Fellowship gives students head start on technology career

By Allison King

With academic funding from the U.S. Department of State, three community college graduates are on a path to earn their bachelor’s degree and to embark on an exciting career in the Foreign Service.

Jolene Farley (Riverside Community College), Chad Peterson (Wake Technical Community College) and Prince Uduka (Central Piedmont Community College) were amongst the 15 individuals selected for the 2022 cohort the Foreign Affairs Information Technology (FAIT) Fellowship.

As one of the State Department’s premier diversity recruitment programs, the two-year fellowship program focuses on attracting top technology talent to the Foreign Service that reflects the diversity of the United States. The program is specifically designed for individuals who want to pursue an IT-related bachelor’s or master’s degree and a career in the Foreign Service as an information management specialist (IMS).

Overcoming the financial barrier to a four-year degree

Because the FAIT Fellowship seeks individuals from diverse backgrounds and who have financial need, community colleges are a key source of talented candidates for the program. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, more than 50% of community college students identify as persons of color and 46% are from the bottom income quartile of the U.S. population.

The latest research from the Community College Research Center reveals that 80% of entering community college students say they want to earn a bachelor’s degree or higher, but only 31% actually transfer to a four-year institution within six years. Of those who transfer, only 15% earned a bachelor’s degree within six years. In an RP Group survey, community college students say their biggest obstacle to transferring to a four-year institution is cost.

The FAIT Fellowship program significantly reduces the financial burden of a four-year institution by providing academic funding for the student’s junior and senior years of college. Fellows receive up to $37,500 annually in academic funding for two years, which covers tuition, books, mandatory fees and room and board.

Providing the college to career pathway

Another significant obstacle that the FAIT Fellowship program helps students overcome is the college-to-career transition. In a 2021 Cengage survey of 1,600 recent graduates from two-year and four-year colleges, half of the students felt underqualified for entry-level jobs. Graduates often find that their courses didn’t prepare them for the technical and practical skills they would need in their first jobs. A Bain & Company study reports that employers are reluctant to spend time and resources training talent when the pace of innovation is so fast.

The FAIT Fellowship program is designed to create that path from academics to real-world skills. Fellows get hands-on IT experience during two summer internships: a domestic internship in Washington, D.C., and an overseas internship at an embassy or consulate. Plus, they are assigned a mentor for the entirety of the fellowship program, and they receive professional development training.

The program is unique in that it has both an undergraduate and graduate fellowship, providing up to $37,500 annually in academic funding for the junior and senior years of a bachelor’s degree program, or a two-year master’s degree program. All fellows – undergraduate and graduate – experience the two summer internships, professional development, and mentorship.

After the FAIT Fellows complete the fellowship program, earn their degrees, and meet the State Department requirements, they receive appointments in the Foreign Service as Information Management Specialists to begin an exciting career serving diplomacy through technology.

“The FAIT Fellowship program truly sets students up for success, not only through the financial support to earn their degrees, but also through the hands-on experience in their internships and through the mentoring they receive,” says Patricia Boerner, FAIT Fellowship program manager with the State Department. “We want to attract the best technology talent from diverse backgrounds, and we know how important it is to provide ongoing training. It’s a win-win because diversity within our technology team makes our diplomatic efforts even stronger.”

Since the beginning of the FAIT Fellowship program with the 2017 cohort, 28 fellows have taken courses at community colleges during their academic career. Of those, 15 earned their associate degrees. Read more about the FAIT Fellows on the FAIT Fellowship website.

Allison King

is director of digital marketing at The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars

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