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Mason alum receives prestigious Thomas R. Pickering Fellowship for foreign service

December 16, 2019   /   by Pam Shepherd

Mason alumna Oumama Kabli has received the Thomas R. Pickering Fellowship to enter the Foreign Service. Photo provided.

Oumama Kabli knew since she was in high school that she wanted to work internationally in education.

Kabli, a 2017 Mason graduate and Army National Guard veteran, recently learned that she received the Thomas R. Pickering Fellowship to enter the Foreign Service. The Fellowship Program provides funding for graduate students as they prepare academically and professionally to enter the U.S. Foreign Service. The program creates a source of trained men and women from academic disciplines representing the skill needs of the U.S. State Department, who are dedicated to representing America’s interests abroad.

Kabli, a Toronto native who moved to the Northern Virginia area at age 17, transferred to Mason after graduating from Northern Virginia Community College because it offered a global affairs major with a concentration in the Middle East and North Africa and global governance.

She learned about the possibility of working for the Foreign Service from a guest speaker at Mason. Kabli said her interest grew as she took classes on subjects such as human rights and international law during her time as a Global Politics Fellow.

“It was the right environment for me to flourish in,” she said, “as Mason had great and supportive professors who gave me good advice and recommendations.”

One of those professors was LaNitra Berger, senior director of the Office of Fellowships in the Honors College. Berger encouraged Kabli to apply for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Award (ETA). Following graduation, Kabli received a Fulbright ETA, which allowed her to teach English at a public university in Morocco to first- and second-year students.

“My time in Morocco was the best experience I’ve ever had,” Kabli said. “I developed relationships with students and helped establish an English club at the school. It was also personal for me as my parents are from Morocco, and I was able to get in touch with my roots and meet family,” she said. “If it hadn’t been for Dr. Berger’s encouragement, I would’ve finished school and just worked. But she encouraged me to continue and not to sell myself short.”

Kabli will learn in March where she will attend graduate school this fall, with a concentration in international affairs, conflict resolution or security studies. She believes these areas will help her with managing and mediating relationships, as well as learn how to address sensitive issues and topics of contention—something Berger believes is key to Kabli’s success. 

“She is a citizen scholar, an activist… someone who cares deeply about Mason and global community. Oumama is the perfect example of what you can do if you have a strong moral compass and determination and are will to avail yourself to resources at Mason,” Berger said. “The qualities she possesses are definitely qualities that are needed in the world right now.”

Kabli is working as a contracts and grants officer at a nonprofit organization engaged in international education, training and development activities in the Middle East and North Africa. Kabli is also perfecting her Arabic language skills.  

“The Middle East is on the world stage and events that take place there determine trajectory moves the U.S. makes in response. Fluency will allow me to be an asset and to make a difference,” Kabli said. Following her first year of graduate school, Kabli will complete a domestic internship, likely with the State Department, and an international internship her second year either at an embassy or consulate. 

“It’s important for others to realize that no matter where they are from, it is in their hands to decide where they want to be in life and how to get there,” she said. “Seek out connections, opportunities and advice to make your dreams come true. If you’re not successful the first time, use your failures to be better the second and third or fourth time until get what you want.”

For more information about fellowship programs at Mason, contact Berger at lberger2@gmu.edu