Not too many people can claim to be the first recipient of a fellowship award at their college, but that isn’t the case for current Stony Brook University senior, Lydia Senatus. This past November, Lydia was awarded the prestigious 2018 Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship, which is funded by the U.S. Department of State and managed by the Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center at Howard University. The fellowship provides opportunities for students interested in pursuing a career in the U.S. Foreign Service. Lydia was interested in the fellowship program given her passion for foreign affairs and diplomacy, but there’s more to Lydia’s story and what inspired her to apply.
Before ever knowing about the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship and thinking about whether she should apply, Lydia had a different decision to make: where to attend college. After careful consideration and doing her research on different schools, Lydia was drawn to SUNY and Stony Brook University.
“Like many students who apply to SBU, I was attracted to their rigorous science programs. Upon entering college, I was on the pre-medical track but changed my path to majoring in Economics and minoring in International Studies & Business Management after my freshman year. I decided to attend SBU because it is a state school and it is significantly more affordable than many private institutions.”
Another deciding factor was one of Stony Brook’s many student resources, the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), which provides access, academic support, and financial aid to students who show promise for succeeding in college. Lydia notes that she might not have been able to attend Stony Brook and thrive there if it weren’t for the institution’s EOP.
“EOP/AIM took a chance on me and I am forever indebted to them. Without EOP I would not have the chance to attend this stellar university and gain access to opportunities that have contributed to my success.”
“EOP has helped me with breaking down the financial barriers to my success through grants and stipends for tuition, books, and even waiving the fee for my study abroad application. I studied abroad in June 2016 in Wuhan, China.”
It was during her time in China that Lydia was notified of her acceptance to another prestigious program: the Jewish Foundation for the Education of Women (JFEW) SUNY Scholars Program in International Relations and Global Affairs. JFEW, a two-year academic program that includes scholarship funding, monthly academic seminars, and a paid summer internship, afforded Lydia opportunities to learn more about international relations and global affairs and made her an even more competitive candidate for the Rangel Fellowship.
Dedication to her studies and passion for social justice also bolstered Lydia’s fellowship application.
“Lydia is a creative and relentless scholar who asks the hard questions about inequality and injustice, and a human being who is passionately committed to connecting with people across borders and boundaries. How lucky for the world that her focus is on making a positive difference for communities in need,” said Abena Asare, assistant professor of Modern African Affairs at Stony Brook.
Of course, deciding to apply for such a sought-after fellowship is a process and takes careful thought and consideration.
“I applied for the fellowship in September, was selected as a finalist in late October and invited to D.C. to complete the interview process, and in mid-November, I was selected as a 2018 Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Graduate Fellow,” said Lydia.
“I was drawn to the Rangel Fellowship precisely because of the opportunities it offers: to enrich my education with real-world internships; and, even more importantly, to join a diverse community of mentors and fellow scholars united by a commitment to tackle the nation’s and the world’s most pressing challenges.”
Lydia will have the chance to tackle our nation’s current challenges this summer through an internship, which is provided by the fellowship, with a member of Congress. Lydia shares, “Although I do not know which member of Congress I will be working with as of yet, I am excited to be working on Capitol Hill with our nation’s politicians as they influence U.S. foreign policy.”
After the summer 2018 internship is finished, Lydia has a plan in place to achieve her future goals, “I plan to attend graduate school concentrating on economic and social development. I hope my experience on Capitol Hill as a foreign policy fellow will further prepare me for my graduate studies.”
Lydia goes on to share with us what excites her most about foreign affairs and why she chose to pursue a master’s and career in this field.
“As a first-generation American, I have always been deeply curious about the world beyond the United States and through all of my experiences, in and outside the classroom, in the U. S. and abroad, I developed a passion for public service and diplomacy.”
For those wanting to follow in Lydia’s footsteps or wanting to achieve their goals, Lydia suggests staying true to yourself and what drives you.
“Do not let other people’s opinions deter you from actively pursuing your dreams and goals. As I looked for support to prepare my graduate school applications, many people attempted to dissuade me from immediately attending graduate school and strongly suggested that I take a few gap years before applying. But I knew that I wanted to go directly to graduate school and I knew I wanted to become a Rangel Fellow and worked tirelessly to do just that.”
Julie is the assistant director for student mental health and wellness for SUNY System Administration.