Dartmouth student awarded Pickering Fellowship

by Jacob Strier | 1/16/20 2:05am


Kamen majors in geography and sociology at Dartmouth.

Source: Courtesy of Sydney Kamen

Dartmouth student Sydney Kamen ’19 was awarded a Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship in November, which funds two years of graduate study with a commitment of five years to the United States Foreign Service. Kamen has previously been named as both a Truman and Boren scholar, and said her interests surround humanitarianism, gender and global health. 

According to a Jan. 3 press release from the program, Kamen “demonstrated outstanding academic achievement, leadership and commitment to service during their [sic] time at Dartmouth College.”

Kamen, who will return to campus to take classes in both the spring and summer, emphasized her nontraditional approach to the Dartmouth experience. Over the past five years as a student, she has traveled to countries including Israel, Kosovo and Tanzania and held internships with the State Department, while majoring in geography and sociology. Beyond her academic work, Kamen founded and continues to run a nonprofit dedicated to promoting public health through the recycling of hotel soap and dissemination of hand-washing instructions in developing countries. 

“Dartmouth is not a place to be taking your run-of-the-mill chemistry class,” Kamen said. “If you are going to pay the Dartmouth price tag, you might as well be intellectually stimulated and approach the world in different ways.” 

Since hearing the news of receiving the fellowship, which she said accepts some 30 out of 950 applicants, Kamen has applied to several graduate programs. She said she hopes to pursue a master’s degree in public policy or in global or international affairs, with a particular focus on topics such as humanitarian studies and human security. 

Kamen said she has considered applying to the Pickering Fellowship since high school, when she studied Hindi through a State Department program in India. 

Following her graduate studies and several internships prescribed by the program, Kamen said her commission with the Foreign Service will start off with consular work such as processing cases of foreign nationals seeking visas or asylum in the United States. 

“You spend time stamping visas and investigating people who want citizenship and asylum,” she said. Despite her initial reluctance about the routine nature of such work, she said she has become excited about gaining a deep understanding of the immigration process. 

“There are so many politics wrapped up in immigration, and this is a unique opportunity to understand it from an intimate perspective,” she said. 

Kamen, who is currently in Kosovo with other Dartmouth students advising local leaders on issues including air pollution, said she has witnessed the struggles faced by those who wish to live out the American Dream. 

Kamen said eventually she is interested in exploring the political side of foreign policy, such as developing connections with local leadership and advising U.S. policy from the ground, though her future destination is unknown. 

“I don’t know where I will be sent, but the whole thing about the foreign service is they are training people to be generalists,” she said. “I like to think of myself as a specialist in sub-Saharan Africa. To be a generalist is a different skill, but a welcome challenge.”

 Assistant director for social sector leadership Leah Torrey said Kamen joined her this summer as a delegate to the Matariki Global Citizenship forum. Torrey noted that Kamen served as a thoughtful and mature “cheerleader for change.” 

“The world is in a delicate situation when it comes to foreign relations, and Sydney thrives on challenge and I am excited for the United States to have someone like her,” Torrey said. “We need representatives from our government to demonstrate the poise, understanding and empathy that Sydney brings in spades to any situation.” 

Kamen also added that joining the Foreign Service will involve sacrificing some degree of personal agency. This includes restrictions on travel to areas of the world deemed unsafe for State Department employees as well as requiring her keep certain political opinions or criticisms regarding the U.S. government to herself.

Despite these possible concerns, however, Kamen said she is excited about her choice to commit to the fellowship and its associated national duty — a decision which she discussed with environmental studies professor and Dickey Center associate director Melody Burkins before making.  

Burkins, one of Kamen’s recommenders for the fellowship, described her as “very ambitious, very dedicated to service, and pure energy and enthusiasm embodied in a person.” She said Kamen often meets with her to discuss plans or practice mock interviews to gain constructive criticism. 

Kamen said today’s global climate is a unique time to enter the global stage. 

“It’s an interesting time to be running towards the State Department, amidst scandals and the chaos of this administration,” she said. “Service is about running into the fire, even when there are so many brave souls running away from it.”