Senior Jamal Edwards was one of 10 undergraduate students nationwide named a 2015 Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellow by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.
Edwards, a Robertson scholar interested in pursuing a career in the Foreign Service, will receive financial support toward his senior year and first year of graduate school and participate in one domestic and one overseas internship as part of the fellowship. The fellows—10 undergraduates and 20 graduates—will also complete a minimum of five years of service as Foreign Service officers.
“It’s super unreal that through this scholarship, I get to tie in every experience I’ve had as an undergraduate and directly apply it to the real world,” Edwards said.
A global health and journalism double major, Edwards explained that he has been interested in public service for a long time—a passion closely connected to his global health studies at Duke. His desire to be a Foreign Service officer stems from his internship last summer with the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS in Geneva in the Governance and Multilateral Affairs unit.
He said that throughout the internship, he was able to observe foreign policy work and see how his interest in media could be put to good use.
The fellowship's initial application process—which began in January with essays, recommendation letters and interviews—was followed by a finalists' day in Washington, where the 20 undergraduates selected were asked to complete a written exam and more interviews.
“It was a very intense day to say the least,” Edwards said. “The best part though was that I got to meet really interesting people who had traveled all over the world.”
The application process coincided with a hectic semester for Edwards, who served as the Black Student Alliance president during the 2014-15 academic year.
He said that serving as BSA president was one of the "most challenging and character-defining experiences" he has had at Duke—noting that it was especially difficult to balance his own processing of racial issues on campus while simultaneously deciding how BSA would respond.
Edwards, a first-generation college student from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., said he wishes to be transparent about where he comes from and that he wants his experiences to help open doors for others who might not think their dreams are achievable.
“I went from never imagining Duke was possible to being so involved at Duke, while still staying the same me,” he said. “It makes me excited for whatever’s in the next chapter.”
Lysa MacKeen, assistant director of fieldwork operations at the Global Health Institute, who helped advise Edwards’ UN internship, noted that that Edwards is a determined individual who cares about everyone around him and about creating networks of support.
“I suspect we will hear a lot from him in the future,” she said.