Surayya Diggs ’17 was recently awarded the prestigious Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship, which supports “extraordinary individuals” in their pursuit of a foreign service office with the U.S. Department of State.
The highly competitive fellowship — Diggs selected as one of 30 fellows nationwide — will fund “approximately $95,000 in benefits over a two year period and give her the opportunity to represent her country overseas,” according to the press release.
Diggs said her experiences at Cornell helped shape her decision to pursue a path in diplomacy.
As part of the Becker/Rose Café series held by West Campus’s Carl Becker House, where Diggs lived her sophomore year, a British diplomat, Matt Woods, came to campus to speak about his experiences working abroad, interacting with global leaders and tackling policy issues.
“That was really the moment where I began to look into the Foreign Service and was interested in what a career like that would look like,” she said.
After attending this event, Diggs said she applied to a study abroad program in Geneva, Switzerland that focused on diplomacy and international relations. During the final month of the program, Diggs conducted independent research on the Greek debt crisis.
“[The project] really allowed me the opportunity to take a deep look into an economic structure like the European Union and Eurozone and what impact that had on Greece,” she said.
Diggs credited two classes she took in her freshman year — “Macroeconomics” and “Perspectives in International Agriculture and Rural Development” — for piquing her interest in economic policy.
“[The classes] just provided a different way of viewing the world that I had never had before, and I just became really interested in economics as a tool to bring people out of poverty and to create economic development,” she said.
Diggs also said that going to Ethiopia for four weeks over a summer with the International Youth Leadership Institute was her first experience traveling to a developing country and made her aware of global economic issues.
“That experience specifically taught me there are huge disparities between developing and developed countries and I don’t it’s think fair for … somebody to grow up in a place and have less economic or job opportunities just because of where they are born,” she said.
Diggs said she believes diplomacy and policy can be effective in helping to address these problems of economic inequality.
“Development and policy is a way … to even the playing field where, even if you are not lucky enough to be born where there are a lot of resources, policy should be there to still provide those opportunities,” she said.
As part of the fellowship, Diggs will be spending this summer working on Capitol Hill, which she called “a really exciting opportunity to learn how national policy and domestic policy influences foreign policy.”
Upon completion of her Master’s degree in International Development, Diggs will also become a U.S. diplomat through the program.
“My ultimate career goal is to be an ambassador and it starts off by being in the Foreign Service and working my way up,” she said.
If she were to give advice to other students interested in pursuing careers in diplomacy, Diggs recommended taking courses in economic and statistics, as well as seizing opportunities to travel and study abroad. Diggs emphasized how much she enjoyed and learned from her experiences traveling to developing countries.
“It was exciting for me to be able to challenge myself in that way and it really just taught me to be adaptable and not take things too seriously and just be open minded and things are not going to be the same wherever I travel as in the U.S.,” she said.