Kendra Alvizures ’19 has been selected as a participant in the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship Program for 2021. The fellowship is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. She plans to start in Washington, D.C., in fall 2021. Upon the successful completion of the Pickering program and all foreign service entry requirements, Alvizures will become a foreign service officer with a five-year service requirement.
The program selected 45 fellows for the 2021 cohort and provides up to $24,000 annually funding for tuition, mandatory fees, along with a stipend of $18,000 per year for two years. Fellows must obtain graduate degrees in international affairs or a related subject such as public administration, public policy, international relations, business administration, economics, history, political science, communications, or foreign languages at a graduate school approved by the Pickering Fellowship Program. As far as Alvizures knows, she is the first selection from South Dakota.
“It still hasn’t sunk in yet that next fall I’ll be living in D.C. and going back to school,” said Alvizures, who was at work at First Premier Bank in Sioux Falls when notified. She is still choosing which university she will attend in fall 2021.
The selection comes after several months of work on applications, exams and interviews, but also after several years working toward a possible career with the State Department.
That work started when the Mitchell native pursued and completed bachelor’s degrees in political science, global studies and Spanish, which she accomplished thanks to advice from several faculty members and taking dual credit courses in high school.
“I seriously started considering a career in the State Department after my first semester at SDSU,” she said. “I had a few faculty members who were really invested in me and my goals. I knew it was my pipedream career, and never realized it was a possibility until I applied for this fellowship.
“It all goes back to the mentality that I’m from South Dakota and why would the State Department hire me? Especially when they have so many applicants who went to private schools on the coasts or in Texas?” Alvizures continued. “However, my selection is proof the State Department wants true diversity in candidates and accurately represent all parts of the U.S.”
Evren Celik Wiltse, an associate professor in the School of American and Global Studies, remembers talking with Alvizures that first semester and afterward. Despite currently being on sabbatical in Turkey, Celik Wiltse continued working with Alvizures on the application.
“I spent long hours talking with her about the viability of a career in foreign service. I believed she had great potential, and there's no reason to worry or be afraid of chasing your dreams. My point was to show her that things were within her reach. I tried to make her feel empowered and aware of her own strengths and capabilities,” Celik Wiltse said.
“When Jon Stauff (SDSU assistant vice president for international affairs) forwarded me the Pickering application info, I contacted Kendra right away,” she continued. “A couple of days ago she called me at midnight, Turkey time. I answered, thinking it's either very good news or something terrible had happened. She was super happy! She had received the fellowship, and it will change her life for the better. News like this makes everything worth it. I do hope she becomes an ambassador someday, and we all can be happy and proud that as SDSU, we had a slight role in her accomplishments.”
Stauff has worked with three other individuals who have been selected as Pickering Fellowship Program recipients. That insight prompted him to contact Celik Wiltse and offer application assistance to Alvizures.
“The Pickering Fellowship Program not only provides Kendra with substantial financial support for her graduate studies, but it also introduces her to a variety of accomplished professionals who will guide her toward a career of diplomatic service to our country,” Stauff said. “Kendra’s selection is testimony to her achievements as an SDSU student as well as a feather in the cap of SDSU’s School of American and Global Studies.”
In addition to the motivation provided by faculty members like Celik Wiltse, meeting former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright when she was at SDSU in 2015 provided Alvizures with more incentive. Albright’s visit was part of the Daschle Dialogue series, which has brought several individuals to campus to talk with former Sen. Tom Daschle ’69.
“I remember Dr. (Evren Celik) Wiltse saying I’d have the opportunity to meet Madeleine Albright, who had been a personal hero of mine,” Alvizures said. “To see that a woman like her cared about what was happening in South Dakota, it proved people in Washington do know we’re here and care about us. If a woman like Madeleine Albright, who was not born in the U.S., can work her way to be first woman secretary of state, there’s nothing to stop me in my pursuit of a career in the State Department.”
And thanks to the Pickering Fellowship, she is a step closer.