Home Official News Releases Drake student receives prestigious fellowship after becoming U.S. citizen

Drake student receives prestigious fellowship after becoming U.S. citizen

News Photo
Victor Cedeño

Drake University junior Victor Cedeño is sparing no time before seeking the opportunities that await him as a U.S. citizen, beginning with a highly competitive Public Policy and International Affairs Fellowship.

Cedeño, a native of the Dominican Republic, was recently selected for the Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) Fellowship, an intensive seven-week summer program that prepares students for graduate programs in public policy and international affairs. In addition, the fellowship also helps students with funding for graduate school.

In his three years at Drake, Cedeño has proved to be an exceptional candidate for the fellowship, which is open only to U.S. citizens. As an undergraduate, he has:

  • Been accepted to the prestigious Harvard University Kennedy School of Government Public Policy and Leadership Conference
  • Served as a Spanish tutor, summer orientation counselor and campus tour guide at Drake, and a debate coach for a local high school
  • Participated in a Democratic National Party conference

Add all the usual college responsibilities and activities into this mix and it’s amazing to think Cedeño also had the energy to become a U.S. citizen. But not much slows down this motivated young man.

While members of his family and a group of his Phi Gamma Delta fraternity brothers looked on, Cedeño became a citizen last July at a swearing in ceremony in Fort Dodge, Iowa.

It was a high point in this Drake student’s life, but he knew citizenship was just the opening of a door to myriad opportunities.

Coming to America

Cedeño and his mother, Olga, came to the United States from the Dominican Republic in 2001, settling in Des Moines where they had family.

“My mom uprooted us and moved us to Iowa all on her own,” Cedeño said. “She works with mortgage loans at Banker’s Trust and does a lot of programming for the Latino community. I’m proud of my mother. She’s definitely my role model when it comes to getting things done.”

Fitting into his new home, with its small minority population, was a slow process. It took Cedeño about six months to learn speak English. Meanwhile, he was still spending summers in the Dominican Republic. For a long time, he felt like he was struggling to retain his Dominican identity, but gradually he came to the realization that being a part of two cultures was an advantage in this increasingly multicultural world.

“I love the Dominican Republic and want to hold on to it. I love my Dominican music and my Dominican food, but after all these years I’ve assimilated. I am as closely tied to Iowa as I am the Dominican Republic,” said Cedeño. “I’m in the middle, but I’m not stuck in the middle. I’m proud to be a citizen of the Dominican Republic and a citizen of the United States. I’m where it all meets.”

Education and a little bit of luck have played big parts in Cedeño’s life. A high school civics class ignited his intense interest in government, politics and public service. He was encouraged to join his high school debate team by a friend, Kyair Butts, who also attends Drake University. Debate success enhanced Cedeño’s communication skills, and helped him learn more about the United States as he visited different cities for competitions.

“Debate translated into a lot of great things for me. It broke me out of my shell and helped prep me for college,” he said.

A Chance Encounter

In the summer of 2008, Cedeño worked at a National Democratic Party conference in Denver, Colo., when he and a friend talked their way into a Harvard University luncheon being held in the same building.

Cedeño was listening to a speaker when Alexandra Martinez, assistant dean of the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government and a native of the Dominican Republican, sat down next to him. A conversation began and Martinez urged Cedeño to apply for the Kennedy School’s Public Policy and Leadership Conference.

 “She said it was very competitive but that I should try. I took the challenge and later got an e-mail from Harvard telling me that I had been accepted,” said Cedeño.

News Photo
Victor Cedeño at the Harvard University conference.

The weekend conference introduces students to careers in the public
sector, and the 2009 conference focused on public policy and diversity,
important subjects for Cedeño who plans to study law and public policy
after graduating from Drake.

“We talked about how role models can empower minorities,” he said.
“I realized that when I looked around I don’t see many people who look
like me. If I’m able to succeed, then I have the responsibility to turn
around and help someone else.”

The Harvard experience was also a reminder of the opportunities
available to U.S. citizens. At the conference Cedeño learned about a
variety of scholarship opportunities. But he couldn’t pursue any
because he wasn’t yet a citizen.

“Becoming a citizen was important because I want to vote. It was a
joke with my friends that I was a political science major at Drake but
couldn’t vote,” he said.  “Becoming a citizen also opened a lot of

Another Achievement

When Cedeño finally did get his citizenship, he thought his chance
to apply for this scholarship had passed. But Eleanor Zeff, associate
professor of politics and international relations, reminded him there
was still time apply for the PPIA Fellowship for the 2010 summer

“This isn’t a scholarship program or a leadership conference. It’s boot camp,” said Cedeño.

With just a few days before the submission deadline, Cedeño wrote a
series of essays on diversity that the program required. Zeff and other
Drake professors reviewed his work and helped him get the applications
in on deadline. Then he waited.

Like his acceptance to the Harvard program, Cedeño got an e-mail
alerting him that he’d been accepted to PPIA’s summer program at the
University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

“I screamed when I got the e-mail,” Cedeño said. “My roommate couldn’t tell if I was happy or if something bad had happened.

“Without Drake, none of this would have happened,” Cedeño adds. “I love this place.”