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Front Page - Friday, February 10, 2023

A first for UTC: Lola Oke awarded Rangel Fellowship

Lola Oke, a Brock Scholar and political science major, has had a decorated academic career at UTC. - Photo by Angela Foster and courtesy of UTC

Another year means another prestigious award for Lola Oke.

Oke, a political science major and Brock Scholar in the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Honors College, is the first UTC student to be awarded a Charles B. Rangel Graduate Fellowship.

She was one of 45 fellows selected nationwide for the 2023 cohort.

Rangel Graduate fellowships support individuals who want to help formulate, represent and implement U.S. foreign policy through a career in the Foreign Service of the U.S. Department of State.

Oke will receive up to $84,000 for a two-year master’s degree, paid internships in the U.S. Congress and either a U.S. embassy or abroad, and mentoring and professional development opportunities.

She’ll begin orientation at Howard University in Washington, D.C., following graduation in May.

“I’ll be participating in a program that first and foremost was meant to diversify the space of diplomacy, the U.S. Department of State and foreign relations in general, and the voices that can contribute to that,” Oke says. “I’m grateful to be able to contribute my own experiences and perspectives but also grow as a political thinker and as a global citizen.”

Oke, a 2019 graduate of Campbell High School in Smyrna, Georgia, has had a decorated academic career at UTC.

She was the first university student to be accepted into the Fulbright Canada Mitacs Globalink program in 2021, an international education experience under the Fulbright umbrella intended for U.S. students to work with a Canadian institution.

Oke was also one of 20 collegiate undergraduates selected from more than 1,200 applicants as a 2021 Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Summer Enrichment Program Scholar.

In addition, as a recipient of a Public Policy and International Affairs Junior Summer Institute Fellowship, she spent the summer of 2022 at Princeton University in a rigorous academic graduate-level preparation program for undergraduate juniors committed to public service careers.

While Oke’s parents are of Nigerian descent, she was born in Chicago and her family moved to the Atlanta suburbs when she was 5 years old.

“I don’t come from a family of politicians or bureaucrats or diplomats,” she says. “But I’ve always been passionate about servant leadership and public service in every sense of the word – and how different parts of our world can be more empathetic to each other.”

The Rangel Graduate Fellowship includes a 10-week internship on Capitol Hill this summer and a 10-week overseas internship at a U.S. embassy or consulate during the summer of 2024 between the first and second years of graduate school.

Oke said the fellowship program, established in 2003, is essentially a seven-year obligation; after completing a master’s degree program, Rangel Fellows have a five-year commitment to be a foreign service officer with the U.S. Department of State.

“The fellowship’s mission is not only to develop exceptional foreign service leaders but also to diversify foreign service,” says Leslie Pusey, director of the UTC Office of National Scholarships. “This fellowship is about preparing the whole person for the next steps – and this will launch Lola into all the areas she wants to be in the foreign service.

Dr. Michelle Deardorff, the Adolph S. Ochs professor of government and department head of political science and public service at ITC, calls Oke “a very thoughtful and creative thinker.”

“She has the confidence to take the intellectual leaps often necessary to be successful in these kinds of programs,” Deardorff says. “She doesn’t just reiterate what she thinks people want to hear but instead relies on her own experiences, the observations she’s made and the things she’s learned in her classes.

“Lola doesn’t wait for things to happen to her; she creates and grows her own opportunities and is working toward the career goals she’s set for herself.”

Fellows who complete the program and Foreign Service entry requirements will receive appointments as foreign service officers.

Oke, who’s interested in a few master’s programs, says she hopes being the UTC’s first Rangel recipient will set a precedent for anybody to believe in their capacity to be a change-maker at the college level.

“I want to be a change-maker; I want to be a servant.”

Source: UTC