Fellowship Fosters Diversity
Rangel Fellowship Focuses on Foreign Service
Since 2003, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) has been the impetus behind a program at Howard University designed to increase diversity in the State Department Foreign Service.
“Ever since I’ve been in Congress,” Rangel explained in an interview, “the absence of minorities in our embassies and official offices has been astounding.” Every time he brought it up to a secretary of State, however, he was told that the problem was lack of interest in the minority community.
“They said the kids couldn’t pass the test, and that kids weren’t interested,” Rangel said. “Every one of them would have a meeting with me talking about change, and then leave office.”
That cycle changed with Madeleine Albright, President Bill Clinton’s (D) final secretary of State. [IMGCAP(1)]
“She agreed that she would entertain a proposal, so I went to my first administrative assistant, Patrick Swygert, who had become president of Howard University.” Along with former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a member of Howard’s Board of Trustees,
Swygert drafted a proposal to create the Rangel Fellowship.
The fellowship, which pays students $28,000 a year to cover tuition and room and board, requires participants get a two-year master’s degree in a field of interest to the foreign service. International affairs is the most obvious choice, but a whole range of subjects, including foreign languages and political science, are options.
In addition to their studies, Rangel fellows are provided with two internships. One of those internships takes place on Capitol Hill in Congressional offices. Rangel is very proud of the bipartisan support he has received; participants in the program include Reps. José Serrano (D-N.Y.) and Henry Hyde (R-Ill.).
“It’s a great program,” Serrano spokesman Ben Allen said. “It gives students a chance to see the Congressional side of government up close. The key thing is that it gives them experiences that will help them in the foreign service. … The lessons that they learn here are invaluable.”
The most recent class of Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Program fellows graduated 20 participants at the end of May.
The second internship takes place in a U.S. embassy. When Rangel traveled to Singapore to make New York’s case for hosting the 2012 Olympics, he was pleasantly surprised to find himself greeted by two Rangel fellows, Chelsia Wheeler and Christen Rhodes.
The fellows also participate in a summer enrichment program, a six-week program “designed to stimulate stronger student interest in international affairs and to generate a deeper understanding and appreciation for career opportunities in international affairs.” That program recently wrapped up and is not just for Rangel fellows; any college student who has completed his or her sophomore year can apply.
Upon graduation, students are contractually committed to at least three years of service as a Foreign Service Officer. After a training period in Washington, officers are sent out around the globe to perform consular work.
The program is directed by Kevin McGuire, formerly the ambassador to Namibia. He said that initially, the fellowship “was designed to bring people to Washington for the summer enrichment program. This grew into the idea of a fellowship program. While we continue the SEP, the central focus right now is the fellowship program.”
The current secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, has also expressed her support for the program, even stating that she thinks it should be expanded, Rangel said. “About a month ago I met with Condoleezza Rice, and she recommended I get this program going in every historically black college.”
Rangel has been thrilled by the level of participation thus far. “It’s been a smashing success. … Their enthusiasm rejuvenates me. Retired black ambassadors who had to break new ground to get in the door, they are mentors for students today. A lot of mentoring goes on, and there’s a lot of cooperation from the U.S. State Department.”
The Congressman believes that in a time of increased involvement with the rest of the world, the United States must make a special effort to increase the number of people in the diplomatic corps. “We are recruiting people to keep the peace and keep the diplomacy,” Rangel said. “We need to reach out to people to show them how exciting the opportunity can be. We need to show them that there are different people all over the world.”