UC alumna picked for Pickering Fellowship

2021 graduate Trinity Shaya preparing for a career in foreign service

Trinity Shaya, a 2021 graduate in psychology, has been selected for the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Graduate Fellowship Program. 

Headshot of Trinity Shaya

Trinity Shaya, 2021 graduate, has won the Pickering Fellowship. Photo/provided.

The Pickering Fellowship, funded by the U.S. Department of State and administered by Howard University, supports extraordinary individuals who want to pursue careers in the Foreign Service of the U.S. Department of State. The Pickering Fellowship will support Shaya through a two-year master’s degree in an area of relevance to the Foreign Service and will also provide extensive professional development opportunities.

As part of the Pickering Fellowship Program, Shaya will complete a U.S. Department of State domestic internship in the summer of 2025. In the summer of 2026, she will intern in an embassy or consulate abroad to get hands-on experience with U.S. foreign policy and the work of the Foreign Service. Upon successful completion of the program, Shaya will become a U.S. diplomat, working to promote peace, prosperity and human dignity around the world.

As a first-generation college student and American, Shaya is humbled to represent her family and UC as an award winner.

“I really have a lot of appreciation for my family during this time, because as the daughter of Iraqi immigrants, my parents didn’t go to college and my dad's a mailman,” explained Shaya. “Both of my sisters work in the State Department and paved the way for me to even know about opportunities like this. I feel grateful for my parents and the sacrifices they've made.”

For Jenny Hyest, director of Nationally Competitive Awards, Shaya’s application was a distinct match for the Pickering Fellowship.

“Sometimes a candidate comes along who is just a perfect fit for an award—and that was the case with Trinity and Pickering,” said Hyest. “Everything that Trinity has done—from her research on gender, sexual violence, and human trafficking to her work with refugees in Cyprus to her current service as a Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia—has led to this, and we in NCA could not be more excited for Trinity. She will be a tremendous representative of the U.S. abroad through the Foreign Service.”

Global groundwork

Three women hold a large sign with the logo of UC's Darwin T. Turner Scholars Program.

Trinity Shaya (right) poses with fellow Turner Scholars. Photo/provided.

During her undergraduate years, Shaya looked for opportunities to blend service learning with global experiences. She noted that her choice of major, psychology, was directly influenced by a desire to understand attitudes surrounding mental health in Middle Eastern communities like her own.

She was a Darwin T. Turner Scholar, which she explained fueled her desire to give back to underserved communities throughout her collegiate and post-graduate career.

UC does a really great job of making sure that people are global citizens and giving back to their community.

Trinity Shaya UC alumna

“It's important to give back. That was a strong part of my time at UC, especially as a Turner Scholar,” stated Shaya. “Community service is a key component of that program. UC does a really great job of making sure that people are global citizens and giving back to their community.”

In 2020, Shaya added another country to her roster by studying abroad in Thailand, although the program was ended abruptly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though the semester was cut short, Shaya detailed that her experiences at UC laid the groundwork for further global exploration.

“You learn so much within the classroom, but there's always going to be a component that doesn't fully connect or is just outside of classroom theory,” Shaya said. “You can't really experience the world unless you're living among different communities, seeing different people and experiencing other ways of life.”

Making peace

After graduation in 2021, Shaya continued to pursue global experiences. Her first post-graduate position was an internship with Caritas Cyprus, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping migrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees.

While interning at Caritas Cyprus, Shaya assisted with intake forms for beneficiaries and explained their rights and obligations as asylum seekers. She additionally led weekly art classes, which offered constituents a unique point of connection.

“That experience really opened up my eyes to how migration is a form of trauma, and how many different vulnerabilities people can be exposed to just from the journey itself,” Shaya elaborated. “[The class] became a really beautiful, safe space for people to share their stories, share their experiences, share how they were feeling, and do all of that using art.”

In 2022, Shaya was accepted to the Peace Corps program and trained for several months to volunteer in Zambia, a country in southern Africa. She explained that the transition from training to embedding into the rural community was much larger than she expected.

“During pre-service training, the issues seem so black and white, like, this is how we can prevent malaria,” she added. “And then you actually get into these villages and you see how difficult flooding is from the rains and how that contributes to mosquitoes breeding. There's just so many other things that, until you're actually in a specific environment or with different groups of people, seeing their day to day realities and lives and geography, you're not able to connect how things interact with each other.”

Since her training, Shaya has been teaching sustainable health practices to combat malaria, malnutrition and other prevalent public health issues to rural villagers.

Service learning

Two women pose while standing on a set of colorful steps in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Trinity Shaya studied abroad in Thailand and will continue to explore the world in the U.S. Foreign Service. Photo/provided.

Shaya is currently finishing up graduate school applications, with her top choice being a master’s degree in international human rights at the University of Denver. She explained that although she felt some “imposter syndrome” in the beginning of the fellowship process, she would encourage future applicants to have more confidence.

“Maybe you don't know much about the Foreign Service yet, but you have time to learn and see where you would fit,” said Shaya. “Don't sell yourself short just because you don't have some of the background knowledge that you may feel you need to be a competitive applicant. They're really looking for diversity of skill sets and thought processes as well.”

Through the Pickering Fellowship, she hopes to then work as a consular officer within the Foreign Service and eventually work within an organization dedicated to combatting modern-day slavery and human trafficking.

But no matter where in the world Shaya goes, she will carry lessons and love from Cincinnati with her.

“Cincinnati has my heart,” said Shaya. “I felt like there was so much support and initiative to help build up others who might come from disadvantaged backgrounds. From those experiences and what Cincinnati offered me, I try to be a mentor and support system to other people in my life when I can.”

Image at top: Trinity Shaya graduated from UC in 2021. Photo/provided.

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The University of Cincinnati prepares students to make a real-world impact. Learn more about experiential learning opportunities through study abroad and nationally competitive awards.

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