The odds of getting a four-year degree aren’t great for most community college students. Studies show that only 40 percent of community college students transfer to a four-year institution. Cost is a major barrier, especially for lower-income students, who were half as likely as their higher-income peers to transfer to a four-year institution. And only 13 percent of students who start at a community college get a bachelor’s degree within six years.

However, for community college students interested in a career in information technology, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel – a path to an exciting IT career which offers funding for a bachelor’s degree called the Foreign Affairs Information Technology (FAIT) Fellowship, funded by the U.S. Department of State.

Community college was a path to success for many of the students selected for this prestigious Fellowship program. Of the 44 Fellows who are either currently in the Fellowship or have completed the program, 23 have taken courses at community colleges during their academic career. Of those, 11 earned their associate degrees at a community college.

“The academic funding provided by the FAIT Fellowship program helps to greatly reduce or eliminate the financial hurdle of a four-year institution,” says Shannan Spisak, TWC’s director of federal programs. “In addition to the funding, Fellows get summer internships, mentorship and professional development, that prepare them to enter the Foreign Service after graduation. And the State Department creates a pipeline of top technology talent for its Foreign Service Information Management staff.”

Launched in 2016, the FAIT Fellowship program is designed to attract underrepresented populations in the technology field interested in Foreign Service careers. The program encourages students with varied backgrounds, including ethnic, gender, racial, social and geographic diversity, as well as those with financial need, to apply for the Fellowship.

One student selected for the 2021 cohort of the FAIT Fellowship program is Enoch Masih, a first-generation college student who earned an associate’s degree in computer science information technology from Northern Essex Community College, while struggling financially to support his family and pay for school. An exceptional student, Masih was on the Dean’s list multiple semesters and was inducted into Sigma Alpha Pi, the nation’s largest leadership honor society. He applied for and was selected for the FAIT Fellowship program in 2021 , and will receive up to $75,000 in academic funding toward the junior and senior years of his undergraduate degree program. Masih will pursue a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. As a FAIT Fellow, he will also have summer internships (with stipends), mentorship and professional development. When he graduates from UMass Lowell and meets the State Department requirements, he will enter the Foreign Service as an Information Management Specialist.

Each of these FAIT Fellows has a unique story, and they are all highly motivated, talented students, who are alumni of community colleges and who beat the odds to pursue a bachelor’s or master’s degree:

  • Ryan Butler (Hillsborough Community College)
  • Daniel Lewis (Northern Virginia Community College)
  • Darius Michael (Sir Arthur Louis Community College)
  • Erin Moran (Bergen Community College)
  • Sara Robinson-Camarena (Cochise College)
  • Kalin Thomas (College of Southern Nevada)
  • Khaled Mamun (Fayetteville Technical Community College)
  • Armman Baghoomian (Glendale Community College)
  • Enoch Masih (Northern Essex Community College)
  • Mahesh Gowda (Cincinnati State Technical and Community College)
  • Juan Debesa (Miami-Dade College)

This article appeared in AACC’s Community College Daily newsletter.