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Three Virginia Commonwealth University alumni and one current student have been selected for the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship Program and the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Program. These highly competitive fellowship programs are funded by the U.S. Department of State to prepare outstanding young people for foreign service careers.

Arshelle Carter, who graduated in 2016 from the School of Business with a degree in international management and from the College of Humanties and Sciences with a degree in international studies; Tradgon Sexton, a 2021 French and international studies graduate of the College of Humanities and Sciences; and current student Michael Portillo, a senior majoring in economics in the School of Business, were named 2022 Pickering fellows. Kelly Nguyen, a 2020 political science and international studies graduate of the College of Humanities and Sciences, was named a 2022 Rangel fellow.

“VCU students and recent alumni continue to garner national recognition through programs such as the Pickering and Rangel fellowships,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “We are incredibly proud of Arshelle, Michael, Tradgon and Kelly, and we know that they will continue to represent VCU well as they pursue their graduate studies and eventually take their places in representing the United States abroad. We also hope their selection as Pickering and Rangel fellows will inspire other VCU students and alumni to work with our National Scholarship Office to pursue opportunities like this in the future.”

Each of the four recipients worked directly with the National Scholarship Office at VCU to apply for the fellowships. The office supports students and alumni who are interested in applying for prestigious national and international scholarships.

The Pickering and Rangel programs each select 45 candidates to become fellows. In the 2021-22 competition, more than 750 individuals applied to the Pickering fellowship. The three VCU applicants who were named Pickering fellows were the most of any public university in the country. Over 800 applications were submitted for the Rangel fellowship. Nguyen is the first VCU student or alum to be selected as a Rangel fellow.

“This was a culmination of several years of dedication and hard work,” said Jeff Wing, director of VCU’s National Scholarship Office. “Each of these Pickering and Rangel fellows have worked with the National Scholarship Office on multiple applications related to their long-term goals of becoming foreign service officers. Each of them built a deliberate and consistent record of experiences that led to this point. They should be applauded for their foresight and determination. We could not be more excited to see where this new opportunity will lead them.”

Upon successful completion of a two-year master’s degree program and fulfillment of foreign service entry requirements, Carter, Nguyen, Portillo and Sexton will have the opportunity to work as foreign service officers, serving in Washington and at U.S. embassies, consulates or diplomatic missions around the globe.

“Since attending a briefing about the foreign service in high school, I have always dreamed of becoming a diplomat,” Ngyuen said after receiving the news about becoming VCU’s first Rangel fellow. “My parents, Vietnamese refugees, came to the U.S. for the values and ideals that I would be promoting abroad, so I can’t think of a better way to serve my country. I am extremely grateful to have this opportunity to work on U.S. foreign policy while also diversifying the U.S. foreign service to be a more accurate representation of the U.S. population.”

Carter was a member of VCU Globe and a resident adviser. During her time at VCU, she was a member of the Student Government Association and the VCU Activities Programming Board. Carter interned with the State Department in Suriname as an undergrad. After graduating, she received a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Indonesia and spent almost three years there.

Portillo is a member of VCU Globe, Phi Gamma Delta, the Student Economic Association and Omicron Delta Epsilon Economic Honor Society. He was selected for a Boren Scholarship to study in Taiwan this year and is a candidate for a Fulbright to teach English in Uzbekistan next year. Portillo has also received a Gilman Scholarship (for study abroad) and has interned with the Department of State.

Sexton was involved in the VCU Vietnamese Student Association, VCU TRiO and ACCESS College Foundation. He was selected for a Boren Scholarship to study French and Wolof in Senegal. Sexton is currently teaching English in France.

Nguyen was a member of the VCU Honors College, the VCU Globe and a resident adviser. Additionally, Nguyen was a member of the Vietnamese Student Association and Alternative Spring Break. She was selected for the Critical Language Scholarship to study Portuguese, the Boren Scholarship to study Portuguese in Mozambique, and next year Nguyen will travel to Brazil to fulfill her Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship.

VCU’s only other Pickering fellow, Gai Nyok, was selected in 2013. After completing his master’s degree in economics at the University of Illinois and fulfilling the other requirements to join the foreign service, Nyok served the U.S. in Venezuela and Brazil. He is currently serving as the economic and commercial officer at the U.S. Embassy in Burkina Faso in West Africa.


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