For LSA senior Emmanuel Orozco Castellanos, being awarded a Program in Comparative and International Studies (PICS) Summer Fellowship in 2021 meant that he could afford to accept a coveted summer internship position. Although it was unpaid, his role as a Spanish-speaking outreach coordinator for AsylumConnect, a non-profit organization that helps LGBTQ+ asylum seekers, allowed him to gain perspectives in international human rights that could only come from participation in high-stakes work outside the classroom. It’s knowledge that will be priceless in his future career–and it’s work that provided vital support to individuals in crisis–so it may be surprising to hear that Orozco Castellanos almost passed up the offer.

“I definitely hesitated. Interning at non-profit organizations is daunting; they rely on voluntary work and the fact that this full-time internship was unpaid deterred me from accepting it right away. I was concerned about my financial situation. I actually considered just getting a summer job as a server in a local restaurant instead,” he explained. “I’m so grateful to the donors who supported my fellowship. They made it possible for me to take the position, which was particularly meaningful because of the life-saving mission of AsylumConnect.”

For students like Orozco Castellanos, an International Studies major interested in pursuing human rights law, internationally-focused internships, research fellowships, and study abroad programs are key. These opportunities are uniquely able to provide the type of immersive hands-on exposure to different cultural and political environments and social issues that is crucial to developing the skills to launch an international career.

“Our students find their way to PICS because they are motivated by a global challenge that has caught their attention that they want to solve or make better. It is very much an applied field of study,” explained U-M Professor of Political Science and PICS Director Robert J. Franzese, Jr.

Personalizing the Path

Students majoring in International Studies design their own solution-oriented, interdisciplinary curriculum around one of four PICS sub-plans: International Security Norms and Cooperation (e.g. human rights); Political Economy and Development; Global Environment and Health; and Comparative Culture and Identity. Specific to their sub-plans and interests, they combine courses from departments across LSA, including–but definitely not limited to–political science, history, economics, anthropology, and cultural and language studies, as well as other schools like the School of Public Health (SPH) and the School of Environment and Sustainability (SEAS).

“PICS study is solution-driven and hands-on,” said Franzese. “In that regard, it is crucial for undergraduates majoring in International Studies to have the opportunity to engage directly in experiential on-site learning that is directly connected to a tangible career path.”

Franzese notes that the off-campus possibilities for PICS students to supplement their coursework are far-ranging and as unique as their paths of study. While Orozco Castellanos chose an internship that enabled him to leverage his multilingual skills (Spanish is his first language) and personal emigration experience, students in the past have done research on problems and policy issues specific to the Arctic at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, served as the cultural liaison for a team of students from the School of Engineering who were building a community maternity clinic in South America, and worked on clinical trials for sickle cell anemia treatment in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The challenge is usually not in finding the right global opportunity, but in funding it. Like many undergrads at U-M, 70% of whom receive some form of financial aid, Orozco Castellanos would not have been able to afford to spend an entire summer gaining focused work experience in his field of study without a donor-supported internship scholarship.

PICS students can apply for summer funding through several donor-supported scholarships, including the Rose Silverman Internship Fellowship and the Longwoods Fellowship, as well as the PICS Summer Fellowship, and an Arctic Internship Fellowship that specifically supports Arctic research. A partnership with the Donia Human Rights Center (DHRC) and law firm Perseus Strategies–the International Human Rights Fellowship–provides one student each summer with an internship in Perseus’s Washington D.C. office. PICS also offers their year-round Study Abroad Fellowship. Even so, as one of the ten most popular majors in the College of LSA, the number of students who wish to access these opportunities far outweighs the number of scholarships available. As international travel and study begins to pick up, one of PICS’ main funding priorities is an endowment to establish scholarships that will fully support any and all students who wish to pursue such impactful work as part of their International Studies degree.

Setting the Journey in Motion

In fact, it was a visionary donor-funded initiative demonstrating Michigan’s commitment to accessibility that drew Orozco Castellanos to U-M in the first place.

Orozco Castellanos was a student at Henry Ford College (HFC), a public community college in nearby Dearborn, when he was selected to participate in the Community College Summer Fellowship Program (CCSFP) through LSA’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). CCSFP provides community college students who are interested in transferring to U-M with a paid summer research position alongside a U-M faculty member or research scholar. Students gain valuable understanding of academic research and exposure to the university environment, as well as connections to university admissions, advising, and financial aid resources.

“I worked with a U-M faculty professor as a research assistant at the English Language Institute, where I co-designed English for Academic Purposes (EAP) courses for students who, like me, speak English as an additional language,” he said. “The experience was eye-opening. My mentor convinced me that U-M was the place I wanted to be.”

Orozco Castellanos already knew he had a passion for international affairs before he started college. As a high school student in Mexico, he was chosen to attend the 61st Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations Headquarters in New York as a civil society representative. He discovered another, even more personal connection a little while later.

“It wasn’t until I moved to the United States, and was taking a history class at HFC that I discovered my grandfather had worked in Chicago as a Bracero when WWII caused a shortage of workers in the U.S. This shortage prompted the American government to hire workers from Mexico,” said Orozco Castellanos. “I have witnessed how international politics and transnational trends have shaped my past and my present at such a personal level. It has strengthened my sense of global citizenship and makes me very enthusiastic about this field.”

When researching options for transferring, he found that the four sub-plans that PICS offers, which allow students to focus in a particular area of international studies, set it apart in comparison to the global affairs programs offered by other universities in Michigan and in the rest of the country.

“UROP showed me what was possible at the University of Michigan,” he said. “I learned directly how much U-M supported students in the classroom and beyond, and with PICS I knew I’d have access to the best resources and opportunities to launch a global career.”

A Voyage of Discovery

On campus, Orozco Castellanos has built a strong foundation with a community of fellow students who share similar values and goals in the Global Scholars Program (GSP), an academic living-learning community based in North Quad that examines global social justice issues from multiple cultural perspectives. The GSP population reflects the academic and cultural diversity of the university, with admission open to students from any school and college on campus, and a mix of international, exchange, and U.S. students.

“I have made lifelong friends and honed my passion for global justice in GSP. I’m currently a peer dialogue facilitator, and I love being part of this collective effort to immerse students in a highly multicultural environment,” he said. “My best memories at U-M have been being around my GSPeeps. This program has helped me grow in so many ways.”

Being a part of GSP, whose members are also encouraged to take part in study or work abroad, has made it possible for Orozco Castellanos to blend his personal and academic interests, resulting in a life on campus that reflects the life and career he hopes to have after graduation.

Orozco Castellanos was also accepted into the first cohort of Donia Human Rights Fellows Program, launched this year by the Donia Human Rights Center (DHRC). DHRC works closely with PICS and provides a forum for intellectual exchange on human rights issues by inviting practitioners and scholars to engage with U-M students, faculty, and researchers. The new Donia Human Rights Fellows Program recognizes the achievements of PICS International Studies majors, who focus on the International Security Norms and Cooperation sub-plan, and provides special academic and professional opportunities.

“Human Rights is a central focus of interest, study, and action for very many of our PICS students. This new program is a terrific way for those studies and achievements to be recognized with the distinctive designation and honor of being named Donia Human Rights Fellows,” added Franzese.

“One of the highlights has been an event with John H. Knox, former United Nations special rapporteur on human rights and the environment,” noted Orozco Castellanos. “It was a phenomenal chance for me to learn from human rights practitioners and imagine what a career in this field looks like.”

Orozco Castellanos at the Palais de Nations, at the United Nations office in Geneva. “This building has enormous historical significance as it used to host the League of Nations before it was dissolved. During our visit, we had a tour in the UN Library, and were able to look at the archives of the Nuremberg Trials, for example. As SIT students, we had unlimited access to the UN offices in Geneva. My final project examined the UN Convention Against Torture and non-state actors, so I spent a lot of time at the UN library.”

Orozco Castellanos continued his exploration of the human rights field by studying abroad during the winter 2022 term with the International Studies and Multilateral Diplomacy Program in Geneva, Switzerland. The program includes on-site visits to some of the most influential international human rights organizations, including the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the International Committee for the Red Crosse and, in Brussels, the European Union. It is offered by the Center for Global and Intercultural Study (CGIS), which offers study abroad programs in over 50 countries. CGIS also helps eligible students like Orozco Castellanos find ways to afford their study abroad experiences through donor-supported scholarships, which are vital to enable more LSA students to study abroad and prepare to be global citizens. Although every trip differs in its programmatic and travel costs, the average financial commitment is a sizable burden for many interested students.

Orozco Castellanos has no intention of slowing down. This summer he’s in Washington D.C. interning with Perseus Strategies as the 2022 PICS/DHRC/Perseus Strategies International Human Rights Fellow. His path is a good example of how experiences on campus and beyond continually build on one another in unique and inspiring ways that help students define their goals and reach greater heights. Thanks to LSA donors and the funds that make these programs possible, they don’t have to wait to begin the work of making the world a better place.