"If you have a disability, I especially encourage you to lend us your strengths and to contribute to our collective depth of experience." - Collin Walsh, Pickering Fellow
MIUSA: Tell me a bit about your previous international exchange experience. What role do you think this international experience will have in your career?
Collin: As a law student I completed a semester exchange to the Jindal Global Law School in northern India and served as a Stewart Global Law Fellow at a corporation in Mumbai and a law firm in New Delhi. Those experiences redefined my understanding of what it means to be resilient. Immediately after graduating I accepted the Critical Language Scholarship in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where I studied the Bangla language and culture in immersion. That summer introduced me to the enormous responsibility of representing the United States abroad. I tirelessly have pursued that honor as a career ever since.
MIUSA: What drew you to the Pickering Fellowship?
Collin: I aspire to have an impactful career serving the interests of the United States at home and abroad as a Foreign Service Officer in the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Service. I was drawn to apply for the Pickering Fellowship by everything that it offers and its recognition of the benefits of diversity in international relations. Collectively, I am grateful for the opportunities to pursue a master’s degree, participate experientially in foreign affairs through domestic and overseas internships alongside my amazingly diverse colleagues, and receive mentorship toward my career dream of being commissioned a Foreign Service Officer.
MIUSA: What was your Pickering Fellowship experience like?
Collin: At every step of this journey––from the competitive application and interview process, to the mentoring and workshops, to the domestic internship––I have been humbled by the depth of experience of my fellowship cohort. I grow as a person and a professional through exposure to the multilayered talents of these colleagues. I am grateful to the Department of State for considering me among them.
MIUSA: The Pickering website says: “Based on the fundamental principle that diversity is a strength in our diplomatic efforts, the program values varied backgrounds, including ethnic, racial, social, and geographic diversity.” In what ways do you think you add to the diversity the program’s looking for?
Collin: I like to think that the entirety of my person, including my various identities and experiences, and all that makes me unique contributed to my selection as a Pickering Fellow. The beauty of diversity is how difficult it is to define, even as we lead the campaign to grow understanding of its endless depth and importance.
MIUSA: Do you identify as a person with a disability, and how do you expect that your disability identity will add a unique lens to your global career?
Collin: In 2016 I became paralyzed from the chest down three days into my Foreign Service orientation. It presented a choice: accept either the status quo or the challenge of changing it. I was hired to become a Special Agent in the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service before I was stopped at the doorstep of my dream. My prognosis, universally, was permanent paralysis. After resigning from the Foreign Service, taking leave for two and a half years, and dedicating myself to “the impossible,” I returned to Washington, D.C. on my own two feet (and two elbow-supported walking sticks). The lens I sincerely hope to reflect upon others is this: Nothing––not even the most intractable of issues––is impossible!
MIUSA: Do you think it’s important for there to be greater disability representation in global career fields?
Collin: Yes, but not just because it is the “right” thing to do. The community of the disabled is highly skilled at finding workarounds to the standard path. The skillset necessary to doing so requires innovation, creativity, and poise under pressure. In many ways we embody the “13 Dimensions of the Foreign Service” every day through the challenges we face and overcome as a way of life. I encourage anyone with a passion for service and an interest in diplomacy to apply to the Pickering Fellowship. If you have a disability, I especially encourage you to lend us your strengths and to contribute to our collective depth of experience.
MIUSA: Tell us about these great photos you shared! What's the story behind them?
Collin: The colorful photo was taken during Holi in Kolkata, which coincided with my wedding week. We actually celebrated Holi (or "played Holi," as it's said) as one of my wedding functions.
The photos of me standing (or being held up so that I could stand) were taken when I was still paralyzed from the chest down. In fact, this is a great depiction of why India was so beneficial to my healing process (I can now walk with walking sticks). As you can see, I was supported at all my joints while also holding onto a metal grate. The photo was taken at my wife's family house in Kolkata, West Bengal. In that photo are my makeshift physical therapists, as they were in that moment and many others, including my mother-in-law (kneeling), brother (background), and friends.
MIUSA: Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself or about your fellowship experience?
Collin: If you ever have an opportunity to speak with a former or present Pickering Fellow, I highly encourage you to take the opportunity to do so. I predict that you will understand why I feel so honored to be considered among them, and you might leave encouraged to undertake a journey that will change your life.
International Fellowships for Launching Your Global Career
The Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship Program is a program funded by the U.S. Department of State, administered by Howard University, that attracts and prepares outstanding young people for Foreign Service careers in the U.S. Department of State. The Program provides graduate fellowships to qualified college seniors and college graduates committed to joining the Foreign Service.
The USAID Donald M. Payne International Development Graduate Fellowship Program seeks to attract outstanding individuals who are interested in pursuing careers in the Foreign Service of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
The Rangel Program is a U.S. State Department program administered by Howard University that seeks to attract and prepare outstanding young people for careers as diplomats in the Foreign Service of the U.S. Department of State.
The Foreign Affairs Information Technology (FAIT) Fellowship, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, is a path to a career in the Foreign Service as an Information Management Specialist (IMS). The Fellowship provides stipends, housing and travel allowances for the two summer internships: A domestic internship in Washington, D.C. at the U.S. Department of State; and an international internship at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad.