NYU Shanghai sophomore Ariana Alvarez is one of 15 American students—and just eight undergraduates—to be awarded a 2021 United States Foreign Affairs Information Technology Fellowship (FAIT Fellowship). The program, funded by the U.S. Department of State, will provide her with up to $75,000 to support her undergraduate studies, internships in Washington, DC and abroad, and a 5-year appointment as a foreign service information management specialist at a US embassy or consulate after graduation.
Ariana is a double major in Computer Science and Social Science with an international relations concentration. She is excited to fulfill her childhood dream of becoming a diplomat through the FAIT Fellowship. “I always wanted to be a bridge between China and the Americas, and I’ve always been a person that wants to create change,” Alvarez said. “This fellowship will really allow me to do both, fostering and actually implementing policies through technology.”
A Foundation in International Thinking
Born in Ecuador and raised primarily in New York, Ariana grew up loving languages. She took classes in French and Italian in addition to her native Spanish and English, and began teaching herself Chinese independently in high school. Living at the confluence of two vastly different cultures, she was fascinated by how the simple fact of speaking to someone in their own language could forge new bonds. She was an avid Model UN participant and constantly sought out opportunities for international exchange, including a Rotary International Exchange program in Germany.
Learning the Universal Language of Coding
But she also had a love of math and biology. When she arrived as a first-year student at NYU Shanghai in the fall of 2019, she intended to study neuroscience. When she took the Interactive Media Arts program’s Interaction Lab course in the fall of her first year, however, she discovered a new passion: programming. “I found it very fulfilling in that I was creating something, and I could see the immediate product of what I’m learning and doing,” Alvarez said. “That’s something that I really like about computer science and technology—that it’s advancing so fast, and you can see the results immediately in the impact it has on people.”
Coding also spoke to the communicator in Alvarez. She said she sees programming as a sort of universal language, one that people around the world can share and translate more easily than any spoken language. But it wasn’t until she learned about the FAIT Fellowship online that Alvarez fully realized how to bring her two seemingly disparate interests together.
Bringing it All Together at NYU Shanghai
“I was always very frustrated by how long the diplomatic process takes, and there are so many parts of the process that need fixing,” Alvarez said. “Technology can create such a big, immediate impact on humans, and right now that impact isn’t all good because the internet and artificial intelligence are just reflections of what society is right now. I think if we can bring together this diplomacy mindset with technology, then we can use it to create the change we need to foster international cooperation.”
Ariana said she believes that her choice to study at NYU Shanghai was ultimately key to her selection for the FAIT Fellowship, proving her ability to adapt to new cultures in her future placement abroad with the Foreign Service.
“I see learning languages as now becoming the new norm, so what’s more important is really how you use languages and your willingness to push back your boundaries in order to actually be a global citizen,” Alvarez said. “NYU Shanghai definitely provided a setting where I can push myself and really stretch my learning of different cultures, and I think that’s what really put me in this spot.”
“Ariana’s strong intellectual abilities as a student are matched by her commitment to engagement and service,” said Assistant Professor of Practice in Political Science Ivan Rasmussen. “I have been impressed with her work in our course on US-China relations as she challenges conventional thought. In addition, her perseverance and strength of character shined as we worked closely on preparing her application for the FAIT Fellowship and through our interactions with Model UN. Ariana will make a great representative of not just the US but also as a global citizen.”
“If you see an opportunity that seems interesting to you, even if it’s not part of your plan, even if it seems unachievable, it doesn’t hurt to try. The worst they can say is no,” Alvarez advised other students. “I tried it, and it worked! And now I’m excited to see what new people I meet and new experiences I have,” she said.