For Stephanie Parenti, the dream of entering the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Service is just a few months shy of reality.

Parenti, who graduated from UCF in 2011 with a degree in political science and a minor in Spanish, is a graduate student in the Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. In September, she will begin training to become a foreign-service officer, a public servant who promotes peace and helps Americans abroad.

Her interest in public diplomacy first began after the events of September 11, 2001, when Parenti was 12.

“The Islamic phobia that grew in the world after 9/11 piqued my interest,” said Parenti. “My stepfather at the time was an Israeli pilot who lived in New York. We couldn’t get a hold of him, and that scared my mother and me.”

After recognizing some Americans’ shift in attitude toward foreigners, Parenti developed an interest in why Americans responded negatively to specific groups of people.

As an undergraduate student at UCF, Parenti was part of the Burnett Honors College, where she completed her Honors in the Major thesis on neocolonialism as well as a separate research project about how ideas affect history. She also participated in the McNair Scholars Program for first-generation college students, which allowed her to attend a month-long research exchange trip to Croatia.

“The McNair program largely emphasized the importance of research,” said Parenti. “My research trip to Croatia through the program totally switched my focus.”

Parenti was also awarded the Thomas R. Pickering Graduate Foreign Affairs Fellowship, supports her continuing education. In her graduate career, she’s specializing in Eastern European foreign policy, international security and international organizations.

Recently, Parenti published an op-ed in The Globalized World Post, an international-relations blog, which discussed alignment politics in the former Soviet Union. At Seton Hall, she has worked with the Seton Hall radio station’s Global Current radio program as an analysis writer and has served as an associate editor for the student-run scholarly journal, The Whitehead Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations.

In the future, Parenti hopes to write for news outlets and obtain her Ph.D. so that she can inspire other students as they pursue research and international opportunities.