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Student Spotlight

 Baker Scholar Awarded Fulbright Scholarship

Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 11.50.05 AMAvanti Rangnekar, an Economics major, Public Policy Analytics minor, and Baker Scholar, has received a Fulbright U.S. Student Program award to India in health economics from the U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. Rangnekar will conduct research in Karnataka as part of a project to examine the demand for informal healthcare providers in India.

Rangnekar is one of over 1,900 U.S. citizens who will conduct research, teach English, and provide expertise abroad for the 2018-2019 academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Recipients of Fulbright awards are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement as well as record of service and leadership potential in their respective fields. This year, the University of Tennessee had 18 Fulbright recipients, breaking a school record.

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to build lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The Fulbright Program is funded through an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations, and foundations around the world also provide direct and indirect support to the Program, which operates in over 160 countries worldwide.

When asked what it means to have received this scholarship, Rangnekar claims, “Receiving the Fulbright-Nehru grant means everything to my family and I. The grant not only gives me the ability to experience firsthand the rapidly evolving Indian healthcare system, but it also gives me the opportunity to immerse myself in the culture that contributes significantly to my identity as a South Asian American. I am most excited that I get to combine my interests in medicine and economics through my research, but also learn more about my heritage by living and working in India.”

Rangnekar is a Baker Scholar and will be graduating the the first class of the Public Policy Analytics Minor, housed in the Baker Center. Additionally, Dr. Katie Cahill, Associate Director of the Baker Center, is one of her thesis advisors and is working with her to secure a second affiliation at an academic institution in New Delhi.

“I could never have achieved what I have without the community and support that I received from the Baker Scholars Program, Haslam Scholars Program, Economics Department, and Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships. It’s a support system that I will forever be grateful for and that I will certainly be visiting whenever I come back to visit Rocky Top!”

Gabriella LaRose, Baker Ambassador and Scholar, Presents Research at Chicago Conference


Gabriella LaRose, a junior at the University of Tennessee, will be presenting research at the Midwest Political Science Association (MPSA) Conference in Chicago, IL. LaRose is a philosophy major with a concentration in law and politics and a minor in political science. She has been actively involved with the Baker Center since her freshman year when she was a member of the Baker Center’s Living and Learning Community. She now serves as a Baker Ambassador and a Baker Scholar.

LaRose’s research titled, “Refugees and Terrorism: An Empirical Analysis of Refugee Flows and Domestic and Suicide Terrorism” examines the relationship between incoming refugee flows and domestic and suicide terrorism.

She finds that incoming refugees neither increased nor decreased the number of domestic or suicide terrorist incidents. When asked why this research is important, LaRose says, “In light of rhetoric by President Trump and other government representatives, we sought to show evidence that refugees are not dangerous in the way they are portrayed to be. Also, with the Syrian Refugee crisis and mass exodus of refugees from Africa, it is important to let populations know that refugees are seeking shelter, not seeking a platform for terrorist action.”

LaRose is a co-author with Dr. Sambuddah Ghatak and Dr. Hement Sharma. After the research was submitted and accepted for the conference, Dr. Ghatak asked LaRose to present to give her more experience in a professional setting. The research has also given her the chance to learn new research techniques, like coding and modeling. She says she had never used this kind of research before and, while it was challenging, she found the importance of becoming familiar with these research techniques. She hopes that speaking at MPSA will improve her presentation skills and allow her to become more comfortable with presenting other research projects she has worked on.

Gabriella gives credit to the Baker Center for the opportunities it has presented her with.

“Since I was a freshman, staff and older students at the Baker Center have encouraged me to ask for what I want, take advantage of every opportunity, and be grateful to those who helped me along the way. I really wouldn’t be presenting without the support they’ve given me over the years.”

Greta Roberts, Baker Ambassador, Spends Semester in Morocco

Greta Roberts is a junior double majoring in political science and history, with  a minor in Arab studies. She is also a Baker Ambassador for the Baker Center.

This spring semester, Greta is studying in Morocco. She says she was initially interested in studying in the Arab world to focus on improving her Arabic language skills, as well as discover if living abroad is something she would enjoy after graduation. She chose to studying in Morocco for the culture it presents. Greta is living in a smaller city, Meknes, as opposed to bigger, more populated city and claims that this has given her the opportunity to truly immerse herself in the culture.

Greta is taking multiple Arabic courses at her university, one of which focuses on Derija, the dialect spoken in Morocco. She is also taking courses on Peace and Conflict, Gender Studies of Morocco, and Migration and Transnationalism. She says it has been a very interesting experience hearing her Moroccan professors perspectives on world politics, the current Trump administration, and the role that Islam is playing in the world.

When asked about what advice she has for others wanting to study in the Arab world she says that culture shock does exist, but no more in the Arab world than in other countries. She says it’s more important to note that there aren’t nearly as many amenities and luxuries in Morocco as there are in the U.S. She says heating is not very common there and it can get chilly in the winter, so bring warm clothes. However, Greta feels her overall experience has been magnificent and she suggests that everyone should step out of their comfort zone and immerse themselves in another culture.

“Overall, everyone I’ve met here as been extremely friendly and helpful. Many Moroccans are just really glad that you’re willing to experience their culture and live in their country. Also, the food is here amazing!”

Jacob Hayes, MPPA Student and US State Department Summer Intern

Jacob HayesI am a second-year law student at the University of Tennessee Knoxville Law School and I spent my summer being an intern for the US Department of State.

The US State Department places an emphasis on both national and international diplomacy. Employees at the US State Department are to be exemplars of American diplomacy, representing and advocating US interests on an international level.

My summer in Washington, D.C. working for the U.S. Department of State was the culmination of a year-long application process involving multiple interviews and conversations with Department officials.

Upon being granted security clearance, I served in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation within the office of Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism.

“I had the chance to work with some of the best experts in the U.S. government who were all dedicated public servants. They taught me so much about diplomacy and the foreign policy process.”

Everyday, I learned something new about working within the administrative state and gained new tools for making myself competitive for the job market.

Living in Washington D.C. and experiencing its energy and diversity reinforced my ambition of working there after graduation.

My passion for international politics and policy formation grew even stronger after hours of conversation with the people working there, and my preconceived notions about federal bureaucracy were dispelled.

“I am so grateful for the support of the Howard Baker Jr. Center faculty who made my experience possible.”

Lucy Greer, Baker Ambassador, Baker Scholar, and Boren Scholar in Jordan

Lucy GreerLucy Greer is a senior at the University of Tennessee Knoxville majoring in political science with a concentration in international affairs. She has received a prestigious Boren Scholarship that has allowed her to spend this year studying Arabic and researching international politics in Jordan.

The Boren Scholarship is an initiative of the National Security Education Program. The program provides funding opportunities for US undergraduate students to study less frequently taught languages in regions vital to US interests such as Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America, and the Middle East.

Because of her avid interest in history and Arabic studies, Lucy always knew she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy and international affairs.

She has wanted to apply for the Boren Scholarship since her freshman year of college, as the program stresses both national security and government service. The language aspect additionally contributed to her decision, because the program would give her an opportunity to practice speaking Arabic daily.

When asked why she wanted to go to Jordan, Lucy cited the two foremost places she wanted to study abroad: Morocco and Jordan.

Her main interest lies in the Middle Eastern region called Levant. This region includes Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, and Lebanon.

As for her research, Lucy is working on her Baker Scholar thesis while abroad in Jordan. While there she plans to examine American support for the moderate Syrian opposition in the Syrian Civil War under US President Barack Obama and its relationship to the war in Iraq.

When asked what sparked her interest in this research topic, Lucy responded, “A lot of the discourse coming out of the Iraq War was the United States should not have invaded, yet in the case of Syria many argued that we should have done more. That contrast really fascinates me.”

She said that the most difficult part of her research process has been her research of Syria. Much of the information coming out of Syria is incomplete, and the fracturing of different forces within Syria makes the information that does exist difficult to fully trust and rely upon.

When asked what the most important thing she has learned so far in Jordan is she advises, “Don’t be afraid to speak in Arabic at the grocery store because even though you sound like an idiot at least you’re getting some practice.”

“Don’t be afraid to speak in Arabic at the grocery store because even though you sound like an idiot at least you’re getting some practice.”

Lucy has most enjoyed the opportunity to speak Arabic in the context of her everyday life while in Jordan. She believes it shows her that all her hard work in her Arabic studies has paid off. Furthermore, she states that she has had the opportunity to meet many incredible people during her time thus far. Lucy is loving her experience abroad, as she advises, “if you can go abroad at all, even only for a week or two, definitely seize that opportunity.”

“If you can go abroad at all, even only for a week or two, definitely seize that opportunity.”

When asked what she would say to others who are pursuing research, Lucy advises, “Find a policy area that is so massively interesting you’ll never get tired of it. What I love about all the Baker Scholars is their individual passions for specific areas of policy, they live their passion from the inside out.”

Nathan Timbs, Baker Ambassador and Intern for Senator Bob Corker 

Nathan TimbsI am a junior studying political science with a concentration in international affairs. I am also a religious studies major with a minor in Arabic studies. I have always had an interest in international politics; disputes; and government types, with a focus  in the Middle Eastern region.

I was fortunate to serve as an intern in Senator Bob Corker’s Knoxville office over the summer. His position as Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee only increased my interest in international politics. My dream career is to work for the U.S. State Department in Washington, DC, or abroad in an embassy. This career choice is fueled by my love of international relations but also by a strong desire to impact the world in a beneficial way.

What was your first day like? Your last day?

I did not know what to expect on my first day, but I was given a packet of Senator Corker’s statements and stances on hot button issues currently being debated including health care, Syria, and Cuba. I was then trained on how to answer constituents’ questions, which could be categorized under one of two groupings: comments and casework.

“Once I began answering calls, I felt like I was finally a part of government and making a difference. Being able to finally make an impact felt amazing, and I could not wait to help people on a daily basis.”

My last day was a fitting end to my time as an intern for Senator Corker. The night before I stayed up to watch the final health care reform vote on CSPAN. It failed 49-51, and with that vote, the weeks of comments and concerns from constituents concluded in an end result. I was able to fully witness government work right in front of me as local feedback and debates on Capitol Hill culminated into a vote that will impact the nation for years to come.

I was saddened to know that I was having to leave behind unfinished casework, as I could np longer help constituents with their needs. Overall, this internship strengthened my appreciation for government because I was able to see it work efficiently and effectively from a perspective I had never before witnessed.

What was the most important thing you learned during your internship?

I learned two very important things during my internship. The first was to be calm and professional in every situation. Answering phone calls from angry constituents sometimes tested my patience, since not everyone follows the golden rule of “treat others as you would wish to be treated,” but I always reminded myself that I was first and foremost a representative of Senator Corker.

Secondly, I learned the importance of making a good impression on those around me whether it be a coworker, a boss, or a constituent. Presentation of self was critical in my position, and I realized that this internship would have consequences for my future.

“I learned that working hard, going above what I was being asked, and trying to always be professional would serve me well in the future.”

What was the most surprising moment?

The most surprising moment, and also a very exciting moment, was when I saw all of our work on our “Joint Operation” veterans event come to fruition. The weeks of work that I had done assisting the planning and execution of this event resulted in a resounding success in which over 500 veterans were able to receive assistance for various needs and issues.

Since I had never helped plan an event of this scale, I was amazed at how well our office had executed this event.  Seeing the work that I did directly impact constituents made all of the effort more than worth it.

“I was surprised that government could work so effectively to meet specific needs, rather than the disaster that is presented by the media on a daily basis. Being on the inside of government will make anyone truly appreciate the meaningful work being done.”

How did the experience impact your future plans?

My experience reinforced my love for government and public policy, but I did not expect the largest benefit I received. Through my internship I came to the realization that I have an intense passion for helping others and that I want to do that on an international scale. This experience also inspired me to apply for an internship next summer with Senator Corker and the Foreign Relations Committee. Without the knowledge gained from this internship and connections I have made, this process would have been much harder, if not impossible.

What will you always remember?

During my internship, I was fortunate enough to serve as the representative for Senator Corker at a naturalization ceremony. For those who do not know, a naturalization ceremony is the legal proceeding individuals go through to officially become U.S. citizens. The moment 30 individuals from 20 nationalities became U.S. citizens is one I will never forget, as they all had expressions of happiness and achievement.

“This made me realize how important government is and how great it can be.”

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