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Princeton Bound: Undergraduates Awarded Summer Fellowships to Study Public Policy

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Two St. John’s University juniors were awarded Public Policy and International Affairs Program (PPIA) Fellowships to prepare for graduate study in the field by attending the 2013 Junior Summer Institute (JSI) at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Shama Ams ’14C and Ariyo Adekeji Ojagbamila ’14C, who begin their senior year this fall, were among only 35 undergraduates selected for the fellowship from a nationwide pool of 492 applicants. The seven-week summer program prepares outstanding students for graduate work in public policy and international affairs and, ultimately, leadership roles in those fields.

The Woodrow Wilson School has hosted the Junior Summer Institute since 1985. It is sponsored by the PPIA, a not-for-profit organization with a consortium of more than 30 participating graduate programs in public policy and international affairs. Students who complete the fellowship join a network of nearly 4,000 alumni.

Ams said he was “shocked” when he learned of his selection. “It was actually a few weeks later, after I received the acceptance folder from the Woodrow Wilson School, that the magnitude of the situation finally dawned on me,” explained the Houston,TX, native. He is studying government and politics with a dual major in economics.

In addition, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation awarded Ams a Thomas R. Pickering Fellowship, which provides financial support for expenses relating to the senior year of college and the first year of graduate school. Besides funding the cost of graduate education, Ams noted, the Pickering provides one domestic and one foreign internship at the State Department.

"I believe the best way to pursue permanent solutions to sustainable development is as a Foreign Service Officer for the State Department in the Middle East and Africa,” he said. “I also hope to contribute to raising consciousness and solidifying local networks of service delivery for the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis."

Ams, a Ronald E. McNair Scholar, is the founder of a nonprofit organization that aims to distribute medical equipment to developing countries in Africa. He plans to use the knowledge he gains this summer to strengthen his research on health care institutions in Johannesburg, South Africa. “We’ll have an opportunity to present our work before current and former U.S. diplomats and policy analysts,” said Ams. “I’m very excited about that.”

Konrad T. Tuchscherer, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History and Director of the Africana Studies Program, feels that the success of Ams and Ojagbamila reflects the University’s increasing emphasis on global education. “In this competition, as with our recent Fulbright success, our students are better prepared to make a mark in higher education and the global workforce,” he said. “It’s incredibly gratifying to see them do so well.”

“I’m thrilled and excited,” said Ojagbamila, a government and politics major with minors in economics and philosophy of law. “It’s a bit overwhelming, given the competitive nature of the award.”

Ojagbamila moved to the United States in 2010, having grown up in an impoverished section of Lagos, Nigeria. “I’m a firm believer in St. John’s University's Vincentian mission to help others,” he said.

“My ultimate goal is the eradication of global poverty. My hope is that the program can provide me with the tools I need to achieve that objective.” A member of the University’s venerable Skull and Circle Honor Society, Ojagbamila is also a Presidential Scholar.

Fred Cocozzelli, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Government and Politics, mentors both Ams and Ojagbamila and has high praise for the pair. “Shama and Ariyo have been great fun to have as students,” he said. “As smart, talented and ambitious as they are, it is just as important to recognize that they are fun, optimistic and engaging people. It’s exciting to have them recognized for their talents and hard work.”

Ams and Ojagbamila are among the latest St. John’s undergraduates to receive prestigious academic honors in 2013. In addition, 10 students have received Fulbright Awards.