State Dept. honor turns student’s ‘dream into a reality’

Christopher Kooy

Christopher Kooy, UIC Honors College senior dual majoring in political science and Spanish in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Photo: Jannie Kirby

Thanks to a highly competitive U.S. State Department program, a University of Illinois at Chicago Honors College senior is one step closer to fulfilling a family and personal aspiration – to become a diplomat.

Christopher Kooy, who is dual majoring in political science and Spanish in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has been named one of 30 national recipients of the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Graduate Fellowship for International Studies.

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The Rangel program, which is administered by Howard University’s Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center, provides up to $37,500 annually for two years of graduate study in international affairs or another field related to the work of the U.S. Foreign Service.

Kooy will start the program this summer with an internship working for a member of Congress on Capitol Hill.

He is in the process of applying to several East Coast graduate schools. He will begin graduate studies next fall in either public policy or international affairs, with a focus on Latin America.

Kooy, a native of Dixon, Illinois, has family roots in Peru. His maternal grandfather moved to Lima as a young boy to learn Spanish and get a job in construction to support his family. His mother was born and raised there and eventually pursued a foreign policy career.

“When it was time for my mother to take the test to become a Peruvian diplomat, she passed with flying colors, but was rejected because she was deemed too short in physical stature,” he said.

Due to Peru’s violent civil war, which lasted from 1980 to 2000, his family migrated to northern Illinois, where he was born as a first-generation Peruvian-American.

“All my life, my Peruvian family jokingly called me ‘Señor Embajador,’ as an allusion to our family’s history,” Kooy explained. “But over time, it became my own personal goal to fulfill the dream of my forefathers and become what my mother and grandfather never could become.”

The timing of the Rangel honor is bittersweet for Kooy, whose grandfather died shortly before the fall 2017 semester.

“While my family and I miss him dearly, we know he died knowing I was working towards this goal,” he said. “I am thankful to UIC and everyone who’s helped me in this effort, because it has allowed me to honor my family and turn my dream into a reality.”

During the summer between his first and second year of graduate school, he will participate in a second internship, this time based abroad in a U.S. embassy.

After completing graduate school, the Rangel program and Foreign Service entry requirements, he will serve for a minimum of five years as a Foreign Service Officer. Kooy hopes to be involved in human rights policy as a political officer, with a particular focus on Latin America.

His ambitions for a career in the region involve addressing indigenous rights issues, particularly involving land access and ownership, cultural and linguistic preservation, political rights and socioeconomic inclusion.

“My goal would be to ensure that these people’s voices are heard in the public life of Latin American countries and that the governments and societies of these countries are committing to addressing these issues,” he said.

A 2014 graduate of Dixon High School, Kooy earned admission to UIC via the President’s Award Program Honors Scholarship, UIC’s most prestigious four-year tuition and housing scholarship, given to exemplary incoming first-year Honors College students.

While at UIC, he has been heavily involved in extracurricular activities and community service, such as campus ministry and AmeriCorps Illinois JusticeCorps.

He was awarded a 2016 Chancellor’s Student Service and Leadership Award, which recognizes outstanding UIC student leaders for commitment to service and community engagement.

Through the Public Policy and International Affairs’ undergraduate fellowship program, Kooy attended an intensive seven-week institute this summer at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He was named a Hispanic Scholarship Fund scholar in summer 2016.

The fellowship program is named for Charles B. Rangel, who retired in Dec. 2016 after 23 terms and 46 years representing the people of New York City as a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives.