Alum who works for the U.S. Department of State visits campus to share opportunities
Michelle Kayser ’08 has her dream job, and she wants to help other Saint Michael’s students find their way down a similar path.
Kayser visited campus Oct. 10 to share information about fellowships, internships and careers with the U.S. Department of State where she’s been employed for 13 years.
During her career with the State Department, Kayser has served in many roles and lived all around the world in places like Switzerland, the Central African Republic and Argentina. She is currently the Diplomat in Residence for New England. She was introduced by Jeffrey Ayres, Director of the Center for Global Engagement and Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations. Kayser credits her time at Saint Michael’s for her career track.
“I would not be in the position I am today, having traveled five continents, getting paid to see the world, if it wasn’t directly for Professor Ayres,” Kayser said. “If you take nothing away from my presentation today, take advantage of where you are. Take advantage of these amazing professors, faculty and staff.”
Originally from Essex Junction, Kayser was a Political Science major at Saint Michael’s with minors in Global Studies and International Business. She studied abroad in France and received a Pickering Fellowship upon graduating. The fellowship paid for her Master’s in International Relations and Affairs from Princeton University and secured a position for her as a diplomat in the foreign service for the U.S. Department of State after graduation. Kayser shared that her working-class family struggled to pay for college at St. Mike’s and she was actively looking for fellowships and scholarships as a student.
“What I want to emphasize today is that regardless of your background this is attainable for you,” she said.
Opportunities through the State Department for grads
Kayser explained that fellowships through the U.S. Department of State result in money to go to graduate school for free at any institution accredited in the U.S. Students can study a number of different topics through these programs. Fellowships also require paid internships with the U.S. Department of State during the summer while fellows are in graduate school, and they
culminate in a job waiting for students on graduation day. Fellowships require a 3-to-5-year commitment to that job after graduate school.
“We do not receive applications from Vermonters,” Kayser said. “We do not receive applications from St. Mike’s students so I guarantee all of you would be incredibly competitive and unique.”
Kayser explained that the U.S. Department of State is the oldest government agency and protects Americans while they’re overseas. It employs more than 70 thousand people around the world, in 191 countries, but Kayser emphasized that more diplomats are still needed.
“We’re smaller than the U.S. Army’s music band,” she said. “There are more drummers than there are diplomats. What message does that send the world? We need more diplomats representing us.”
A transformative experience
Kayser, herself, earned The Pickering Fellowship, which required that she complete two paid summer internships during graduate school. The first summer’s internship was spent domestically in Washington, D.C. The second summer’s internship was spent internationally in a country of her choosing.
Kayser chose Sweden and said the experience was transformative. She lived in a five-bedroom lake house during that time, which was paid for through her internship. In her first week as an intern, she was asked to brief then-Minister of Foreign Affairs (and formerly Prime Minister) of Sweden, Carl Bildt, on Guantanamo Bay and ask him to take in 10 Guantanamo Bay detainees.
“I’m shaking like a leaf. Talk about imposter syndrome,” laughed Kayser. “You will grow so much in the fields that you are passionate about. It’s an extraordinary opportunity while you’re getting paid to do so.”
Kayser emphasized that students from all majors can apply for internships and fellowships with the U.S. Department of State without needing to know a foreign language. She noted that the U.S. Department of State also offers money for students to study abroad during their time at St. Mike’s. Her presentation highlighted several opportunities for students:
Academic funding for an IT-related degree. Students can apply as early as junior year of their undergraduate education or can apply it to a two-year graduate degree. Students will intern in the U.S. State Department’s IT division during the summers, first, domestically in Washington, D.C., and internationally during the second summer in a country of the students’ choosing. Fellows will have a job waiting for you as an Information Management Specialist upon graduation.
This has a 3-year commitment as a special agent where fellows will do threat assessments, counterintelligence and counterterrorism. Special agents ensure that when President Biden steps out oversees, he’s stepping out safely. This fellowship allows fellows to study any topic for a two-year Master’s degree. There is a physical readiness test that involves pushups, sit-ups and a 1.5-mile run. Kayser emphasized that you don’t have to be an athlete, but she said fellows do need to be able to “beat President Biden down a flight of stairs.”
Fellows can study a broad number of fields for two years at a graduate school of their choice. In the summers between graduate school, fellows will complete two paid internships with the U.S. Department of State. The first summer internship will be domestic, and the following summer will be a paid international internship at a country of the student’s choosing. This culminates with a job as a diplomat waiting for the fellow on graduation day.
Students can apply for this paid 6-week summer internship program as early as your sophomore year.
Paid internships in Washington, D.C., are available for 10 weeks in the summer, fall and spring semesters starting sophomore year, and they remain available throughout all levels of education, including PhD programs. Eligibility requires a 3.2 GPA, and applicants must be a U.S. Citizen. Housing and transportation to Washington, D.C. is covered. The next application opportunity will be in March. A broad range of internship studies are offered from African Affairs to Gender Studies to Law Enforcement.
“Our interns are granted top secret security clearance which makes you incredibly marketable once you’re ready for a job,” Kayser said. “The fact that you’ve had a clearance with the U.S. Department of State — which is transferrable to other agencies — is huge.”
Foreign Service Internship Program
Applicants fill out one application but automatically get two paid internships if they’re accepted. The first one will be in Washington D.C., and the second one will be abroad in the country of their choosing.
These are not paid, and they are only 10 hours per week. Applications open in July and are open to first-year students and older.
Careers in the U.S. Department of State
Careers are divided into the Civil Service (based in the U.S.) and the Foreign Service (based abroad). Those in the Foreign Service will change jobs every two to three years. Job opportunities are available at Careers.state.gov.
There are only two requirements to be a U.S. diplomat: being a U.S. citizen and at least 20 years old to apply. Applicants do not need a degree or work experience. Students can apply as juniors or seniors in college. Applicants will need to take a multiple-choice test and write a few short essays. Kayser encouraged students to share their authentic experiences in those essays. She shared her experience as a camp counselor in Vermont and how that taught her leadership skills.
A model for current Saint Michael’s students
Kayser explained that Department of State fellows, interns and employees who live oversees have all their housing paid for and their children have access to “free education through 12th grade at some of the most elite international boarding schools all around the world.”
Kayser said that one of the biggest benefits for people who work for the foreign service for 20 years is they can retire at 50 years old with full benefits for life, a 401K and a pension.
Frank Loveland ’24 is a double-major in International Relations and French and speaks French and Spanish. Loveland attended the talk which he called “the pinnacle of this year.” He applied for a Pickering Fellowship last month and wants to pursue a career in foreign affairs.
“Getting to meet someone who’s a former St. Mike’s alum… seeing her success story and learning about the resources and the benefits that come with working for the Department of State is reassuring and reconfirms my passion for this field of work,” said Loveland.
Kayser wrapped up her talk with some final words of encouragement saying, “If I can do this, all of you can do this. I guarantee you will be like me and that after three to five years you will totally have drunk the Kool-Aid and not want to leave.”