Colin Powell School
“Do Internships!” - South Bronx Native Michael Cruz Tells His Story of Returning to College and Building a Career in the Foreign Service
“You are unique, and you are the only one who can tell your own story,” says Michael Cruz, a Colin Powell School alum who recently won the Charles B. Rangel Fellowship in International Affairs, a prestigious award for aspiring foreign service officers at the US State Department. A native of the South Bronx and child of Puerto Rican parents, Cruz developed a keen interest in international affairs and aspired to serve in the Peace Corps and join the US Foreign Service. At the Colin Powell School, he became a Partners for Change Fellow, Honors Program in Legal Studies Fellow, and CUNY Malave Fellow. He studied abroad in Brazil and Korea and completed an internship in Washington, DC with support from CCNY. He encourages students to talk to advisors and do internships that will help them gain skills and experience to advance their careers.
Questions for Colin Powell School Alumni Profile
Please tell us a little about your background.
I am a Native New Yorker, born to Puerto Rican parents (born on the island) near CCNY at St. Luke's hospital and raised in the Highbridge section of the Bronx, located in New York's 15th congressional district (the poorest congressional district in the US). I am a non-traditional student, who went to CUNY-Hostos at age 29 after a couple of failed attempts at higher education. I remember being in an administrative position, where I saw no real prospects for the future, and I began to look for opportunities to work abroad. I discovered the Peace Corps but learned that most of the opportunities required a bachelor's degree, which motivated me to go back to school.
What brought you to City College?
I studied abroad with students from CCNY in Brazil, and they spoke highly of the quality of their education. I wanted to be in Harlem right across the bridge from Hostos since I love New York City. I was interested in the scholarships and fellowships at CCNY as well. Specifically, I was interested in joining the Honors Program in Legal Studies and majoring in political science.
What was your passion or purpose in choosing your major and your career path?
I originally thought I wanted to pursue a law degree after graduating CCNY, but after participating in legal internships and taking international studies/comparative politics courses I realized I was more interested in US foreign policy and in pursuing a career in the Foreign Service. I have a longstanding interest in international affairs. In addition to studying in Brazil, I participated in a service-learning opportunity in the Dominican Republic (working on an urban farming initiative) the summer before officially starting at CCNY.
How has your career unfolded, and how has the Colin Powell School helped you on your path?
Being accepted in the Colin Powell School’s Partners for Change Fellowship led me to obtain a scholarship from the Korea Foundation (along with funding from the City College Foundation and the CUNY Research Foundation). I studied at EWHA International Summer College and completed two 4-week courses: Introduction to Korean and the International Relations of North Korea and the other Northeast Asian countries. This was my first experience outside of the Western Hemisphere. The following summer I completed an internship in Washington, DC working with refugees with the help of a stipend from the Skadden, Arps Honors Program in Legal Studies in the Colin Powell School and housing at George Washington University funded by the CCNY’s Rangel Center. That fall, I interned for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's office as an Immigration and International Affairs Intern. Then, after my final senior semester and walking for my graduation at the Colin Powell School, I studied abroad in a CCNY summer program in Brazil and completed an international relations course entitled “Brazil in a Global Context” and produced a 10-page research paper about Brazilian Foreign Policy and Brazil’s role in UN peacekeeping operations. All of these wonderful experiences in the international relations/foreign affairs realm helped set me on the path to serving in the Peace Corps, working at AmeriCorps HQ, and now onto the Foreign Service upon completion of my graduate studies.
Please share a significant memory or accomplishment from your time at CCNY.
My study abroad/service-learning experiences were very beneficial. Additionally, as a senator in the Undergraduate Student Government, I enjoyed advocating for students’ stories and met some of my greatest colleagues. As a fellow in the Honors Program in Legal Studies, I made strong and long-lasting friendships.
My favorite and most influential classes were with Professor Elizabeth Nelson (Theories and Explanations of International Relations, International Law, and Human Rights), now President Vincent Boudreau (World Politics), and Professor/IR Director Jean Krasno (Peacekeeping and Negotiations and Brazil in a Global Context).
CCNY hosted three Diplomats-in-Residence from the US State Department who helped guide me, in particular Usha Pitts, who encouraged me to apply to the Peace Corps and the Charles B. Rangel Graduate Fellowship.
While at CCNY, I was also a CUNY Malave Fellow, through which I obtained a paid internship at CUNY Citizenship Now!, and a delegate for CUNY’s University Student Senate. I was nominated to apply for the Truman Fellowship, which connected me to Jennifer Lutton, Coordinator of National Scholarships/Fellowships, who became a trusted advisor and mentor and assisted with my Rangel Fellowship application, as well.
Johanna Ureña, the former International Studies Program Coordinator (now the Project Manager, Student Affairs and Enrollment Management) also encouraged me to audit a graduate course at CCNY, “Rethinking U.S. Foreign Aid” and has been very supportive since graduating CCNY.
Do you have any advice for current or future students?
Participate in an internship! I repeat: participate in an internship! It will help you obtain some hands-on experience to apply many of the theories learned in the classroom early on in your professional development. Good grades are important, but when the time comes to apply for a job, employers are going to want to see some work experience on your resume. Also, remember that any leadership or peer mentoring opportunity at CCNY translates into transferable skills in the workplace that you must be sure to highlight as you market yourself to prospective employers. Apply to fellowships and scholarships even if you don’t necessarily feel you are qualified, don’t sell yourself short, you are unique and you are the only one that can tell your story.