U of A Graduate Awarded Prestigious Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship

Samantha Tafoya
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Samantha Tafoya

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Samantha Tafoya, from Siloam Springs, a 2018 University of Arkansas graduate, has been awarded a Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship following a highly competitive nationwide contest.

The Fellowship supports extraordinary individuals who want to pursue a career in the U.S. Foreign Service. It is funded by the U.S. Department of State and managed by the Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center at Howard University.  

“We are truly thrilled and excited that Samantha Tafoya will be joining the Pickering Fellowship Program,” said Lily Lopez-Mcgee, director of the program. “She demonstrated outstanding academic achievement, leadership and commitment to service during her time at the University of Arkansas. These experiences bode well for her success through graduate school and in the Foreign Service as well. I look forward to seeing all that she will accomplish in her career.”

As an Honors College student Tafoya majored in political science, journalism and African-American studies in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, with a minor in anthropology. She graduated cum laude in the spring of 2018.  She studied abroad in South Africa, Mozambique, Swaziland, and Durban. For her honors research project, she produced a documentary and manuscript on the convergence of Cape Town, South Africa’s new urban development plan and the country’s national land allocation policies. She received the Elizabeth Fulbright Study Grant and an Honors College Study Abroad Grant to support her efforts.  She also participated in research with the College of Engineering Planet Forward and served as a research assistant for the U of A’s pilot of the Emerging Leaders Study for the Arkansas Sociological and Anthropological Association. 

“Sammie Tafoya is an amazing student who has embraced a long list of opportunities and leadership roles on our campus,” said Chancellor Joe Steinmetz. “I could not be more pleased that she has received this recognition and support. She is very deserving. The Pickering Fellowship is an incredibly competitive and distinguished award that will help launch Ms. Tafoya toward a significant career in the Foreign Service. She has been an excellent representative of our campus, of her college, and of her departments. She will excel in the Pickering Program, and we all extend her a hearty congratulations on a job well done.”

Samantha Tafoya has experience working on West and East African programs for Search for Common Ground, a peacebuilding international non-government organization based in Washington, D.C. Her work consisted of research, proposal development, and program reporting and evaluation. She particularly focused on human rights, leadership capacity building for women, and countering violent extremism in communities affected by the Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab. She also has experience implementing youth development programs for a local non-government organization and writing political news stories for the Sunday Times in Cape Town. Her interest in conflict resolution and the development and governance of post-conflict societies have led her to a master’s program at Middlebury Institute for International Studies at Monterey, Vermont.

“Since beginning studies at the University of Arkansas my highest goal has always been to serve in the U.S. Foreign Service,” Tafoya said. “Through political science and African history courses, I was able to expand my knowledge of historical conflicts and U.S. foreign policy, but I never imagined my aspirations of becoming a foreign service officer would unfold shortly after graduation. With this fellowship I will be able to expand my knowledge of policy and countering violent extremism, while receiving skills training and mentorship from the Pickering program.  As part of the fellowship, upon completion of my master's program I will begin work as a foreign service officer. From there I aim to utilize my experiences and interests in policy and conflict resolution to promote peace and prosperity around the world.”

The Thomas R. Pickering Fellowship will also provide extensive professional development opportunities, including internships, mentors, and skills training. As part of the Pickering Program, Tafoya will have a summer internship in 2020 with the State Department in Washington, D.C. The following summer she will be sent overseas to gain hands-on experience with U.S. foreign policy and the work of the Foreign Service.

The University of Arkansas has had one previous Pickering recipient. Clint Shoemake received the award in 2014. He has just finished a two-year tour as the Human Rights and Religious Freedom Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta and will be heading to the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa in 2019.

The Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship Program welcomes applications from members of minority groups historically underrepresented in the State Department, women, and those with financial need. The program values varied backgrounds, including ethnic, racial, social, and geographic diversity, based on the fundamental principle that diversity is a strength in our diplomatic efforts.

More information can be found online.  University of Arkansas students interested in applying for the Pickering should contact the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards:  awards@uark.edu/479-575-3771.


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