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Student, Recent Alums Awarded Foreign Service Fellowships

Rangel, Payne Graduate Fellowships Fund Master’s Study, Lead to Overseas Appointments

By Ellin Chung

Mariama Cham ’24, Yacine Bai ’19 and Julie Choi ’18

From left, Mariama Cham ’24, Yacine Bai ’19 and Julie Choi ’20.

Three Terps committed to protecting women’s health, promoting sustainability in agriculture and helping political refugees have been awarded prestigious U.S. State Department graduate fellowships to prepare for careers in the Foreign Service.

Mariama Cham ’24 and Julie Choi ’20 were among 45 recipients of the 2024 Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship, while Yacine Bai ’19 was among 30 recipients of the 2024 Donald M. Payne International Development Fellowship. Both fellowships provide up to $104,000 for a two-year master’s degree along with overseas and domestic internships, then an appointment as a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Department of State (Rangel) or the U.S. Agency for International Development (Payne).

Since 2011, UMD has had 10 Rangel Fellows, and one Payne Fellow, a program created in 2012.

"Our three State Department fellowship awardees have taken outstanding advantage of the on-campus and D.C.-area opportunities available to Maryland students," said Francis DuVinage, director of the National Scholarships Office. "They have pursued their passion for international affairs through their studies, internships and student activities, and we're proud to see their accomplishments recognized with these career-making awards."

Cham, a government and politics major with an international relations concentration, plans to study intercultural and international communication at the American University School of International Service. An immigrant from Sierra Leone, Cham was inspired by her father’s commitment to civic engagement, whether attending city council meetings, volunteering and donating to local organizations (including those supporting the Muslim community in Prince George's County) or encouraging voting. Following a 2022 internship with the office of U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer ’63 of Maryland, Cham was selected to join the UMD Global Fellows in Washington, D.C., internship program. That led to another internship at the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon.

Upon her return, she interned with World Learning’s International Visitor Leadership Program, the professional exchange program of the U.S. Department of State. Cham has also been active at UMD, holding leadership positions in the Student Government Association, serving as a teaching assistant for U.S. Diplomacy & Policy Making and as a research assistant to John McCauley, associate professor of government and politics.

Cham is a sustainability minor, and one of her priorities in the Foreign Service will be to incorporate sustainability and agriculture into serving U.S. citizens and improving relations between the United States and other countries.

“The movement toward sustainability is not a singular movement, it’s global. What is our place in this transition?” she said.

After graduating from UMD with a double-major in government and politics and history, Choi was a Rangel Scholar, then worked in advocacy for about a year with the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area, researching and publishing articles on Asian American topics during the rise in anti-Asian sentiments.

She is now a Fulbright U.S. Student Program English teaching assistant in South Korea, from which she emigrated at age 3 with her parents. After a third year in this program working with North Korean defectors, she will begin a master’s program in Fall 2025.

Choi’s main goal in the Foreign Service is to help broaden the voices that represent the United States abroad and reflect the rich diversity of the country. “It’s a huge advantage to have a diverse nation, and we need to use that. I want to encourage other Asian Americans, especially women of color, to join the Foreign Service.”

With a strong passion for international health, Yacine Bai, who earned her B.S. in public health science and a minor in global poverty, aspires to work for the Foreign Service as a population/health/nutrition officer. Currently a senior associate at Family Planning 2030, United Nations Foundation, she plans to pursue an M.S. in Public Health in global disease epidemiology and control at Johns Hopkins University.

As a refugee from Côte d’Ivoire who came to the U.S. at the age of 5, she is driven to support countries facing challenges like her homeland’s. She minored in global poverty and interned at the Congressional Hunger Center and the U.S. Agriculture Research Service, which honed her focus on nutrition and women’s health. Bai also participated in the Global Fellows in Washington, D.C., program.

In the Foreign Service, Bai sees the opportunity to connect different sectors, and USAID is an especially large organization where this may be achieved. “I like the variety, the ability to work in different fields.”



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