For the first time ever, two individuals with UCF affiliations have been awarded the Charles B. Rangel Graduate Fellowship and the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship in the same year.

These are both highly coveted fellowships that give the recipients the opportunity to work as a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. Department of State. Isabella Castro, a first-generation student at UCF, is the Rangel Graduate Fellow. Nourhan Nasser ’21, a recent graduate from UCF and the first in her family to pursue a graduate degree, is the Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellow.

These fellowships aim to attract and prepare outstanding young people for future careers in the U.S. Foreign Service. In a highly competitive process, both the Rangel Fellowship and the Pickering Fellowship award only 45 fellowships of up to $42,000 annually for a two-year period upon completion of a two-year master’s degree. The money covers tuition costs, room and board, books, mandatory fees, and provides an academic year stipend of $18,000.

Upon becoming U.S. Foreign Service officers, both Castro and Nasser will embark on one of the most demanding and rewarding careers in service to the country. They will have the chance to serve in one of more than 270 embassies, consulates, and other diplomatic mission representing U.S. interests around the globe, promoting peace and prosperity. These programs will provide them with extensive professional development opportunities, such as skills training, mentoring and internships.

Charles B. Rangel Graduate Fellowship

Castro, from Miami, Florida, is a senior pursuing a bachelor’s in international and global studies at UCF and has always aspired to become a foreign service officer. Her dream is to foster cross-cultural communication and contribute to developing strong U.S. diplomatic relationships across the globe.

“As a first-generation college student from an immigrant household, my dream of becoming a diplomat felt daunting and almost unreachable at times,” says Castro, whose background is Peruvian and Argentinian. “The support I’ve received from my mother, my friends and my McNair Scholars family at UCF has been instrumental in getting me to where I am today.”

The Rangel Fellowship will not only help fund her graduate education, but it also provides her with the mentorship and opportunities needed to help streamline her into the foreign service with the necessary experience in diplomacy and governmental affairs.

“I am absolutely honored and elated to have been awarded this competitive fellowship, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me,” Castro says.

Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship

Born and raised in Lebanon, Nasser moved to Orlando at the age of 13 with her family in 2012. She graduated with a bachelor’s in political science from UCF in May 2021, concentrating in comparative politics and international relations.

Nasser is waiting to hear back from various international relations and public policy graduate programs. The fellowship means she won’t have to worry too much about paying for grad school. It will also give her the opportunity to intern in Washington D.C and gain hands-on experience working overseas during the  summer of 2024.

The Pickering Fellowship is funded by the U.S. Department of State and distributed by Howard University. The program aims to encourage members of minority groups underrepresented in the U.S. Foreign Service, women, and those with financial need to pursue Foreign Service careers.

Working three jobs while being a full-time undergraduate student at UCF, this fellowship means more than anything to Nasser.

“This fellowship was the only way I could have pursued graduate school,” she says. “I am the first person in my family to pursue graduate studies and not having to worry about financial security is going to allow me to fully commit to my studies and pursue my lifelong dream.”

Students interested in applying for the Rangel Graduate Fellowship or the Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship should contact Morgan Bauer in the Office of Prestigious Awards at”