Pamela Hernandez has blazed a trail as a first-generation college graduate seeking to enter the Foreign Service
Growing up as the daughter of Mexican immigrants who came to the United States with very little and made her aware of hardships in the world, Pamela Hernandez always knew she wanted to help other people.
As a student at Rutgers, her awareness of the challenges women faced around the world grew, honing her interest in making a difference.
“My parents inspired me to study politics and talked about the struggles they faced growing up impoverished in Mexico,” said Hernandez. “The news was always on and we were always discussing what was happening. It has been that way since I was a kid when it was part of our everyday conversations. So, deciding what I thought was important and what I could do to help was not hard.”
Hernandez, a 2018 Rutgers graduate, was recently named a 2023 Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Graduate Fellow, an opportunity she hopes to use to address the issue most important to her: dealing with gender equity internationally.
Funded by the U.S. Department of State and administered by Howard University, the program encourages the participation of minority groups and women to diversify the Foreign Service. The award’s namesake served as a U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under President George H.W. Bush as well as the U.S. Secretary of State for Political Affairs under President Bill Clinton.
The program provides recipients a two-year master’s degree scholarship, two summer internship programs, one in the United States and a second in a U.S. Embassy or Consulate overseas after graduation, as well as Foreign Service mentorship opportunities. Afterwards, recipients must make a five-year commitment to work in Foreign Service.
“When I read the description, I could truly envision myself as a Foreign Service officer on the political track,” she said.
Hernandez, who grew up in West Orange and now lives in Brooklyn, wants to focus on empowering women throughout the world, a decision she made after being exposed to feminist theory as a leadership scholar at the Institute for Women’s Leadership at Douglass Residential College. As a student, Hernandez researched the political empowerment of indigenous women in Mexico.
She has applied to master’s programs at some of the most prestigious universities in the country and plans to begin her studies in September.
“The reason I’ve been out of school for this long is because it is so expensive,” 27-year-old Hernandez said. “This provides me the financial support I will need and gives me the opportunity of a lifetime.”
Hernandez graduated summa cum laude from the School of Arts and Sciences with a degree in political science and gender studies and a minor in international and global studies. She interned at the New Jersey Department of Education in its bilingual education bureau, assisting with developing bilingual education materials, and with the Center for American Women and Politics, providing assistance to programs such as Ready to Run NJ, a training program for women interested in seeking political office.
Over the past five years, Hernandez has been working as an operations coordinator for the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, a nonprofit organization that focuses on developing bus rapid transit systems and promotes biking, walking and non-motorized transportation globally.
She also worked as a project coordinator for the New York City Bar Association’s City Bar Justice Center that helps New Yorkers struggling with poverty and systemic socioeconomic barriers with legal assistance.
“In both of my jobs I wore many hats, so I am ready to transition to a job in foreign service where there is so much new for me to learn,” said Hernandez, who speaks English, Spanish and Portuguese fluently, understands French and wants to learn Chinese Mandarin.
She is hoping to go somewhere she has never been once she starts her job with the State Department – China, South Korea, Japan or countries in Southeast Asia like Thailand or Laos.
She says her parents, who came to the United States together as teenagers after meeting at a wedding in Mexico, didn’t have the opportunities she has had to go to college. That is a big reason why she read books, kept up with world news and studied hard.
“I think my parents are a little shocked about all of this,” Hernandez said. “I think they’ll really believe it when I make it to the State Department.”
Anne Wallen, director of the Office of Distinguished Fellowship at Rutgers, said the scholarship is extremely competitive. “Pam’s success is a tribute to her talent and resilience,” said Wallen. “She will be a great representative of the diversity of New Jersey and the United States in the Foreign Service.”