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University of Michigan alum Cydney Gardner-Brown was awarded a 2022 Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship by the Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center at Howard University in November 2021.

The program is highly selective and sends students to the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Service once they successfully complete the program. If they are in accordance with foreign service entry requirements, Rangel fellows are named Foreign Service Officers and are sent around the world to work as foreign ambassadors for the U.S. for a minimum of five years.

The Rangel program aims to financially support students who are planning on participating in a graduate program to study foreign affairs at approved graduate programs that are based in the U.S. Additionally, the program allows students to work internships and collaborate with a Foreign Service Officer mentor. 

In 2022, the Rangel Program accepted Gardner-Brown and 44 other fellows, who are simultaneously applying to graduate schools to study a variety of subjects related to international affairs. 

Gardner-Brown received her bachelor’s degree in Public Policy from the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy when she graduated from the University in 2021. During her time as an undergraduate student, Gardner-Brown interned on Capitol Hill as a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation congressional intern in the office of U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich., and interned at the Detroit Justice Center

“The University of Michigan definitely prepared me for this kind of opportunity, especially just through the network of the Ford School (…),” Gardner-Brown said. “When I found out about this opportunity, I had to do a lot of research to figure out if it was something that was really a match for me, but it was sort of through conversations (… with) the … ambassador (for the Ford School) who’s working there right now, Ambassador Susan Page. I had  conversations with her and I had conversations with Ford School on career advice.” 

Gardner-Brown said the University of Michigan prepared her well to begin her career in foreign policy.

“My academic background, what I actually studied at the Forest School, was transferable really to any kind of policy field.” Gardner-Brown said. “The sort of writing that we learned how to do, the way that we learned how to analyze policy. Even the undergraduate level was preparation within itself, where any student in the Ford School will feel comfortable jumping between different policy sectors and doing well.”

Gardner-Brown told The Michigan Daily that she applied to the fellowship program due to the financial support it offered along with the opportunity to serve in the U.S. Department of State as a Foreign Service Officer. 

“It’s an awesome career opportunity,” Gardner-Brown said. “The financial support for grad school is a huge, huge plus. It’s a drawing factor. And that was something that drew me in, to know that I’d be able to go get a graduate degree and be supported through that, but then also to have the opportunity to serve as a diplomat for some fraction of my career.”

Beth Soboleski, the associate director of student & academic services at the Ford School of Public Policy, spoke about the University’s partnership with the Rangel Program.

“Periodically, I get the list of the people the finalists for the Rangel fellows and we actually have a current master’s student who’s a Rangel fellow as well,” Soboleski said. “So, I was simply delighted when Cydney was selected for the Rangel fellowship because I think it’s just a terrific opportunity. And there’s only 45 selected across the country, so it’s really quite an honor.”

Gardner-Brown said she hopes to use the experience she gains as a Rangel fellow to encourage diversity in foreign service. 

“Being a Black female diplomat (and) a Black diplomat, in general, is something that is exciting for me,” Gardner-Brown said. “The opportunity to be representative (as) an ambassador from the city of Detroit and an ambassador to the world from the University of Michigan is something that I’m really passionate about and really excited about.”

Gardner-Brown has applied to graduate programs and is currently waiting to hear back from universities before she decides where her academic journey will take her next. She said she is also looking forward to participating in Rangel Fellowship fellowship programming and preparing to start an internship on Capitol Hill.

“For Rangel fellows, our first summer internship is a congressional internship on Capitol Hill,” Gardner-Brown said. “So we get placed, obviously, on a committee in the House or in the Senate. So that’s my next step.”

Michael Vesay, the senior advisor for diplomatic fellowships at Howard University, was in the first cohort of Pickering Fellows, the sister program to the Rangel Fellowship, about 30 years ago. Vesay spent 24 years as a U.S. diplomat working around the world in places such as Lagos, Nigeria and Mexico before spending time at the University of Michigan advising Rangel scholars. Vesay said he enjoys working with the programs because he wants to provide other students with the opportunity to start careers in foreign service. He advises fellows such as Cydney Gardner-Brown through their participation in the Pickering or Rangel Fellowship programs.

“After 24 years as a U.S. diplomat serving around the world, I found this opportunity to come back and sort of pay it forward,” Vesay said. 

Vesay said the Pickering Fellowship program, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2022, and the Rangel Fellowship program, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2022, were created to increase diversity within the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Service.

According to Vesay, the definition of diversity for selecting fellows extends beyond those who identify with ethnic or racial minorities and includes all minority identities in the U.S. Vesay said communities from different geographic locations, LGBTQ+ individuals, tribal communities and any other minority community are all encouraged to apply for the fellowship. 

“What we noticed that the Pickering and Rangel fellows bring is not only diversity in terms of how they look, or their preferences, but in terms of what they bring to the table when we’re discussing foreign policy issues,” Vesay said.

Currently, one in nine diplomats are graduates of the Pickering or Rangel fellowship program and these programs have been essential in bringing about a more diverse U.S. State Department, Vesay said. The program also supports increasing perspectives to the Foreign Service. He also said the program is very competitive, with about 1,000 applicants for each program every year. 

“We still have diversity challenges at State, and I think our fellowships lead the way in terms of addressing the issue of diversity (and) inclusion in (the Department of) State, but these issues are multifaceted,” Vesay said. We’re still trying to find ways of working with State, even beyond this program, in terms of how we can recruit a more diverse talent pool and retain them.” 

Daily Staff Reporter Rachel Mintz can be reached at mintzrac@umich.edu.