David L. Boren Fellow develops career focus at Department of Defense

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Penn State School of International Affairs student Omwattie Nerahoo has been working with the U.S. Department of Defense as part of the David L. Boren Fellowship, an opportunity that is preparing her for a career in international development.

Nerahoo, who is also SIA’s Bunton-Waller Scholar, said the prestigious Boren fellowship has opened new possibilities for her career.

“Eventually, I would like to work in international development at an NGO or an IO,” said Nerahoo, 24, who studied political science as an undergraduate in her home state of Minnesota prior to finding her way to SIA.

“I was very excited about the opportunities that the Boren Fellowship would give me - such as the opportunity to study in a different country, the chance to learn a new language (Turkish), and develop a regional specialty.”

The Bunton-Waller Scholarship is given to students from various backgrounds who enhance the broad and diverse student population at Penn State with their demonstrated academic potential. Nerahoo was nominated based on her previous academic performance, an internship she held with the State Department, and the perception that she would succeed at SIA.

“Reception of the Bunton-Waller Scholarship showed me that SIA believed in my abilities enough to invest in my education entirely,” Nerahoo said. “The Bunton-Waller Scholarship also gives me, frankly, financial freedoms that I never thought I would have while in graduate school.”

Boren fellowship cultivates commitment to U.S. national security

Through the Boren fellowship, Nerahoo is participating in the National Security Education Program, an effort by the Defense Department to encourage the study of cultures and languages that U.S. students often overlook. She was able to expand her regional knowledge about not just Turkey but also the Caucasus. Most of the languages that the NSEP sponsors are not widely taught at U.S. universities.

Nerahoo credited SIA career adviser Grant Littke with encouraging her to apply for the Boren Fellowship after she expressed interest in learning a new language in graduate school. She added that SIA Interim Director Elizabeth Ransom’s coursework helped her make more intentional and calculated decisions about her career.

“Omwattie embodies the characteristics Boren looks for in participants – a deep commitment to U.S. national security, a curiosity about and willingness to engage with unfamiliar regions of the world, and a willingness to take academic and professional risks,” Littke said.

Nerahoo added that Career Services at SIA advised her through the Boren application process. Staff counseled her on her application, such as general advice and essay editing and how the fellowship would affect her academic path, so she could commit her Boren responsibilities without impacting her other studies.