The Young Diplomat
Kalif Robinson, Georgia State’s first Rangel Graduate Fellow, has his sights set on a career in foreign service.
written by William Inman | photography by Steve Thackston
Robinson just returned from Washington D.C. after visiting a handful of elite graduate programs at Georgetown, George Washington and American universities.
“It was mind-blowing, and really an incredible experience,” Robinson said. “I met with other Rangel Fellows and sat in a graduate-level class at Georgetown.”
That class experience — the topic that day was global human rights — assured Robinson he was ready for the rigors of graduate school.
“I felt like I belonged at that level, and I was able to engage intellectually,” he said.
Robinson’s college career has been one of personal discovery and finding his path. Diversity, downtown Atlanta and the HOPE Scholarship brought him Georgia State.
“I heard Georgia State was full of opportunities and that you just needed to seize them,” he said.
One of those opportunities was to study abroad. Robinson received the State Department’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to study abroad in summer 2015. To get there, he created a crowdfunding site that paid for his flight to Amman, Jordan.
“That experience taught me a lot about people’s struggles around the world,” he said. “For example, we had a water tower on top of our apartment complex and were given a set amount of water for the week. I had to adapt to that. I was there during Ramadan and had the ‘outside looking in’ perspective.”
Robinson was awarded the Rangel scholarship from a pool of 600 applicants. He and another Georgia State student, Mickey Heywood, were among 15 Rangel Scholars who spent six weeks learning about the Foreign Service from ambassadors and diplomats in D.C. last summer.
“I learned that as a U.S. diplomat, I could do more, and no day would be the same,” Robinson said. “The idea spoke to all my career aspirations and funneled everything I hoped to do into one job. It solidified my interest in joining the Foreign Service.”
When Robinson returned to Georgia State, he researched the Rangel Graduate Fellowship Program and completed the extensive application. To prepare him for his interview in D.C., he sat before a panel of four interviewers that included Andrew Young School Dean Mary Beth Walker and Charles Shapiro, former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela and president of the Atlanta World Affairs Council.
“Dean Walker and the others asked questions that might be asked in D.C. They gave me great feedback,” he said.
The Road Ahead
Robinson learned he had been accepted for the program two days before his 22nd birthday.
“What an amazing birthday gift,” he said.
After he graduates in May, he’ll fly back to D.C. to begin his 10-week paid internship in Congress. He’ll start graduate school that fall and do his embassy internship the following summer. Georgetown University and American University are his top choices to continue his studies.
“I want to be a successful career diplomat,” he said. “Then, at some point, I’d like to do domestic outreach. No one told me when I was growing up that I could be a diplomat. I want to reach out to communities, empower people and share my experience and knowledge to encourage youth. I’m a big believer in paying it forward.”
Robinson stressed that his success is available to any student who is open to experiences and willing to tap into all of the various supports available, whether family, faculty, advisers or career professionals.
“As a first-generation college student, I didn’t have a set path or formula when I came to college,” he said. “I was open, made it a point to be involved, worked on campus and took advantage of the opportunities put before me, including studying abroad.
“Everything counts, but you may not see that until you’re at the end of the road. There’s no reason to stress if you’re not on a specific path, do what feels right.”