Community College of Philadelphia alumna Aminata Sy doesn't know yet where she'll go -- whether it will be Dakar, Kigali or perhaps London, Paris.
Still she's already on her way—on her way to getting a coveted job as a U.S. Foreign Service diplomat. Since 2012, this mother of three has balanced work and college studies in her West Philadelphia community, where she currently serves the African immigrant community through a nonprofit for children.
Now, as she prepares to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania in May, a new life awaits her. Sy (pronounced “C”) is one of 30 people selected to receive the Rangel Graduate Fellowship; she starts immediately after graduation.
The prestigious Charles B. Rangel Graduate Fellowship supports winners through two years of graduate studies, provides internships in Congress and at a U.S. embassy overseas, and grants entry into the Foreign Service corps. Sy calls it “an achievement that has been years in the making.” It brings Sy closer to her ultimate destination of becoming a diplomat.
"I thank my husband, Abdoul Wane, for his unshakable support. I thank everyone who has supported me thus far,” Sy, a mother of three children, now 16, 14 and 6, wrote in a Facebook post announcing the fellowship to her family and friends.
Those supporters include her mentors at Community College of Philadelphia — former English professor Jill Shashaty, assistant English professor Ravyn Davis, and tutor Vicky Schwartz, as well as numerous College administrators who inspired and encouraged her.
Sy’s story shows how education can change a life. She dropped out of high school in Senegal and came to the United States in 2001. Though she spoke French, Pulaar and Wolof, she had to learn to speak English once she arrived. She graduated from Community College of Philadelphia with highest honors and a 4.0 GPA in 2015.
CCP offered Sy the flexibility she needed to balance school and home life. In the beginning, she was taking college courses in the afternoon and home schooling her son on weekday mornings.
“The College opened my eyes to what is and what could be," Sy said. “Your financial background may not be what it needs to be; your educational skills may not be what they need to be, yet every time I made an effort, I made progress.” Now, after serving the people of Philadelphia these past years, Sy is ready to help solve the challenges facing our world.
“America has given me so much,” she said. “This is where I have lived with my husband. This is where I gave birth to my kids. This is where I got my education. I try to find ways to serve on the local level, on the national level and on the international level.”
With the Rangel Graduate Fellowship, Sy joins the growing ranks of recent CCP graduates who have earned distinctive academic honors, including Hazim Hardeman, the College’s first Rhodes Scholar. Hardeman and Sy were both members of the Class of 2015. After graduation, Hardeman volunteered for Sy’s nonprofit, African Community Learning Program. She established the program to support children of African immigrant background as they acquire language skills and adjust to life in America while remaining connected to their heritage.
The Rangel Graduate Fellowship is a collaborative effort including the State Department, Howard University, the U.S. Congress and universities nationwide, that helps ensure a Foreign Service that represents the diversity of America.
Sy first will travel to Washington D.C. for a 10-week summer internship with a member of Congress involved in international affairs. During those weeks, she will meet State Department officials and foreign diplomats.
Then, with a $37,000 annual grant from the Fellowship, Sy will begin graduate studies pursuing a major in public policy; she’s applying for programs now. Next summer she will be posted to an embassy or consulate abroad before returning to finish her degree. When she graduates, she'll transition into a career with the Foreign Service.
“There are many issues in the world to resolve,” Sy said. She said her language skills, her background living in different places in the world, her experience in journalism and nonprofit management and her training in international affairs at Penn and CCP have given her the grounding to work on issues that matter to her, including education, immigration, and African diaspora matters.