A Randolph College alumnus has been named a 2015 Thomas R. Pickering Graduate Foreign Affairs Fellow by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. Youssef Elkei ’13 is one of just 20 students nationwide to receive the honor. Ten other students received the undergraduate fellowships.
Administered for the U.S. Department of State by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, the highly competitive Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowships develop a source of men and women whose academic backgrounds fulfill the skill needs of the State Department and who are dedicated to representing America’s interests abroad.
Elkei, who was a global studies major, is the second Randolph student to earn the honor. He will attend Georgetown University in the fall. Denise Rosalind Zavras (Denise Sewell) ’08 was the recipient of the undergraduate fellowship in 2006.
Graduate Fellows receive financial support towards a two-year, full-time master’s degree program in a field related to international affairs and diplomacy at one of nearly a dozen institutions nationwide.
Fellows in both programs also participate in one domestic and one overseas internship, receive mentoring from Foreign Service Officers and must complete a minimum five-year service commitment as a Foreign Service Officer. Fellows must meet all Foreign Service entry requirements to remain in the program.
“This is absolutely life changing,” said Elkei, who has dreamed of joining the foreign service for years. The Pickering Fellowship will put him on the fast track to meeting that goal. “It’s about service to me. I could have gone to law school or business school and gotten a job that would make me a lot of money. But that’s not what I want. The foreign service is a career like no other. It’s about service, just like the name says. And you are with some of the best people. The selection process is so difficult that you know that everyone in the field is there for the long run. They are intelligent and passionate, not just about service but about foreign service.”
The 2015 Fellows have demonstrated skills critical to members of the U.S. diplomatic corps, including dedication, initiative, integrity, cultural adaptability, the ability to communicate well, and a thorough intellectual background.
The Undergraduate Fellows are completing majors in fields such as international service, political science, and regional and comparative studies. They are the 22nd class of Pickering Undergraduate Fellows and will receive financial support towards their senior year and first year of graduate school. The members of the 19th class of Pickering Graduate Foreign Affairs Fellows have completed degrees in mathematics, Chinese, sociology, and anthropology, among other fields.
Randolph might be a smaller school without the name recognition of some big universities, but Elkei believes the academic foundation and experiences he received at Randolph helped prepare him for the Pickering Fellowship. During college, he participated on the Model United Nations team and spent a semester abroad at Randolph’s program in Reading, England.
“At Randolph, you are special. You feel unique,” Elkei said. “Professors see the potential in students and give them the tools they need. At large universities, sometimes they don’t even know your name.”
Jennifer Dugan, a Randolph political science professor was not surprised to learn of Elkei’s accomplishment. “He has vast intellectual abilities, which he strengthened by taking advantage of opportunities afforded to him by his Randolph education, including mentored research, active learning, and hands-on diplomacy training,” she said.
Elkei’s senior paper, for example, “Oil Wealth and Development: A Model for Predicting Sociopolitical Advancement in the Middle East,” had both a theoretical and functional design. In it, he analyzed the effects of variables, including the nature of political and social institutions, on the sociopolitical advancement in selected countries. During his senior year, he also designed and led a crisis simulation for Randolph students. He incorporated – and taught others to use – appropriate technology that expanded students’ diplomatic toolboxes and enabled them to engage in increasingly intense levels of negotiation. Finally, as a two-time delegate on Randolph’s National Model United Nations team, Elkei conducted deep research and became a skilled negotiator on complex issues, including religious intolerance and promoting order for regimes in transition.
“Youssef has high-level capacities to succeed in a variety of international careers, and the Pickering is a recognition of his potential and determination to succeed,” Dugan said.
The mission of a U.S. diplomat in the Foreign Service is to promote peace, support prosperity, and protect American citizens while advancing the interests of the U.S. abroad.
The Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship Program is named in honor of one of the most distinguished and capable American diplomats of the latter half of the 20th century. Ambassador Pickering holds the rank of Career Ambassador, the highest rank in the U.S. Foreign Service. He served as Ambassador to Nigeria, El Salvador, Israel, India, and the Russian Federation, finishing his career in the Foreign Service as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs.