From Southwestern to Senegal

Magassa credits her Southwestern University experience with planting the seeds of her international journey. At SU, she majored in international studies, with a regional focus in Africa and a disciplinary focus in political science.

Peace Corps nutrition training in Senegal “Southwestern’s interdisciplinary approach equipped me with a deep understanding of global issues and the ability to critically analyze them,” Magassa explains. “My studies ignited a passion for international work, inspiring me to apply for the Peace Corps. I served as a Preventative Health Volunteer in Senegal, which marked the beginning of my journey towards meaningful international service.”

After Senegal, Magassa returned to her hometown, New York City, and continued her commitment to community-oriented work as a case manager and later as a domestic volunteer coordinator for the Sauti Yetu Center for African Women and Families. Later, she joined the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), where she served as a strategy coordinator, focusing on high-level organizational work. While she valued her time at HCZ, she says, “I couldn’t ignore my desire to return to international work and grassroots efforts. This realization marked the beginning of my journey towards graduate school and ultimately the Pickering Fellowship.”

Graduate school and the Thomas R. Pickering Fellowship

While researching funding opportunities for graduate school, Magassa discovered  the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Graduate Fellowship. Funded by the U.S. Department of State and administered by Howard University, the Pickering Fellowship offers a unique opportunity to promote positive change in the world. Upon successful completion of a two-year master’s degree program and fulfillment of Foreign Service entry requirements, fellows have the opportunity to work as Foreign Service Officers at a U.S. embassy, consulate, or diplomatic mission around the globe.

“The more I explored,” Magassa remembers, “the more I realized that this fellowship was the perfect opportunity for me. It offered the chance to create long-lasting international relationships, influence hearts and minds, and represent the rich diversity of the United States as a Black Muslim American.”

The Pickering was the bridge to graduate school and the long-lasting career she had been searching for, and the competition would be fierce.

“I dedicated around three months to crafting a compelling application,” Magassa recalls, “while simultaneously working on my graduate school applications. When I was selected as a finalist, I spent approximately a week preparing for the three-part, in-person interview. It was an intense but rewarding experience. A month later, I received the life-changing news that I had been chosen as a 2020 Thomas R. Pickering Fellow.”

Kadidiatou Magassa's graduation from Columbia Admission to Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs for a Master of Public Administration in Development Practice followed quickly on the heels of her Pickering selection, and when Magassa graduated in May 2022, she was ready to embark on the next chapter of her journey: serving with the U.S. Department of State. For the first 10 months, Magassa dedicated herself to learning Arabic - a critical skill for her role - in the State Department’s Foreign Language Institute, before beginning her first assignment as a Foreign Service Officer in Djibouti.

“The Thomas R. Pickering Fellowship has been a pivotal turning point in my life,” Magassa reflects. “It has not only enabled me to receive a world-class education but also to embark on a meaningful and impactful career with the U.S. Department of State. Through the fellowship, I have been able to represent my country and its rich diversity, and I am grateful for the opportunity to make a difference in the world.” 

Advice for aspiring Pickering Fellows

To fellow Pirates who aspire to apply for one of the State Department’s fellowship programs, including the Pickering, Magassa offers the following advice:

  • Start Early: Begin your research and application process well in advance. Dedicate time to crafting a compelling application that showcases your passion and qualifications.
  • Seek Guidance: Don’t hesitate to reach out to university career centers (at SU and in grad school) for guidance and support. They can help you with the application process and provide valuable insights.
  • Prepare Thoroughly: If you become a finalist, prepare diligently for the in-person interview. Be ready to demonstrate your commitment to international affairs and your potential as a future Foreign Service Officer.
  • Stay Committed: The journey may be challenging, but don’t give up. Perseverance and determination are key to securing the fellowship and pursuing a rewarding career in international diplomacy.
  • Embrace Diversity: The Pickering Fellowship seeks to represent the diverse voices of America. Embrace your unique background, experiences, and perspectives, as they are your strengths.

For more information about the Pickering or other fellowship opportunities, visit or contact Alexandra Anderson, fellowship advisor in the Center for Career & Professional Development, at