Young Alumna Awarded Prestigious US State Department Fellowship

Photo of UC Davis alumna standing near the Quad and wearing her graduationstole
Nina Forest, who graduated in June 2020 with a major in international relations and minor in Chinese, is headed toward graduate studies and a future career in the U.S. Foreign Service with the support from a Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship. (Photo courtesy Nina Forest)

Recent graduate Nina Forest is unsure where in the world her UC Davis bachelor’s degree in international relations will take her. But after receiving a prestigious national scholarship, she knows how she’ll get to professional destinations around the globe — via a career in the U.S. Foreign Service.

Forest is the recipient of a 2021 Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship, funded by the U.S. Department of State and managed by the Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center at Howard University. She is the first UC Davis Aggie to receive the highly selective award since the program was launched in 1992 to diversify the nation’s diplomatic corps.

The fellowship will provide Forest up to $42,000 annually for two years to complete a master’s degree in international affairs — followed by the chance to work at least five years as a Foreign Service officer in Washington, D.C., or at U.S. diplomatic missions around the globe.

“It’s kind of crazy to have the next seven years of my life planned out,” said Forest, who graduated last June. “I felt like after graduation I had nothing planned out. All of a sudden, I have so much planned.”

Daughter of immigrants and former Miss Idaho

A first-generation American, Forest said she would especially welcome Foreign Service assignments in Europe and China where she has family ties. Her father, a physics professor at Idaho State University, is from England, and her mother, also a physicist, hails from Chengdu in China’s Sichuan province. “But I’m pretty open. I just want to go where there is a need,” she said.

Forest’s experiences as Miss Idaho 2018 and a Miss America contestant (she finished in the pageant’s top 10) fostered her interest in public service. She took 2018-19 off from her UC Davis studies to serve as Miss Idaho. “Getting to serve my community and my state as Miss Idaho, making a small impact, has really led me to want to create even broader impacts as a diplomat,” she said.

Highly competitive award

Lily Lopez-McGee, director of the Pickering Fellowship Program, said in a statement that Forest demonstrated “outstanding academic achievement, leadership and commitment to service” during her time at UC Davis. “These experiences bode well for her success through graduate school and in the Foreign Service as well. I look forward to seeing all that she will accomplish in her career.”

In addition to her degree in international relations, Forest minored in Chinese. Outside the classroom, she worked for two U.S. congressmen and a Bay Area agricultural technology startup company.

She currently works from her family’s Idaho home as a public affairs and real estate intern for New York firm BerlinRosen, while waiting to hear admission decisions from graduate programs.

As a Pickering Fellow, Forest plans to pursue research on the most effective methods of distributing foreign assistance — expanding on a term paper topic that earned her an honorable mention in UC Davis’ Prized Writing competition last year.

The Pickering Fellowship Program will also place her in two internships — one in summer 2022 with the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C., and the other in summer 2023 with the Foreign Service overseas. “There are so many blessings that come with being a Pickering Fellow that I’m still trying to learn,” she said.

Forest said she hopes to spend more than the minimum five years in the Foreign Service. “I’m quite a restless spirit. I’ve always loved traveling, being spontaneous, understanding things that have been previously unknown to me — which is what makes the whole career and mission of being a diplomat really appealing to me. I’m excited to not know where I'll be in five years. That keeps the job interesting.”

— Kathleen Holder, content strategist in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science

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