7/05/2012 Chris Karlesky

Pickering Fellowships Help F&M Student, Alumna Pursue Diplomatic Careers

  • sandoval pickering photo 2 Franklin & Marshall student Melissa Sandoval ’13 is one of 20 undergraduate winners of the 2012 Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship, which will support her senior year at F&M and first year of graduate study. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Sandoval)

A current Franklin & Marshall student and young alumna are a step closer to embodying their school’s nickname as real-life “diplomats.”

Melissa Sandoval ’13 and Maribel Vasquez ’09 have received 2012 Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation to help them prepare academically and professionally to enter the United States Foreign Service. Sandoval is one of 20 undergraduate fellows selected from a national pool of 200 applicants, while Vasquez is one of 20 graduate winners chosen from a national pool of 270 applicants.

Sandoval’s undergraduate award provides financial support for her senior year at F&M and first year of graduate study, while Vasquez will use the award to support a two-year graduate program in international affairs at American University. Fellowship winners commit to three years of service as a foreign service officer for the U.S. Department of State, which funds the awards.

“The Pickering is one of the most prestigious government fellowships, with awards often going to students from schools such as Harvard, Stanford and Yale,” said Professor Monica Cable, F&M’s director of postgraduate fellowships. “Having two Pickering winners proves that our top students and graduates are competitive with other top graduates across the country.”

  • Vasquez F&M alumna Maribel Vasquez ’09 will use her Pickering Fellowship to support a two-year graduate program in international affairs at American University before entering the foreign service. (Photo courtesy of Maribel Vasquez)

Sandoval, a first-generation college student from Harlem, N.Y., calls the fellowship her “big break.”

“The Pickering award is truly a blessing because it sets me up for academic and professional success,” said Sandoval, a public health (government track) major at F&M. “It has already connected me with so many Pickering alumni and ambassadors. I am planning my life for the next seven years with the program, which will mentor me through my senior year of college, graduate school, and help me transition into the foreign service. That is extremely unusual for a first-generation college student.”

Vasquez, who received a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Venezuela upon her graduation from F&M, is passionate about international service. She has studied abroad in Uganda, co-produced a documentary on homeless children in Bolivia, and studied human rights in Europe as a Humanity in Action Summer Fellow. She is excited about the new doors her Pickering Fellowship will open.

“It’s humbling to be part of this cohort of Pickering Fellows,” said Vasquez, a native of the Bronx and member of F&M’s first Posse cohort. “I have to take a step back to take in the Pickering. The fellowship means a lot to me because of what it represents to my family, my community and to me as a first-generation American. I can now really touch my dreams. I can't thank F&M and Posse enough for the support they've given me."

Sandoval developed an interest in foreign service through an internship at the State Department in the summers of 2010 and 2011. She aspires to represent the United States abroad, “even in dangerous posts,” she said.

Like Vasquez, Sandoval has already gained experience overseas as an undergraduate. She traveled to South Africa in 2011 through a community-based learning course organized by F&M’s Ware Institute for Civic Engagement, and is currently participating in Advanced Studies in England, F&M’s summer program in Bath, England.

“I don’t want to be well-versed in only one area or field, so when I heard about the program in Bath, I thought it was the perfect way to learn about another country,” Sandoval said. “I’m not only learning how another country works, but living it.”

When she is on American soil, Sandoval is an active student on the F&M campus. She is co-president of S.I.S.T.E.R.S., a club that provides support for women of all backgrounds to form a sisterhood of thoughtful, analytical and well-rounded women. She has been House adviser for two years in Weis College House, and also participates in Life After College Success, an F&M program that helps students define and achieve their post-college goals.

Sandoval credits Professor of Psychology Michael Penn and Student Development Adviser Stephanie Kessler for encouraging her through the Pickering application process.

“Melissa has the kind of mind that brightens intellectual discourse,” said Penn, who taught Sandoval in his “Nature of Hope” course. “She brings a certain illumination to the atmosphere of the class and the way she pursues knowledge. She is concerned about the condition of the world, but not in a depressed way. She’s very hopeful and optimistic and joyous.”

Vasquez, who still has an F&M Diplomats T-shirt from her undergraduate days, is proud to live up to her school’s nickname.

“Now I’m set up to be a real diplomat,” she said.

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