Diplomacy Alumna Selected to Serve as White House Fellow

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After five years of overseas assignments as an Air Force intelligence officer, including three deployments supporting operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, Ariel Batungbacal, 2005 alumna of the Master of Arts in Diplomacy program, has witnessed history being made. Now, she sees it being made from one of history’s epicenters, the White House.

“I am proud and honored to serve, as there’s no better time than the present to watch history being made all around us,” says Batungbacal, a major in the U.S. Air Force and one of 15 White House Fellows for 2012-2013. She started her duties placed at the U.S. Department of Labor as Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis’ White House Fellow in early fall.

The White House Fellows Program was established by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964 with a mission to give exceptional young men and women first hand, high-level experience with the workings of the federal government. In return, the White House Fellows are expected to continue to work as private citizens on their public agendas and, hopefully, contribute to the nation as future leaders in government, the military, or the private sector.

The non-partisan program is highly competitive, and there can be as many as 1,000 applicants annually for the 11 to 19 fellowships. White House Fellows typically spend a year working as an assistant to senior White House staff, the Vice President, cabinet secretaries and other top-ranking government officials.

Batungbacal applied to the program because she was looking for the opportunity to expand her “perspective on the bigger picture on executive-level leadership in the federal government, professional development through year-long education, and the fellowship of phenomenal public servants and leaders.”

“To be excellent at something, you must practice it - leadership is no different,” she says. “I constantly seek new opportunities to cultivate my leadership abilities to be a more impactful citizen.”

Batungbacal earned her MA in diplomacy from Norwich University while serving overseas. Prior to Norwich, she earned an executive master’s in leadership from Georgetown University, and two undergraduate degrees from the University of Maryland, College Park.

“To be an effective public servant and leader, it is important to understand all the instruments of power - diplomatic, information, military, and economic,” says Batungbacal, who hails from Marietta, Ga. “As a military officer, I wanted to learn more about how the U.S. government uses diplomacy to further its foreign policies.”

Norwich’s diplomacy program was “the perfect fit to help develop this comprehension, given its excellent academic reputation, and leading edge methodology for distance learning,” says Batungbacal, who had just transferred from South Korea to Italy when she applied to Norwich. 

“If it were not for Norwich’s Master of Arts in Diplomacy program, I would not have had the opportunity to both serve our country in a time of war, and attain a graduate degree in a field I am passionate about through a rigorous academic institution,” says Batungbacal. “On a personal note, my grandmother, a Vermonter, also spoke very highly of Norwich so I took note. You have to listen to your grandmother, right?” 

Batungbacal says her Norwich educational experience prepared her for the fellowship by “reinforcing the importance of focus and perseverance on your purpose, and self-reliance to determine your outcomes.”

Alumni of the White House Fellows program include former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, former NATO Supreme Commander Wesley Clarke, Wall Street Journal Editorial Page Editor Paul Gigot, and CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta. Being a part of such a select and accomplished group inspires Batungbacal.

“I feel a tremendous sense of obligation to carry on the White House Fellows legacy of service, commitment and leadership to our nation,” says Batungbacal, who has been decorated for meritorious service several times. “If given the opportunity, I would be interested to hear how this experience encouraged their desire to serve on a greater level.”

After completing her fellowship, Batungbacal plans to continue serving in the Air Force and “hopefully [have] the challenge of command.”

“My personal life mission is to improve the quality of people’s lives by giving them the tools to expand their sense of self for themselves and their community,” says Batungbacal, who has committed approximately 3,000 hours over the last decade to community organizations that cultivate women leaders. “The challenging White House Fellows environment will hopefully help magnify my ability to pinpoint greater ways to accomplish this life mission.”

The White House Fellows application for the 2013-2014 class is now live. Interested individuals can learn more about the program on the White House Fellows website.