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Emory alumnus Oscar Escobar wins select State Department fellowship
Oscar Escobar

Oscar Escobar is the third Emory recipient of the prestigious Rangel Graduate Fellowship, an early-career program for aspiring diplomats.

Motivated by collaborative work he experienced during a leadership conference in China during high school, Oscar Escobar spent his four years at Emory University pursuing similar international interactions.

Many times the Florida native and 2020 graduate in international relations and East Asian studies was the only domestic student in groups and at events. That experience will continue with Escobar’s selection as a 2022 Rangel Graduate Fellow, the U.S. State Department’s prestigious early-career program for aspiring diplomats.

“I am very thankful to Emory for showing me how to take this route to public service by following what I love, people-to-people exchanges,” says Escobar, the son of immigrants from Ecuador and Nicaragua. “I’m honored to continue working with diverse groups of people.”

He is Emory’s third recipient of the highly competitive Rangel Fellowship, which provides funding for two years of graduate study as well as mentoring, professional development and a domestic internship.

Escobar plans to pursue a master’s degree in public administration or international affairs, with a focus on security policy. Following his studies, he will begin a five-year commitment to the U.S. Foreign Service. The assignment could take him to nearly any country for service — especially given he already speaks Japanese, Korean and Spanish — but he is hopeful to start in Asia.

An interest in Asia sparked at Emory

The region first drew his attention during a meeting with Frank Gaertner, associate director of academic advising in the Office for Undergraduate Education, during fall semester of his first year.

Escobar was not assigned to work with Gaertner, an advisor to international students, but was looking for a staff member to help him organize the Hult Prize, an annual college competition to tackle global social issues.

They met in Gaertner’s office, decorated with items from his many trips to Asia and a poster of the Korean alphabet. Intrigued by the 24 curved letters, designed to mimic the shape of the mouth when speaking, Escobar decided to add Korean classes to his study of Japanese language and culture.

Escobar went on to take several advanced courses on Korea, studied abroad at Yonsei University in Seoul and served as a leader on the International Student Leadership and Advocacy Board and Emory’s Student Government Association.

Gaertner, who helped Escobar with his role as campus director for the Hult Prize, worked with him for three years as an Academic Fellow, which provides incoming international students with student mentors. During that time, Escobar also founded Emory Global Ambassadors, which pairs first-year students with international students who have similar interests.

“Oscar sets his sights on a task and he’s very quiet, but he’s tenacious in working on it,” Gaertner says. “It’s his hallmark, to always be smiling and always be persistent on figuring things out.”

Active in Atlanta and beyond

Escobar’s interest in public service and global issues has continued at Re’Generation Movement, an Atlanta-based organization founded by fellow Emory graduate Jongdae “JD” Kim, who earned degrees from Oxford College in 2007, Emory College in 2011 and Goizueta Business School's evening MBA program in 2017. Emory College 2020 graduate Mary Bohn, who worked alongside Escobar and Kim, received a similar State Department fellowship last year.

As director of advocacy and events for the nonprofit, Escobar splits his time between mentoring and tutoring programs for immigrant and refugee students and advocating and promoting peace on the Korean peninsula.

“I’ve known Oscar from his time as an undergraduate leader, and he always intrigued me with his passion for peace in the Korean peninsula as a non-Korean,” Kim says. “Soon, I was able to see how he reconciles and extends his own identity as a second-generation Latino immigrant into having a broader perspective for looking at the world and passion for global peace.”

Working at the grassroots level broadened Escobar’s interest in policy work and additional volunteer efforts with organizations such as the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies and Aurora NK, an international, student-run organization empowering North Korean refugee populations around the world.

“Oscar approaches diplomacy with deep thoughtfulness and knowledge,” says Olivia Hendricks, the former fellowship advisor in Emory College’s Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships who is now a visiting assistant professor of English at Oxford College. “He has built relationships with a network of Emory alumni who share similar interests in thinking globally.”

The Rangel Fellowship will allow him to expand his interest in diversity and public service even further, Escobar says.

“Emory has given me these opportunities that I prize, bringing my passions of international education and international affairs together but always with a focus on people. It’s inspiring to think I will be able to share those opportunities on behalf of the United States. I can’t wait.”