“That’s when America soars: when we look out for one another. When we take care of each other. … That’s why we do what we do. That’s the whole point of public service,” then-President Barack Obama said during a speech in 2015.
The former president is continuing to encourage public service leadership through a new scholarship program, the Voyager Scholarship for Public Service. In its inaugural cohort, 100 students from across the country were selected to participate, and one of them is IUPUI junior Kadidiatou Diallo.
The scholarship was created by the Obama family and Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky to give students meaningful travel experiences, provide a network of mentors and foster students’ passion to make positive change in their community.
For Diallo, this incredible opportunity opened up when she saw a post about the scholarship on her Instagram feed.
“I thought it would be a great experience,” she said. “I am interested in traveling and also I love the service aspect of it. It’s something I really see myself focusing on in the future within health care, so I was like, why not.”
Diallo, a health services management major in the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI, submitted her resume, a questionnaire and a video with her application. On Aug. 18, she received a congratulations email — the only student from an Indiana university to be accepted into the program.
To top it all off, Diallo and the cohort were welcomed into the program by Obama himself.
“We actually all met on a Zoom call with him and Mr. Brian Chesky,” Diallo said. “They both got on and they talked to us, and it was a surreal experience.
“I honestly couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘Maybe this is a pre-recorded video; maybe this is not the real him.’ I could not believe it.”
The scholarship includes up to $50,000 in financial aid, a $10,000 stipend to pursue a work-travel experience and a 10-year travel stipend to continue making new connections after graduation.
Diallo is already hard at work planning her summer voyage. She wants to travel to west Africa and focus on addressing health disparities and nutrition, something she witnessed first hand on a trip to visit family in Guinea.
“I was a patient there,” she said. “I went to go seek treatment for my autoimmune disorder, and it was an interesting experience to say the least.
“We tried the traditional medicine route, which is more west-African focused, and then we also tried western medicine when I went to an actual hospital, so it was an interesting experience witnessing both of those merge into one, and it’s not what I see here in the U.S.”
She said her personal experience with ulcerative colitis, a disorder that affects the digestive tract, has helped her understand the importance of nutrition in her life and is a big part of why she wants to be involved in public service.
Even before receiving the Voyager Scholarship, Diallo had been working to make a difference. She is interning at Eskenazi Health with the social determinants of health team to help improve nutrition in local communities of need. One portion of the project is to survey these communities to learn about their food preferences.
“For example, if you go to a food pantry, there’s your typical green peas, your beans, all these canned foods that are typical to our American diet, but what about the people that don’t know how to use these foods or are unfamiliar with these foods,” Diallo said. “We want to make sure that we give them the food that they can use, the food that they need and the foods that they want.”
She is also busy with a second internship in human resources at a health agency, Help at Home, and serves as a peer mentor with TRIO Student Support Services at IUPUI. When she’s not working or studying, you can find her involved on campus with the African Student Association and the Muslim Student Association.
“My favorite thing about IUPUI is the diversity and the amount of resources,” Diallo said. “I feel so comfortable here. I feel like I fit in.
“I also love all the opportunities that it’s given me because, all these things that I do, it’s because of IUPUI. I would have never been able to do any of these things if it wasn’t for my school.”
Work with the Voyager Scholarship cohort is already underway. While planning for her summer trip, Diallo is meeting one on one with mentors and developing a project that she can’t share just yet. She said these opportunities have empowered her to reach for her career goals and see a bright new future ahead.
“This scholarship to me is a whole new way of life,” Diallo said. “This has completely changed my life and opened so many doors for me.
“Things that I never imagined I could do are possible, like I’ve always wanted to work at the United Nations. I’m just considering everything. But I know I’m going to be somewhere doing work that is meaningful to me, and that’s most important at the end of the day.”