Boosting Minority Ranks in the U.S. Foreign Service
A State Department-Howard University program aimed at training minorities for diplomatic duties overseas bears fruit.
By Jamal Watson
Several years ago, while enrolled at Howard University, Dionandrea Shorts was well on her way to becoming an engineer. Her career ambitions took a drastic turn, however, after she enrolled in an international relations course at the university and realized that she wanted to live and work abroad. Next March, the 24-year-old Denver native will do just that as she heads to Lima, Peru, where she will work as a Foreign Service Officer.
Shorts is a Rangel Fellow, chosen for a highly selective program started in 2002 by U.S. Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., to encourage more minorities to enter the U.S. Foreign Service.
Each year, dozens of graduating minority seniors vie for a coveted spot in the graduate program, administered by the Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center on Howard’s Washington, D.C., campus and overseen by the U.S. State Department. Rangel Fellows each receive tuition grants of $28,000 a year toward graduate studies.
In addition, they travel overseas, intern at U.S. embassies and in Congress and receive mentoring specifically designed to prepare them for careers in the Foreign Service.
All Rangel Fellows must meet rigorous State Department entry requirements, which include passing a detailed background check.
The fellowship program has enjoyed bipartisan support in U.S. Congress, yielding $5 million in appropriations. It has also received financial support of more than $1 million from the MacArthur Foundation and the Euna Cox Foundation. Several universities provide supplemental tuition assistance if the fellowship does not cover all of the students’ graduate school costs.
Shorts, who completed her master’s in global finance, trade and economics at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of International Studies earlier this year, worked last summer at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. In advance of that trip, she and other Fellows took international relations classes at Howard.
“I had a lovely experience in Honduras,” says Shorts, who is taking Spanish classes in preparation for her two-year assignment in Peru, where she will work in the political department at the U.S. Embassy. “The program has given me an international perspective on politics in the world.”
The Rangel Fellows Program recently saw its first graduating class become FSOs. Earlier this month, eight Fellows and 84 other junior FSOs were sworn in by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Two other Fellows were sworn in earlier this year in separate ceremonies at the State Department.
Shorts says she considers Rice her hero, and attended Rice’s alma mater for graduate school. Several years ago, Shorts met Rice’s predecessor, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had been a staunch advocate of the program from the beginning.
“This is a dream come true to see these young men and women, who are among the brightest and most talented, poised to represent our country overseas,” says Rangel. “Ever since I’ve been in Congress, the absence of minorities in our embassies and official offices has been astounding. I commend Secretary Rice for being part of the beginning of the effort to correct that.”
Ruth A. Davis, the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Benin from 1992-1996 and an advisor for the Fellows program, was one of its earliest supporters. She played an instrumental role in garnering support for the program from the State Department.
“I think the program is working wonderfully,” says Davis, who is now the chief of staff and senior advisor in the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs. “The Foreign Service is the best kept secret in Washington, D.C., and we are getting out and finding young minority Americans and giving them the opportunity to serve.”
A group of new Rangel Fellows, like Florida-native Brandon Jackson, anticipate the day when they will raise their right hands and take the oath to become a Foreign Service Officer.
“I hope to be assigned in East Asia, but to be honest, I am so excited that I will go anywhere,” says Jackson, a student in Georgetown University’s Graduate School of Foreign Service. He is on schedule to earn a master’s in international business and government relations.
Jackson and the other Fellows say that the program has provided them with access to powerbrokers that they never would have ordinarily met.
“If you strive hard and set goals, there are programs out there that will accommodate young Black men,” says Jackson, a Fulbright Scholar who went to Korea in 2003 after earning a bachelor’s from Cornell University. Rangel says the large volume of applications to his program is evidence that minorities are interested in international relations. The program averages 100 applications per year for only a few spots in the program.
“I’m confident they’ll prove to everyone that they can be among the best diplomats our country ever produced,” says Rangel, who represents Harlem. “They’re going to make us all proud.”
The following Rangel Fellows were sworn in as Foreign Service Officers on Nov. 3, 2006.
Emilia Adams of Memphis, Tenn.: Graduate of Howard University and Georgia State University. Assigned to Mexico City.
Candace Bates of Mobile, Ala.: Graduate of Florida A&M University and the University of North Carolina School of Law. Assigned to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
Michael Fraser of Brooklyn, N.Y.: Graduate of Tufts University and New York University. Assigned to Panama City, Panama.
Breanna Green of Robbinsdale, Minn.: Graduate of Spelman College and American University; Assigned to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
Hala Rharrit of Casablanca, Morocco: Graduate of Georgetown University.
Assigned to Sanaa, Yemen.
Christen Rhodes of Merced, Calif.: Graduate of Denison University and George Washington University. Assigned to Berlin.
Dionandrea Shorts of Denver: Graduate of Howard University and the University of Denver. Assigned to Lima, Peru.
Chelsia Wheeler of Santa Fe, N.M.: Graduate of St. Johns College and American University. Assigned to Rangoon, Burma.
Thirty-two Rangel Fellows currently are studying for their graduate degrees, 10 of which are expected to join the ranks of the Foreign Service next year.
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