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Two SIS Students Receive 2021 Charles B. Rangel Graduate Fellowships

Following their completion of the Rangel Graduate Fellowship program, Zizhan Luo (SIS/BA, CAS/BS ’19) and Tammy Nguyen (SIS/BA ’21) will receive appointments as Foreign Service Officers in the US Department of State.

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Zizhan Luo and Tammy Nguyen.

Zizhan (Azua) Luo, SIS/BA, CAS/BS ’19, and Tammy Nguyen, SIS/BA ’21, have been selected as fellows for the prestigious Charles B. Rangel Graduate Fellowship, marking the first year AU has had two fellows named at once.

Following the completion of the two-year program, Luo and Nguyen will receive appointments as Foreign Service Officers in the US Department of State. We spoke with them to learn more about their time at SIS, their interest in a career in the Foreign Service, and the Rangel Fellowship program.

The Rangel Fellowship

According to the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Program, the Rangel Graduate Fellowship “aims to attract and prepare outstanding young people for careers in the Foreign Service of the US Department of State in which they can help formulate, represent, and implement US foreign policy.” Forty-five fellows are selected for the highly competitive program each year. Rangel Fellows receive up to $42,000 annually for two years of graduate study, complete internships on Capitol Hill and at a US embassy or consulate abroad, receive mentoring from a Foreign Service Officer, and participate in professional development opportunities.

The Rangel Fellowship program encourages applications from members of minority groups historically underrepresented in the Foreign Service, women, and those with financial need. Fellows who successfully complete the two-year program and Foreign Service entry requirements will receive appointments as Foreign Service Officers and will embark on careers spent fulfilling the mission of a US diplomat: to promote peace, support prosperity, and protect American citizens while advancing the interests of the US abroad.

Luo learned about the fellowship through an SIS advisor and the Foreign Service Officers she met during her Fulbright Scholarship in China. Nguyen, who had worked with AU’s Office of Merit Awards previously, was introduced to the fellowship after receiving the Gillman Scholarship to study abroad in Russia. Luo and Nguyen each knew the Rangel Fellowship would be a good fit for them to pursue an international career in diplomacy.

Serving at the Intersection of Economics and the Environment

Luo graduated in 2019 with a dual degree in Environmental Science and International Studies. Growing up, she had experienced the global nature of environmental issues and wanted to attend AU and SIS because of its emphasis on international work and service.

“One of the things I always really appreciated about being at AU was how the professors aren’t just academics but also practitioners,” says Luo. “SIS professors that I sought mentorship from —like Judy Shapiro and Simon Nicholson—seeing their demonstrated passion for international public service in addition to their classroom teachings really motivated me to pursue this career.”

After graduating from AU in 2019, Luo accepted a Fulbright Scholarship and completed her research project in China, where she examined the policymaking process of sustainable fisheries management. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in public policy or foreign service and serve in the Economic Cone of the Foreign Service, working at the intersection of the environment and economics where the private and public sectors overlap.

A Focus on Arms Control Policy

Nguyen will graduate from SIS this May with a Bachelor’s in International Studies. She chose to attend SIS because of its top-ranked program, her acceptance into the AU Scholars Research Program, and a generous scholarship from AU.

She first became interested in a career in the Foreign Service through two SIS classes she took. Those influences were US National Security Strategy, taught by Professor Joshua Rovner, and Peace, Global Security, and Conflict Resolution, taught by Professor David Banks.

Nguyen plans to earn a master’s degree in public policy or security studies and hopes to enter the Political Cone within the Foreign Service. She is specifically interested in arms control policy and believes that diplomacy plays a critical role in achieving nonproliferation. Nguyen wants to use her background as an American diplomat to one day return to the State Department in DC and delve deep into arms control policy.

“I’m most looking forward to my swearing-in as a diplomat after graduate school and being able to serve in the Foreign Service as a first-generation Vietnamese immigrant,” says Nguyen.

Securing the Fellowship

Both Luo and Nguyen worked closely with AU’s Office of Merit Awards throughout the application and selection process for the Rangel Fellowship. The office supports students in applying to all kinds of nationally competitive awards, including the Rangel Fellowship program.

According to Lori Felton, assistant director of AU’s Office of Merit Awards, the office works with students to determine their suitability for fellowships and awards in which they are interested in applying. Office of Merit Awards staff also help students prepare their application materials, including coordinating with recommenders to make sure the full application is the best that it can be before submission.

Felton, who has worked in the office since 2016, says a Rangel Fellow has been selected from AU each year since she started, but this is the first time two AU students have been selected for the same cohort: “This is a highly competitive award, but we definitely want to stress that this is a great award for AU—and particularly SIS students—to consider, because we do have a very strong program. It's within reach for a lot of our students, and we feel like it's important to promote that.”

She estimates that Luo and Nguyen both revised their application materials six or seven times, and, after they were selected for interviews, the office helped them prepare by offering mock interviews. Luo and Nguyen were connected with SIS alumni, professors, and Foreign Service Officers who spoke with them about the fellowship and reviewed their application materials.

“SIS faculty and the Office of Merit Awards staff really supported me in trying, because I didn't expect to get into Rangel, and I got in! But they support you, and they push you, and I like that a lot,” says Nguyen.

Looking Forward to a Career in Foreign Service

Luo and Nguyen are eager to start their upcoming internships on Capitol Hill this summer, which will be the first Congressional internships for both fellows. Then, they will work toward completing their graduate studies and internships abroad. Both Luo and Nguyen value the Rangel Fellowship’s focus on diversity and look forward to bringing a diverse perspective to the Foreign Service upon completion of the program.

“One of the reasons that I wanted to be a Rangel Fellow and join the Foreign Service is that with my background, I will be able to show the people that I work with—in the Foreign Service, the US government, and abroad—that someone like me, who is an immigrant, an Asian-American, and a woman, has a lot to offer to this country,” says Luo. “That's something I really appreciate about the fellowship…that we can promote diversity in America and across the world.”

Foreign Service Fellowships Information Session

Zoom Information Session on Thursday, February 25, 4-5 p.m. ET 

If you are interested in pursuing a career in the Foreign Service, you might be interested in the Pickering, Rangel, and Payne fellowships, each of which fund two years of graduate study and prepare fellows for careers as Foreign Service Officers. Speakers at this information session will include the Office of Merit Awards advisor for these fellowships and some of the awards’ program directors. This session is open to juniors, seniors, and alumni looking to enter the Foreign Service. The national deadlines for the 2021-2022 competition cycles will occur next Fall (exact dates TBD).