Brittney Vevaina, a 2011 Honors Program graduate from MiraCosta College, was awarded the prestigious Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship in December 2020. The program is funded by the U.S. Department of State and administered by Howard University in Washington, D.C. Recipients receive significant funding for graduate school in exchange for a five year commitment to the U.S. Foreign Service in the Department of State.
“I knew I wanted to focus on international work,” Vevaina says. “I decided to throw my name in the hat for the Pickering Fellowship, even though I knew it was fiercely competitive. I was so excited when found out I was accepted.”
Vevaina came to MiraCosta after a brief stint at Santa Clara University. “It wasn’t the right fit for me. Leaving during my freshman year gave me time to think about what I wanted to accomplish in college, and what sort of career I wanted to work toward.”
“When I talked to the MiraCosta Honors Program coordinator,” she says, “I got such a great feeling about the program and the community of students who were challenging themselves academically—that’s what I was looking for.”
Vevaina felt right at home on campus, which was politically active and diverse. Challenged by the rigorous honors courses, she quickly made friends and found plenty of opportunities to get involved serving the community. She notes how dedicated the professors were to their students, and the supportive relationships that developed between them.
“The professors are able to focus on students in a way that professors at large universities often can’t. While I was at MiraCosta, history professor Christopher Sleeper was a mentor to me. Now, over a decade later, we still stay in touch.”
She adds, “When I was in high school, I had this misconception about community colleges. I thought they were for people who didn’t do well academically or for older people returning to school. But MiraCosta had such a diversity of students working toward their goals. Honestly, it’s one of my favorite undergraduate experiences.”
After graduating from MiraCosta with honors, Vevaina headed to the University of California at Berkeley, and then to Washington D.C. to work for a nonprofit and Booz Allen Hamilton. “These jobs gave me great experience in management and strategy and helped me learn more about how the federal government works. Still, I knew I wanted to pivot to international work at some point.” When Vevaina met Patrick R. Kennedy, the former Under Secretary of State for Management, she was fascinated by his stories about his career in the Foreign Service. “I could see myself doing that,” she says.
Vevaina credits MiraCosta for preparing her for her journey to UC Berkeley, Washington, D.C., and now the Pickering Fellowship award. “Winning the fellowship has been a bright light during a challenging year,” she says. “I’m looking forward to traveling, learning about other cultures, and sharing how diverse and multicultural America is."