Public Diplomacy student Ciolek named to Presidential Fellows Program

By Jackson DeMos

Graduate student Melanie Ciolek (pictured, Master's in Public Diplomacy '11) earned USC's only spot in the Presidential Fellows Program — run through the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress — and will travel twice to Washington, D.C. to explore the connections between the presidency and the development of American public diplomacy strategy.  

For almost 40 years, Center for the Study of the Presidency Fellows have visited Washington to learn about leadership and governance, to share their outstanding research and scholarship, to develop as future leaders of character, and to be inspired to careers in public service. The Center Fellows Program is a unique educational initiative that offers 85 select undergraduate and graduate students from leading colleges and universities a yearlong opportunity to study the U.S. Presidency, the public policymaking process, and the U.S. President's relations with Congress, allies, the media and the American public.

"My interest in the Presidential Fellows Program comes from my belief in the importance of U.S. engagement with global communities through public diplomacy," Ciolek said. "As the global media environment has evolved, the institution of the Presidency has had a profound influence on the U.S. government's ability to effectively communicate its policies to audiences around the world. As a part of the Fellows Program, I want to explore the connections between the Presidency and the development of American public diplomacy strategy."

Associate dean of academic programs and student affairs Abigail Kaun first brought the fellowship to Ciolek's attention. 

"Given her experience and interests, it’s clear that Melanie will be able to participate in this fellowship in a substantive and meaningful way," Kaun said. "She’s smart and articulate and so well-prepared for this project — she will be a wonderful representative of USC in what I am sure will be a diverse and high-powered group."

Fellows attend two conferences each academic year during the fall and spring. At these policy workshops, fellows discuss national issues with scholars and are briefed by senior government officials and nationally recognized public policy experts. The fellowship requires that each student research, write, and present an original paper on an issue of the modern presidency. Students are eligible to participate in two essay contests and compete for publication in the annual anthology of the best Center Fellows' Papers.

The Center provides professional mentors drawn from the public policy community and government to help the fellows define their proposals. Mentors also guide their fellows in writing and editing of a paper that is brought to publishing standards during the academic year.

"Melanie is a superb student who has excelled academically in our Master of Public Diplomacy program, and has emerged as an energetic and thoughtful leader among her peers," Dean Ernest J. Wilson III said. "Melanie's background and interests make her an ideal candidate for this fellowship, both in terms of the benefits the program will have for her, as well her ability to represent USC in the best possible light during her time in Washington, D.C." 

Since its inception, the Center Fellows Program has developed leadership and scholarship skills in more than 1,000 students, providing three of the 32 Rhodes Scholars in 2006 as well as numerous Fulbright, Gates, Marshall, and other Scholarship and Fellowship winners. Alumni of the Fellows Program are Capitol Hill and White House staffers, award-winning journalists, CEOs of corporations and non-profit organizations, senior military leaders and university deans and vice-presidents.

"I believe that Melanie’s participation in this program will not only benefit her, but the program itself," said Robert Banks, USC's U.S. Public Diplomat in Residence, who wrote a letter of recommendation for Ciolek. "Certainly she brings to it a strong interest in politics, presidential leadership and foreign policy, which a fellowship would build upon, but she also would contribute her own expertise in the field of public diplomacy, increasingly seen by many scholars as a vital component of U.S. foreign relations."

Ciolek, who studied international affairs at Georgetown University as an undergraduate and lived in Washington, D.C., from 2001 to 2009, said she is interested in a public service profession after finishing at USC Annenberg.

"My immediate goal is to contribute to the public diplomacy efforts of the U.S. government, either through the State Department or another agency involved with the evolving framework of the government's strategic communications," she said. "Later in life I'd love to work for the International Olympic Committee, which spends a lot of time facilitating international engagement between publics on the grandest scale."

Nicholas Cull, director of USC Annenberg's Master of Public Diplomacy degree program, called Melanie a truly excellent student with first-rate leadership skills.

"She is a fine example of the wonderful people we have in the M.P.D. program," Cull said. "It is good to see a university-wide recognition of the program and an opportunity to remind Washington, D.C., of all that our students have to offer."

Presidential Fellows Program