciation of current issues and trends in international affairs with a focus on foreign-service careers.

Applicants to these programs must be U.S. citizens, have a GPA of 3.2 or higher, and be seeking admission to a two-year master’s degree program at a U.S.-based institution in a relevant field, such as public policy, international affairs, public administration, business, economics, political science, sociology, or foreign languages.

Currently, 30 Pickering Fellows, 30 Rangel Fellows, and 15 Rangel Scholars are selected each year through a nationwide competition. In addition to receiving scholarships and stipends to offset the cost of earning their graduate degree, Pickering and Rangel Fellows who successfully complete the programs and meet entry requirements are hired by the State Department as foreign-service professionals upon graduation. Successful completion includes maintaining a GPA of 3.2 or higher for each academic semester at their home institution and taking part in summer internships and program-specific courses in Washington, D.C.

Universities that partner with the State Department to offer these programs on their campus enjoy several benefits: Individuals recommended by affiliated universities are given preference for admission and priority for financial assistance, and institutions gain the opportunity to recruit potential students.

Laurie A. Hurley
Laurie A. Hurley

“We receive lists of the Pickering and Rangel Fellows who are planning to apply to graduate school, which enables us to communicate with them to make them aware of what we offer,” says Laurie A. Hurley, associate dean of the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid for the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, which participates in both the Pickering and Rangel programs. She says that this opportunity provides access to a group of students who are not only underrepresented in public and foreign service, but are also exceptional.

“They have already been through a rigorous screening process for the fellowship, so we know they are outstanding students,” says Hurley, “But they also know what they are doing after graduation, which means they use their time wisely in school.”

Students outside of Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy

Institutions that serve as hosts or that are affiliated with the PPIA, Pickering, or Rangel fellowship programs benefit from the outreach they provide.

“In the past four or five years, we have seen a number of students who attended our PPIA summer institute apply to the Ford School for their master’s degree,” explains Schryer, who says she has also noticed that a large number of PPIA alumni — even those who attended the JSI at other institutions — apply to the school. “These programs and the alumni network are a great pipeline for diverse students.”

Diversifying a workforce takes time, but Chavez — who is a member of the PPIA National Board of Directors as well as an alumna of the PPIA program — says that this combination of programs that intentionally recruit and support underrepresented students is an important step. “In fact,” she says, “many alumni credit the PPIA program as [being] their first introduction to the fields of international and public policy, as well as foreign service, which they [say they] didn’t know existed before participating.”●

Sheryl S. Jackson is a contributing writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity. This article was published in our March 2018 issue.