Two students at the College of William and Mary have been selected to receive Thomas R. Pickering Undergraduate Foreign Affairs Fellowships.
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Alexander Bellah and Gabriela Arias, both seniors at the College, are among only 20 undergraduates nationwide chosen for the program. The fellowships will provide financial support for their senior undergraduate year as well as their first year of graduate studies. Additionally, the fellows will participate in two internships – one stateside and one abroad. In return, the students must serve for three years as Foreign Service Officers for the Department of State.
The fellowships, which are administered by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation for the U.S. Department of State, seek to “develop a source of well-prepared men and women from academic disciplines who fulfill the skill needs of the United States Department of State and who are dedicated to representing America's interests abroad,” according to a press release.
A government and history double major from Miami, Arias said that coming from a culturally diverse background sparked her interest in foreign affairs. As her understanding of foreign affairs grew, so did her desire to become involved.
“U.S. foreign policy is a strategy to construct, ameliorate, and nurture our relationships with the rest of the world, and I want to join these efforts, with the hope of focusing on Latin America,” she said.
William & Mary offered numerous opportunities for Arias to learn more about foreign affairs. She studied abroad in Brazil in 2009, improving her Portuguese language skills while also learning about the country’s culture and politics. She serves as a member of Medical Aid Nicaragua: Outreach Scholarship, doing research on political stability in Nicaragua along with Sociology Professor David Aday and other students. Arias has also conducted research over the last three years on Mexican politics and drug trafficking with the help of Government Professor George Grayson. Arias also currently serves as the public relations officer for The Monitor, the campus’ undergraduate journal of international relations.
She was ecstatic to learn that she had been selected for the Pickering Fellowship.
“Since 2007, my endeavors in the academic field and travels abroad have narrowed my interests to U.S. foreign relations with Latin America, and receiving this fellowship helped me realize this goal beyond what I had ever imagined,” she said. “I look forward to attending graduate school and further preparing myself for the field. Also, I think travelling will be another attractive opportunity, and not just in Latin America, but I also wish to familiarize myself with other communities and expand my acquaintance beyond Inter-American relations.”
Arias said that she is thankful for the support she received from numerous faculty members, friends and family members as she went through the Pickering application process.
“My parents have made magnanimous efforts to help me get here and I appreciate that more than I can ever express,” she said.
Like Arias, Bellah was thrilled to learn that he had been selected for the Pickering Fellowship.
“There are very few things I can remember being as excited about as receiving the Pickering,” said Bellah. “In particular, I can’t wait to actually get started working in the field, especially if I end up being stationed somewhere in East Asia following what should be an exciting graduate school experience.”
An international relations and economics double major originally from Charlottesville, Va., Bellah served in the U.S. Air Force for four years before starting at William & Mary. That experience provided him opportunities to indulge his love of travelling and learning foreign languages, pursuits that go hand-in-hand with Bellah’s interest in foreign affairs.
“In terms of public service, I believe that Americans, for the most part, underestimate the impact that foreign affairs has on their daily lives, and as a consequence we as a nation habitually underemphasize important international capabilities like skill at language or diplomacy,” he said. “Hopefully I can assist some in this realm, to the best of my abilities.”
Bellah worked with several professors on various projects in William & Mary’s Department of International Relations to prepare for the Pickering Fellowship application. He also took advantage of numerous research opportunities at William & Mary. Along with five other students, Bellah worked on the Project on International Peace and Security, researching and writing a memo on American arms sales and other defense policies relating to Taiwan and China.
“In addition to acquiring quite a bit of knowledge on the subject, working with Professors Dennis Smith and Elizabeth Grimm-Arsenault taught me a great deal about research, analysis, public speaking, and writing in the realm of foreign policy, all of which are vital skills for Foreign Service Officers,” said Bellah.
Bellah also honed his Japanese and Chinese language skills while at the College, participating in a study abroad program to China and organizing a Korean language peer-teaching program for Heritage Language Learners of William & Mary.
Bellah said that he would not have received the fellowship without the support of Smith and Arsenault as well as International Relations Director Michael Tierney, “without whose humor and dedication to teaching I would not have developed anywhere near as great an interest in international relations.”