Her parents’ experiences as political refugees inspired Daniella Zelaya of Woodbridge, Virginia, to pursue international affairs.

Zelaya grew up hearing stories about the Nicaraguan Revolution, whose violence led her parents — then teenagers — to immigrate to the United States. Her father applied for asylum, but then obtained sponsorship as a highly skilled worker in computer science; her mother received permanent residency status through the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act.

“Human rights and international affairs left a huge mark on me growing up,” Zelaya said.

Zelaya, a senior double majoring in international studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and economics in the College of Science, now has the opportunity to turn inspiration into action. Following a highly competitive contest, she was recently named one of only 30 students nationwide to receive the 2016 Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship.

The Rangel Fellowship, funded by the U.S. Department of State and managed by the Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center at Howard University, supports students seeking a career in the foreign service of the State Department.

While a junior at Virginia Tech, Zelaya studied abroad on a faculty-led program to Morocco, Turkey, and Sri Lanka. Following the five-week program, she opted for a six-week extension to intern with Sarvodaya, a development and reconstruction organization in Sri Lanka.

The following summer, Zelaya interned with the State Department’s Office of Multilateral and Global Affairs in Washington, D.C. There she worked on issues related to human rights and internet freedom.

As part of the fellowship program, this summer Zelaya will work for a member of the U.S. Congress on international issues. She will then use her Rangel Fellowship to pursue a master’s degree in international affairs at George Washington University beginning in the fall.

In the summer of 2017, the U.S. Department of State will send Zelaya to a U.S. embassy to get hands-on experience with U.S. foreign policy and foreign service work. Zelaya is slated to become a U.S. diplomat upon completion of her master’s degree.

Where does she hope to be stationed?

“I really have no preference,” she said. “I just love being immersed in different cultures. Everywhere is on my go-to list.”

Written by Paula Byron