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Karen Castro

Alumna Selected as Thomas Pickering Foreign Affairs Graduate Fellow

A self-described “planner” by nature, Karen Castro ’12 is ready to take another big step along the ambitious career path she began mapping while a student at Otterbein.

Castro says her recent selection for a prestigious Thomas Pickering Foreign Affairs Graduate Fellowship fits perfectly with her goal of a starting a career in the U.S. Foreign Service and running for public office someday. She will begin the two-year fellowship program in August when she enters the International Peace and Conflict Resolution program at American University in Washington, D.C. After earning a master’s degree there, she will have a five-year contract with the Foreign Service.

“This is such a great opportunity for me,” says the native of Maineville, Ohio, near Cincinnati. “It’s been a goal of mine since my junior year at Otterbein. Not only will it help fund my education, but I will be able to connect with people in the Foreign Service and State Department.”

Funded by the U.S. Department of State and administered by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, the Pickering Fellowship program is designed to attract outstanding individuals from all ethnic, racial and social backgrounds who have an interest in pursuing a career in the Foreign Service with the State Department. The fellowship is named in honor of Thomas Pickering, a former U.S. ambassador considered one of the most distinguished and capable American diplomats of the latter half of the 20th century.

Castro says her experiences as a study-abroad student in Argentina during her junior year at Otterbein helped convince her to switch her major to international studies. Her time in Argentina opened her eyes to how people in other countries view the United States, especially their perspective on how investments by American companies impact their economies and governments. It’s not always a positive view, she says, and that motivated her to work for change by being involved in government and politics.

 After graduating from Otterbein – she was the Class of 2012’s Commencement speaker and recipient of numerous university awards – Castro worked as a legislative aide in the Ohio House of Representatives for a year. Then she landed her current position with U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty in February 2013, serving as an immigration case worker in the Columbus office of the Democratic congresswoman.

Castro says she enjoys the work she does for Rep. Beatty, helping immigrants from a number of countries, including Somalia, Pakistan, Ghana and Kenya, sort out immigration problems they’re facing. It’s another experience that has affirmed her belief that a career in public service is the right path for her.

And so was her choice to attend Otterbein. “It definitely gave me the foundation I needed to jump-start my career,” Castro says. “Whether it was administrators, faculty or staff, everybody was very supportive every step of the way. Having that academic experience and being able to study abroad have given me the tools to be a successful applicant for the Pickering Fellowship.”