Category: Alumni, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Featured News, News, Students

Title: SFS Student and Alumni Pursue Careers in Foreign Service As 2021 Pickering and Rangel Fellows

Author: Paul James
Date Published: March 8, 2021

As the largest feeder school into the U.S. Foreign Service, the School of Foreign Service (SFS) is a top destination for undergraduate students looking to pursue diplomatic careers. This year, one SFS senior and two alumni will continue that legacy as recipients of the prestigious Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs and Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Graduate fellowships.

Alejandro “Alo” Garcia Escobar Plascencia (SFS’21) and Isaac Kim (SFS’20) are among this year’s Rangel Fellows, while Piyusha Mittal (SFS’18) received a Pickering Fellowship for 2021. Piyusha will join Georgetown alumnus Said Bilani (SCS’20) in the 2021 Pickering cohort.

“Since our founding, SFS has produced talented and committed graduates who have dedicated themselves to diplomatic service for the United States and their home countries around the world,” says SFS Dean Joel Hellman. “We are proud of this new group of SFS awardees, who will follow many SFS Hoyas before them in contributing to the diversity and dynamism of the State Department through the Pickering and Rangel fellowships. I wish them all the best as they prepare to represent our nation on the world stage.”

Both fellowships prepare students for careers as foreign service officers by providing financial support for two years of graduate study in international affairs, as well as mentoring and career development opportunities, including two internships for fellows as they prepare for diplomatic service. The programs aim to promote greater diversity within the U.S. State Department and welcome applications from groups underrepresented within the agency, including people of color, women and those with financial need.

The recipients will receive appointments as foreign service officers following their graduate study and have committed to a minimum of five years of service at the institution.

Piyusha Mittal pictured wearing a purple hiking jacket, white sweater and blue denim jeans. She is pictured standing in front of a vista of snowcapped mountains in the sun, leaning against a railing.
Piyusha Mittal (SFS’18) took advantage of many international opportunities at SFS, which inspired her to pursue a career in diplomacy.

Finding Inspiration at Georgetown

Mittal (SFS’18) knew that moving to Washington, D.C. to study at SFS would be a big change from life in her North Carolina hometown, but her long-held interest in international affairs motivated her to take the plunge.

“I saw how students and alumni were thinking critically about bringing together people from different backgrounds to find creative solutions to the biggest problems facing our world,” she says, “and I knew I wanted to be a part of that work.”

She adds, “I’m so grateful that I took a leap of faith and committed to an SFS education.”

Mittal, a culture and politics major, says her international experiences at Georgetown inspired her to pursue a career abroad. 

Through a Critical Language Scholarship, Mittal was able to study Urdu in Lucknow, India in the summer between her junior and senior years. Immediately after graduating, she worked as an English teacher in Andorra through a Fulbright grant.

“These experiences were instrumental in giving me the context I needed to make a decision about whether a career in the U.S. Foreign Service was for me,” she says.

As a student, Mittal co-founded the Georgetown’s Women in Faith student group, which convenes students of different faith backgrounds to reflect on compassion, leadership and cross-cultural learning. She also explored religion in society through internships with the Pew Research Center and the World Faiths Development Dialogue.

“It was some of the most meaningful work I did as a student,” Mittal says. “Seeing the lasting impact of that work deepened my commitment to diplomacy and inspired me to pursue the Pickering Fellowship.”

Headshot of Alejandro Garcia Escobar Plascencia (SFS'21). He is wearing a dark sweater, collared shirt and colorful tie and stands in front of blue siding and foliage.
Alejandro Garcia Escobar Plascencia (SFS’21) has dedicated himself to the study of international communities, and what happens when they break down.

Fostering Peace and Cohesion Through Diplomacy

Community has always been a “central force” in the life of Garcia Escobar Plascencia. 

“I grew up surrounded by aunts, uncles and cousins who had no blood relation to my family at all. As a child, I experienced the full benefits of a healthy and united community,” he explains. 

At Georgetown, Garcia Escobar Plascencia committed himself to studying what happens to societies when community breaks downs. 

“I decided to pay attention to the maximum manifestation of a community coming apart — genocide,” he says.

Through a class taught by Cynthia Schneider and Derek Goldman, co-directors of the Laboratory for Global Politics and Performance at SFS, the culture and politics student had the opportunity to travel to Cambodia and listen to survivors share how the Khmer Rouge perpetrated genocide in the country. 

The SFS alumnus later participated in a study abroad program in Kigali, Rwanda, where he talked with survivors of the 1994 genocide and learned more about how to rebuild civil society after violence from communities on the ground.

Garcia Escobar Plascencia believes that listening is one of the best tools at a diplomat’s disposal, and he plans to deepen his understanding of the communities he will work with as a foreign service officer to help foster peace in regions around the world.

“I hope to continue learning about communities in the way that seems most effective: being present and listening,” he says. “I know the Foreign Service will afford me that opportunity, and I am especially looking forward to learning new languages and meeting new people.”

Headshot of Isaac Kim. He is pictured in front of a white wall wearing a dark grey suit, with a dark-colored tie and a white pocket square.
Isaac Kim’s (SFS’20) experience interning with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and advocacy work inspired his interest in economic security and diplomatic inclusion.

Pursuing His Passion

Rangel Fellow Kim hopes to build on the experience he gained at Georgetown in his work at the State Department. 

The international politics major arrived on the Hilltop as a transfer student. He had a passion for refugee advocacy and the study of migration, having volunteered as a tutor for resettled refugees before he got to Georgetown.

Kim travelled to Sweden to study the experience of refugee children through the SFS Centennial Lab class Refugees and Child Migrants taught by professors Elizabeth Ferris and Katharine Donato.

While at Georgetown, he also completed an internship with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 

Kim and Sylvia Amegashie (MSFS'19) stand together wearing business attire and conference lanyards. Their background displays the Georgetown University logo and the logo of the Georgetown Africa Business Conference
Kim, pictured here with Sylvia Amegashie (MSFS’19), worked as the logistics lead for the Georgetown Africa Business Conference.

Kim also had the opportunity to explore a regional focus through a certificate in African studies, which enabled him to delve into an interest in business and entrepreneurship in East Africa. 

In his final two years at Georgetown, Kim served on the planning committee for the Georgetown Africa Business Conference, which highlights the impact of the private sector on the continent.

This range of experiences will serve him well as a future diplomat, Kim says. “I was pushed to study the African continent from a whole range of perspectives – anthropology, history, political science and others,” Kim explains. “The confluence of these different lenses taught me lessons on emphasizing individual agency in policymaking and the fact that unintended consequences will always accompany policies.”

“As a foreign service officer, I’d like to work diplomatically in advancing economic security for refugees and other migrants worldwide,” he adds. “My long-term goal would be to pursue a more inclusive diplomacy where these historically underrepresented voices actively shape policy decisions.”

Amplifying Diverse Voices

The need to incorporate a range of perspectives into policy development is one that is recognized by the Pickering and Rangel programs themselves, with both fellowships aiming to bring greater diversity into the State Department’s foreign service officer cohorts.

Mittal wears a purple dress and graduation cap and gown. She is standing in Georgetown's front circle in front of Healy Hall.
A co-founder of Georgetown’s Women in Faith student group, Mittal plans to continue building interreligious dialogue in her work at the State Department.

Mittal hopes to continue her work on interreligious dialogue as she embarks on this new stage in her career and believes that her own experiences as a woman of color will demonstrate the benefits of inclusivity.

“I am particularly excited to work on mitigating religious conflict and fostering safe communities for people of all backgrounds,” she says. “As somebody who represents a different face of America, I am honored to have the opportunity to showcase this strength in our diversity as I serve abroad.”

The representation of people from a range of backgrounds is something Kim also recognizes as vital to attracting new talent to the State Department. 

While at Georgetown, he interned with the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at SFS and worked on the institute’s Diverse Diplomacy Series, which brings diverse foreign service officers and career diplomats to share their career stories and advice with students. 

“Representation is powerful and hearing from foreign service officers of color was empowering to visualize myself in a diplomatic career,” Kim recalls. “Throughout my career in the Foreign Service, I hope to advocate for a more diverse diplomatic corps that better represents the United States.”

Garcia Escobar Plascencia and other college-aged advocates hold up a paper chain of butterflies in front of the U.S. Capitol Building at a 2017 protest calling for the continued protection of DACA recipients.
Garcia Escobar Plascencia, pictured here at a rally for undocumented Americans, encourages students to pursue their passions and chart their own paths.

Garcia Escobar Plascencia is keen to convey to his fellow students that future diplomats can emerge from a range of backgrounds and experiences. He emphasizes the importance of recognizing alternative pathways for students who may not know exactly what they want to do in their career when they first arrive at college.

“I actually didn’t really know anything about the Foreign Service until later on in college. On top of that, I didn’t know whether I was actually ready to follow this path until I received the acceptance email,” he explains.

He hopes that his experience serves as an example to other students who might be looking to find their own ways into diplomacy. 

“Everyone needs to chart their path independent of what everyone thinks your path should be,” he stresses. “You should pursue the classes you want, the experiences you want, anything you believe is going to leave you better off and make you a better learner.”

For more information about the Pickering and Rangel fellowships, and other fellowship opportunities, please visit the Center for Research and Fellowships.