Inaugural Fellowship Immerses Community College Students in U.S. Global Affairs Ecosystem


Community College Global Affairs Fellows, Meridian fellowship staff, and USAID Counselor Clinton White at the CCGAF Reception on June 28, 2023 at Meridian House. Photo by Jess Latos.

The Community College Global Affairs Fellowship’s Summer Enrichment Program in Washington, D.C., offered an immersive experience for a cohort of 29 community college, transfer, and non-traditional students over a two-week period in June 2023.

Designed to enhance their understanding of professional practices, diplomatic skills, and real-world applications, the program provided participants with a unique opportunity to engage with practitioners, visit the institutions that shape foreign policy in the nation’s capital, and develop essential skills for their future careers in international affairs and beyond. The Summer Enrichment Program (June 18 – July 1) is supplemented by the Virtual Mentorship Program (July 1 - August 28), comprised of weekly virtual sessions focused on professional development and connecting students with opportunities and networks vital for their career in international affairs.

The Community College Global Affairs Fellowship was made possible through the generous support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. A partnership between Meridian International Center, Community Colleges for International Development, and Global Community College Transfers, the program's core objectives centered on empowering community college students with practical knowledge, expanding their networks, and fostering a deeper appreciation for the inner workings of various institutions and opportunities in international affairs. By combining diplomatic skills training with hands-on experiences, the fellowship program equipped students with the skills necessary to thrive in a dynamic and complex globalized world.

With the nation’s capital as their backdrop, throughout the two weeks, the fellows engaged in a diverse range of activities and opportunities. The fellows heard firsthand from Ambassador Marcia Bernicat, Director General of the Foreign Service at the U.S. Department of State, on the importance of diverse students from various backgrounds getting engaged in foreign policy.  On Capitol Hill, they engaged in private, small-group conversations with Rep. Young Kim (CA-40 (R)), Rep. Ami Bera (CA-6 (D)), and Rep. Don Beyer (VA-8 (D)).

They collaborated and exchanged ideas with peer groups of young, bright leaders in Washington, DC. Working alongside the scholars from the “Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Summer Enrichment Program,” the fellows were challenged to work together to come up with new ideas to solve complex global health challenges.

And while most fellows have not yet had the opportunity to travel or study outside the United States, they were able to get an insider perspective on life abroad from 60 European students’ participating in the State Department’s SUSI for Student Leaders from Europe exchange program that Meridian administers. The cohort also got to turn the tables on mentorship and share some advice with DC high school students that are a part of Global Kids-DC, an initiative aimed at developing active global citizens.

Global Kids-DC and CCGAF fellows after their mentorship session at Catholic University.
Rangel Scholars and CCGAF fellows collaborate on how to solving pressing global health challenges at Meridian House.

In a session hosted at the National Endowment of Democracy, led by Black Professionals in International Affairs (BPIA), fellows heard from White House National Security Council’s Director for Global Food Security and Development Planning, Farah Barrios.

In a speed convening session, students met with representatives of five different international exchange programs: Amideast, CulturalVistas, JET Program, Marshall Scholarship, and Meridian’s U.S.-Korea Exchange. The fellows were exposed to many more pathway and scholarship opportunities aimed in international affairs including the Rangel, Pickering, Boren, Fulbright, Critical Language Scholarship, Virtual Student Federal Service, and more. In addition to meetings with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureaus for Education & Cultural Affairs (ECA), and Global Talent Management (GTM), fellows also heard from experts at the Peace Corps, United Nations, World Bank, OECD, U.S. Department of Commerce, Council on Foreign Relations, and others in the field. They visited the Embassy of Argentina and heard from foreign diplomats on their time serving in the United States and on the inner workings of an embassy. These interactions allowed the fellows to witness firsthand the practical application of their academic pursuits and provided a platform for meaningful discussions and mentorship.

The program also focused on the development of core diplomatic skills, recognizing the critical role of effective communication, negotiation, and collaboration in achieving professional success. Through tailored training sessions, workshops, and simulations, the fellows honed their abilities to navigate diverse environments and engage in productive dialogue. The training also featured expert guest speakers including Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Paul Dean, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, U.S. Department of State who shared his expert advice on negotiations. These diplomatic skills trainings served as a foundation for building relationships and forging connections with peers, professionals, and mentors.

The Community College Global Affairs Fellowship is founded on the idea of creating an inclusive and supportive environment for those from underserved backgrounds interested in a career in international affairs. The 29 students, representing 11 states, and 22 community colleges, brought their diverse backgrounds and perspectives, fostering a vibrant fellowship community that encouraged dialogue, collaboration, and the exchange of ideas. Furthermore, the fellowship program has the potential to have a ripple effect in the inaugural cohort’s communities and academic institutions. As these students return to their local campuses and communities, they become ambassadors of global affairs, spreading awareness of pathways and opportunities, and inspiring others from similar backgrounds to engage in international affairs.

In addition to individual and community-level impacts, the Community College Global Affairs Fellowship 2023 contributes to broader systemic change. By recognizing the important and powerful capacity of community college students to become the leaders of tomorrow and providing them with access to opportunities in the field of global affairs, the program challenges traditional notions of who can and should be involved in shaping global discourse. It promotes diversity and inclusivity by ensuring that voices from underrepresented backgrounds are heard and amplified in the global arena. This emphasis on inclusivity, in all senses, helps to dismantle barriers and create a more equitable space for young professionals in international affairs.

By empowering community college students and equipping them with the knowledge, skills, and networks needed to navigate global challenges, the Community College Global Affairs Fellowship program hopes to usher in the next generation of American diplomacy.

Project summary

Inaugural Fellowship Immerses Community College Students in U.S. Global Affairs Ecosystem | July 2023
Number of Visitors: 29
Impact Areas: Foreign Policy, Youth Leadership Development
Program Areas: Diplomatic Engagement