Junior Wins Foreign Affairs Information Technology Fellowship

 Andrea Olavarrieta, a soon-to-be junior at Rutgers–New Brunswick, is studying Korean in Seoul.
Andrea Olavarrieta, a soon-to-be junior at Rutgers–New Brunswick, is studying Korean in Seoul.
Courtesy of Andrea Olavarrieta

The award culminates with an appointment in the U.S. Foreign Service as a diplomatic technology officer

Andrea Olavarrieta, with her knack for languages, tech savviness and eagerness to see the world, has landed the opportunity of a lifetime. 

The Moonachie, N.J., resident – a soon-to-be junior at Rutgers University–New Brunswick who is majoring in information technology and informatics with a minor in critical intelligence studies – is one of 15 individuals selected by the U.S. Department of State for the Foreign Affairs Information Technology Fellowship 2024 cohort.  

Under the fellowship, which is funded by the United States Department of State, Olavarrieta will receive up to $43,500 annually in academic funding for the remaining two years of her bachelor’s degree program at Rutgers–New Brunswick. 

Andrea Olavarrieta is studying abroad in Seoul, the capital of the Republic of Korea.
Andrea Olavarrieta is studying abroad in Seoul, capital of South Korea.
Courtesy of Andrea Olavarrieta

“I feel very, very thankful for it,” said Olavarrieta, a 19-year-old aspiring cartoonist who is the only student from Rutgers and one of 10 people selected for the undergraduate fellowship (the other five recipients are in the graduate program). “Honestly, I'm still processing that I was in fact chosen for this. But I think in a way I also feel like this is definitely something that I am meant to do.” 
A student of the Rutgers School of Communication and Information, Olavarrieta said through the fellowship she’ll be applying her information technology expertise as well as her language skills. 

“I'm multilingual and I've always wanted to put my language skills to use and as well as use them in my daily job,” said Olavarrieta, who speaks three languages. “And I think this fellowship is going to prepare me for that exactly.” 

For the past three months, Olavarrieta has been abroad in Seoul, South Korea, where she is studying Korean as an exchange student at Yonsei University until she returns to the U.S. at the end of June. 

“I do have an interest in Korean pop culture, which I think has been on the rise lately, but I've also become very interested in the way technology shapes Korea,” said Olavarrieta, who is fluent in Spanish and plans to learn more languages. “I think it's very innovative and I wanted to see that here. As an example, a lot of things are electrical here, like the most unexpected things, even a bus stop will have heated seats.” 

The New Jersey native, a second-generation U.S. citizen of Colombian and Salvadoran descent, will receive professional development and mentoring during the fellowship, which will include two summer internships with stipend support: a domestic internship at the Department of State in Washington, D.C., and an overseas internship at a U.S. embassy or consulate. 

Moreover, Olavarrieta will receive an appointment in the Foreign Service as a diplomatic technology officer upon completion of the fellowship and meeting the Foreign Service entry requirements. 

“We change posts every two to three years,” said Olavarrieta, adding the program pays for language training as well as extensive information technology training. “You get placed in different consulates or embassies around the world. I'm very excited to be able to learn languages in this way.” 

The application process for the fellowship is highly competitive, said Allie Miyazaki, director of digital marketing for The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars, a nonprofit organization that partners with federal agencies to offer paid internship programs. 

Organizers of the fellowship said they seek to draw top technology talent “that represents the ethnic, racial, gender, social, and geographic diversity of the United States” and encourages applications from women, minority groups historically underrepresented in the Foreign Service and those with financial need. They described Olavarrieta as having “a passion for incorporating information technology with illustration, design and foreign languages.” 

I'm multilingual, and I've always wanted to put my language skills to use and use them in my daily job. And I think this fellowship is going to prepare me for that exactly.

Andrea Olavarrieta

Soon-to-be junior at Rutgers–New Brunswick 

“As a student in my ‘Introduction to Critical Intelligence Studies’ course, Ms. Olavarrieta demonstrated a strong interest in blending her IT expertise with her desire to work in service to the common good,” said Ava Majlesi, an associate professor of professional practice with the Department of Political Science at the Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences.  

Majlesi, who is the director of the Center for Critical Intelligence Studies, said part of the center’s mission “is to inspire our diverse student population to consider, and prepare them for, careers in government service – with a focus on national security.” 

“This fellowship is a perfect vehicle for her to utilize her various skill sets and demonstrates the government’s recognition of not only her motivation and hard work during her time at Rutgers, but also the importance of her unique combination of technology, language and artistic skills,” Majlesi added. “While change can be slow, the federal government’s commitment to encouraging women and traditionally underrepresented groups to join its workforce is a fantastic step in the right direction.”

During high school, Olavarrieta concentrated in information technology as she had previous experience in video and media editing.  

“I initially thought, ‘I don’t think this is for me,’ since I was more on the creative side,” she said. “I originally wanted to be a cartoonist – or just anything with design, illustration, all that sort of thing. I thought it was more like computer science, very technical, but I was drawn to how it's very much communication-based and it puts a lot of emphasis on facilitating the use of technology in daily life and a human connection.  

“That's why I've continued – because I think it's a very flexible and a very broad field and I like something that gives me room to express myself or to interact with people or help them in some way they're using technology.” 

After the fellowship and appointment, “I definitely see myself traveling or living and working abroad,” said Olavarrieta, adding that she wouldn’t mind returning her focus to another passion: cartooning. “I used to be very focused on just cartooning. And I think if I have the chance, I would like to delve back into this skill and get better at being a cartoonist.” 

Olavarrieta credits Greg Keelen, a middle school social studies teacher at Robert L. Craig School in Moonachie for “encouraging me to express myself creatively using technology and guiding me to my academic path today” and John Cash Jr., who teaches computer science, digital arts and social studies at Dwight Morrow High School and its technical school, the Academies at Englewood, for “influencing my career path and passion for information technology.” 

As for the fellowship, “I feel like this opportunity is something that very well represents me what I want to do,” she said.