Alumna Mary Bohn wins selective fellowship to study, serve in U.S. Foreign Service

By April Hunt | Emory Report | Jan. 26, 2021

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Emory College 2020 graduate Mary Bohn has been named a Thomas Pickering Fellow by the U.S. State Department. She plans to make the foreign service her career and credits Emory with encouraging the critical thinking and service needed for the work. Emory Photo/Video

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Recent Emory College graduate Mary Bohn, who sought global study before and during her time at Emory, has been named a Thomas R. Pickering Fellow with the U.S. State Department.

The fellowship funds two years of graduate study — Bohn plans to pursue a master’s degree in international development or public policy — followed by a five-year commitment to the U.S. Foreign Service.

That puts Bohn on the career path she hoped for when she arrived at Emory having studied in South Korea in high school as part of the State Department’s National Security Language Initiative for Youth.

She graduated with highest honors in East Asian studies last May and credits Emory’s focus on critical thinking and servant leadership with helping achieve her dream job.

“The academic rigor at Emory, the push to think beyond obvious answers, has truly prepared me to be a lifelong learner,” Bohn says. “I get paid to learn my whole life and have a chance to make a real, on-the-ground difference in the world. I am so grateful to Emory and the State Department for that.”

Bohn is Emory’s fourth recipient of the highly competitive fellowship, which includes two summer internships, mentoring within the Foreign Service and other professional development opportunities.

The State Department had previously selected Bohn for the 2020 Fulbright U.S. Student Program, to teach English in Indonesia.

Due to public health concerns and travel difficulties from the pandemic, her assistantship has been pushed to this year, and she may be placed to another country. She will begin her Pickering Fellowship in fall 2022.

“Mary consistently demonstrated thoughtful leadership, empathy and cultural awareness, making the Emory community a more welcoming place for students from all backgrounds,” says Megan Friddle, director of Emory’s National Scholarships and Fellowships Program. “We were thrilled to support her application to the Pickering program, and by extension her aspirations for a career in the Foreign Service.”

“In the future, we hope to share these opportunities with more Emory students and alumni who are called to public service careers,” Friddle adds.

Growing up in a low-income family near Chattanooga, Tennessee, Bohn was long fascinated with the world beyond her hometown, especially in how different places coped with development and poverty.

She selected Emory because of its academic rigor and opportunity to travel. She spent nearly half of her college tenure abroad, mostly in Cambodia, China and South Korea.

Bohn’s fellowship in South Korea with the Halle Institute for Global Learning/Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry, where she researched scholarly findings on collective identity and interviewed North Korean refugees on their experiences, led to her honors thesis.

Challenging coursework and volunteering to teach English with Project SHINE, Emory’s signature engagement program with Atlanta’s refugee and immigrant communities, sharpened her Korean and French language skills and helped her develop fluency in Mandarin.

It also deepened her interest in human rights as the arena where her interests and skills could have the most impact.

“She’s fearless,” says Julia Bullock, professor and chair of the Department of Russian and East Asian Languages and Cultures and Bohn’s thesis adviser.

“I can’t think of a better ambassador for American idealism and the practical mindset of getting things done than Mary, because she truly cares about people,” she says. “She is generally interested in the whole world.”

Since graduating, Bohn has satisfied her curiosity by working with two Atlanta-area nonprofits. As director of planning and development with Re'Generation Movement in Clarkston, she developed a leadership and global citizenship curriculum and mentorship program for the agency that empowers refugee and immigrant children through education and advocacy.

She also is an AmeriCorps Service Member at the Global Village Project in Decatur, where she redesigned the mentorship program for 250 students and mentors and served as co-instructor in English and literacy classes for recently arrived refugee students.

Serving in the Foreign Service will incorporate those job experiences and Bohn’s training into a job she has dreamed about for years.

“Every Foreign Service officer I’ve ever met has been such a remarkable person and so passionate about promoting the best American values of liberty, prosperity and peace,” Bohn says. “It is the coolest job out there, and I am so very happy to have this opportunity to do it.”