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ASU alumna awarded prestigious Pickering Fellowship

ASU alumna Monica Orillo stands next to a short brick wall. She has long dark hair and wears glasses.

ASU alumna Monica Orillo was recently awarded a prestigious Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship. She is currently completing a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Germany. Photo courtesy Monica Orillo

March 14, 2022

Arizona State University alumna Monica Orillo is in the middle of completing a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Germany, but she already knows what the next few years of her career will look like.

Orillo was recently awarded a Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship, which will cover the costs of her two-year graduate program; provide her with internships in Washington, D.C., and abroad; and establish her in a job as a U.S. Foreign Service officer after graduation.

“I felt great,” Orillo said about learning she had received the fellowship, “and to be honest, I cried because I was so happy. It felt pretty amazing to see the different parts of my life come together to land me my dream job.”

She is currently making her decision about which university to attend in fall 2022 — regardless, the master’s program will be focused on international affairs and the Asia-Pacific region. Orillo is Filipino American and studied abroad in Manila in 2018 and 2019 on a Boren Scholarship, so she hopes to learn more about the country of her family’s heritage as her studies and career progress.

She took Asian studies classes while at ASU, but graduated summa cum laude in fall 2020 with bachelor’s degrees in political science and German. She had an internship with the State Department’s Foreign Service at the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt in 2018. At ASU, she served as a junior research fellow at the Center on the Future of War, which is part of the School of Politics and Global Studies. She also graduated with a certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, commonly known as TESOL.

Orillo is currently putting all of those credentials to good use during her time in Dortmund, a city in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most densely populated state. As part of the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Program, she teaches students at a gymnasium, a secondary school for the fifth through twelfth grades.

“My students are all very curious and it's rewarding to be able to share my background, coming from a Filipino household in Arizona, and show them a side of the U.S. they don't always get to see from watching American movies,” Orillo said. “The process is truly a cultural exchange, and I feel like I learn something from the students with every conversation.”

ASU alumna Monica Orillo on a street in Germany.

Monica Orillo is currently completing a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Dortmund, a city in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most densely populated state. Photo courtesy Monica Orillo

Before traveling to Germany, she completed an internship with Phoenix Sister Cities. In that role, she was able to see first-hand how local organizations and officials work to build connections to the global community.

“The internship provided me with insight into what international relations look like at the city and community level, and that's something I know will be applicable to my future career and studies. The internship really helped me learn how to better understand broad international issues in a local context,” Orillo said.

In her final semester at ASU, she was named the Dean’s Medalist for the School of International Letters and Cultures. Orillo was nominated for the award from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences by Associate Professor of German studies Daniel Gilfillan, who has been a mentor for her after she took several of his classes and completed an independent study research project with his supervision. Gilfillan has stayed in contact with Orillo since her graduation and congratulated her on her most recent award.

Monica Orillo visits Cologne Cathedral in North Rhine-Westphalia. The church's arching architecture extends so high in the background behind her that it stretches past the edges of the photo.

Monica Orillo visits Cologne Cathedral in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Photo courtesy Monica Orillo

“The SILC German program is extremely proud of the many accomplishments of our alumni, and to learn that our recent graduate Monica Orillo has been awarded a prestigious Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship funded through the U.S. Department of State is really the icing on the cake,” he said. “We join her in celebrating this accomplishment – it is a real testament to the value of learning a second language and the many opportunities for improving lives it can offer.”

Orillo has been working nonstop since graduation – and long before it, too – all in order to make her dreams a reality.

“I’m very excited for the path ahead of me … “ Orillo said. “I've considered joining the Foreign Service ever since I was an exchange student in Germany on a high school State Department scholarship.”

To find out – while living once again in Germany, where many of her dreams began – that she would get the opportunity to do just that is a full-circle moment for Orillo.

“We are truly thrilled and excited that Monica Anne will be joining the Pickering Fellowship Program,” Director Lily Lopez-McGee said in a press release. “I look forward to seeing all that she will accomplish in her career.”

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