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- by  Abby Weingarten

Making history this year, New College alum Naimul “Naeem” Chowdhury is the first-ever Novo Collegian to become a Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Graduate Fellow.

The highly competitive program, administered by Howard University, provides recipients with two years of scholarship support to pursue master’s degrees in fields of study that will prepare them for careers as Foreign Service Officers for the U.S. Department of State.

“I would like to make a lifetime career out of public service, and to represent the diverse backgrounds and perspectives of Americans abroad,” said Chowdhury, who graduated from New College in 2018 with a mathematics area of concentration and will begin work with the Rangel program in the summer of 2021.

Chowdhury also studied in the data science graduate program, was a former office assistant for the International and Area Studies Program, and is a current teaching assistant in the Chinese Language and Culture Program for all three levels of Mandarin.

The Rangel fellowship will support Chowdhury through two years of graduate study, internships, mentoring and professional development activities. The summer schedule has yet to be finalized, but Chowdhury plans to begin work in Washington, D.C. from mid-May to late July.

“The selection process was very competitive, and you should be very proud of your achievement,” wrote Patricia Hanigan Scroggs, director of diplomatic fellowships for the Rangel program, in her official acceptance letter to Chowdhury. “As a Foreign Service Officer, you will be a representative of your country and will have an opportunity to make a difference in the world.”

That has always been Chowdhury’s objective, and he looks forward to embarking on this work.

“There would be no greater honor than to serve my country and my community as a Foreign Service Officer, representing the United States in a position that utilizes my analytical skills, foreign language aptitude, and enthusiasm for creative problem solving to tackle our nation’s pressing global challenges,” Chowdhury wrote in his Rangel statement of purpose. “I am an American citizen of mixed heritage, with parents from Puerto Rico and Bangladesh. My mixed heritage, coupled with challenges I faced in my youth, have armed me with resilience, resourcefulness and flexibility in the face of obstacles. High-pressure, chaotic environments invigorate me and pull my strengths to the surface. Poverty, hunger, and discrimination have not stopped me from achieving the goals I set for myself.”

Chowdhury went on to explain that his training in mathematics at New College placed truth, logic and reason at the center of his worldview. He also acquired four years of Mandarin education in two years through the Critical Language Scholarship Program of the U.S. Department of State (among other related language-learning experiences).

“Now more than ever, our government needs officers with knowledge of data analysis, data ethics and the enormous impacts they impose on our society,” Chowdhury said. “As a Foreign Service Officer, the mission of creating a culture of quantitative awareness will be one of my greatest assets.”

Observing the contrast between life under the democracy of Taiwan and the socialism of China inspired Chowdhury to pursue public service. Through the Virtual Student Foreign Service, he served as a leader among four interns—managing scheduling and applying creative problem solving in the context of the Chinese Great Power Competition.

Between now and May, Chowdhury will be interning for the U.S. Embassy Canberra, conducting research on the Chinese Communist Party’s disinformation and malign influence in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. Chowdhury is also collaborating with fellow U.S. Department of State and New College alumni Miles Iton ’14 and Donovan Brown ’13 on the Lo-Fi Language Learning Arts ‘n EFL Training Program. The three alumni are training a small group of artists to apply their musical talents in the English classroom, while simultaneously offering them a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification.

Chowdhury’s Rangel fellowship includes a five-year commitment to the U.S. Department of State as a Foreign Service Officer, during which time Chowdhury hopes to play a role in increasing data literacy in the Department’s political cone. He also wants to apply the programming and data analysis skills he learned at New College to add data-driven analysis to policy research, he said.

“New College’s environment has fostered my intellectual curiosity and creative problem-solving skills,” Chowdhury said. “Every step of the way, I’ve been encouraged by my classmates and professors to pursue my passions.”

One of those instructors is Jing Zhang, Ph.D., an associate professor of Chinese Language and Culture, and the director of the International and Area Studies program at New College.

“What really distinguishes Naeem from many other excellent students I have had here is his social and emotional maturity,” Zhang said. “He had an unconventional path with higher education.”

After dropping out of high school in 2007, Chowdhury completed a General Education Development (GED) test, spent years living on his own, worked toward an associate of arts degree from State College of Florida in 2011, and ultimately became the first person in his immediate family to earn a bachelor’s degree.

“His experience of the real world had clearly given him a much clearer goal in pursuing college education, and made him much more motivated and proactive in finding opportunities and resources,” Zhang said. “He never takes those opportunities for granted. He is always thinking of giving back to his community.”

Duane Smith, Ph.D., assistant director of prestigious fellowships and scholarships for New College’s Center for Career Engagement and Opportunity (CEO), noted just how incredible Chowdhury’s achievement as a Rangel fellow is. The program, which is open to fourth-year students and recent graduates, seeks to diversify the Foreign Service by encouraging members of historically underrepresented minority groups—as well as those with financial need—to apply.

In 2002, former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, former U.S. Representative Charles B. Rangel and Howard University President H. Patrick Swygert announced the program. The name honors Rangel’s longstanding support for “showing the world the diversity that is the strength of America.” The program is managed by the Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center at Howard University and funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of State.

This year, there were more than 1,000 applicants for the Rangel fellowship, of whom approximately 90 were invited to participate in a two-part screening process (which involved having the candidates complete a writing assignment and undergo an interview), Smith said.

The award provides up to $42,000 annually over a two-year period for tuition, room, board, books and mandatory fees in connection with graduate studies. It covers two internships: one in the summer before graduate study (in which recipients work on international issues for members of Congress in Washington, D.C.); and another that allows recipients to work overseas in a U.S. embassy or consulate during the summer between the first and second years of graduate study. Fellows also receive up to $10,000 of support each summer.

“The applicant numbers for the Rangel fellowship and the amount of the award are substantial,” Smith said. “But the opportunity to study, to engage with the world, and to prepare to play a leading role in U.S. foreign policy—that’s priceless.”

For more information on scholarships and fellowship opportunities at New College, contact Duane Smith at 941 487-5002 or [email protected]

Note: On January 19, 2021, Chowdhury formally withdrew from the Rangel Fellowship. He was accepted to Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, and he will instead be pursuing a Master of Arts in International Studies at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. The program is held for two years in Nanjing, China, and requires a minimum of nine courses per year to be taken in Mandarin. Chowdhury hopes to ultimately enter a non-partisan think tank, analyzing security issues related to China.

Abby Weingarten is the senior editor in the Office of Communications & Marketing.