Major: Law & Diplomacy
School: Tufts University
Sponsor: Afzal Family Foundation
Message to Supporters: Alhamdulillah, I am so honored to be a recipient of the Islamic Scholarship Fund. Thank you so much for sponsoring my scholarship and believing in me. I want to take a moment to introduce myself and tell you about my passions. I was born in a Christian hospital in a small village in Pakistan and grew up in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. My family and I moved to the United States in 1999, when I was only eight years old. I could not speak any English and acclimating to my new home took some time. After graduating from the ESOL program, I felt confident in my written and communication abilities, and began to value my education. I am extremely grateful to my father, Baba, who sacrificed his teaching career for my siblings and me, and has always encouraged us that with a good education, anything is possible. Keeping his words in mind, I graduated as the valedictorian, editor-in-chief, and class president of my high school class.
I pursued my undergraduate studies at Bowdoin College, a small liberal arts school in Brunswick, ME, where I studied mathematics (major) as well as sociology and government (minors). Outside of the classroom, I wrote for the school’s weekly newspaper, re-chartered the Muslim Student Association, volunteered with a number of community organizations primarily working with low-income populations, and led multiple orientation trips and an alternative spring break trip to D.C. focusing on hunger and homelessness. During my summers, I completed a policy fellowship at Princeton University and designed two self-designed volunteer internships in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where I taught English and initiated a journalism program for underprivileged students. I cannot describe in words how transformative my Bowdoin experience was for me, and I am truly indebted to people—just like you—who believed in me and invested in my education. Without the scholarship support of donors, I would not be where I am today.
My interest in international affairs stems from growing up in the greater D.C. area and being a proud Muslim Pakistani-American. Writing through journalism also exposed me to world affairs and piqued my interests in conflicts overseas. Although my first job out of college was working as an analyst for an insurance company in Boston, where I gained many useful financial skills, I returned to my passion for public service by teaching English in Turkey through the Fulbright Scholarship. This experience, coupled with my other teaching experiences in Pakistan and Guatemala, helped me appreciate cultural immersion, human-to-human connections, and storytelling. At the same time, my experiences made me realize there is a dearth of Muslims in the fields of foreign policy and international security, especially at a time when we need Muslim voices represented the most. I decided to transform my travel blogging hobby into a tool for raising awareness and educating the public about foreign cultures, especially the grossly misunderstood Islamic nations such as Pakistan and Turkey. My background, international experiences, and desire to change the narrative about Muslims push me towards a career in diplomacy, where I can serve as an ambassador between peoples and an advocate for underrepresented voices.
In pursuit of my dreams of joining the U.S. Foreign Service, last summer I interned at the Office of the Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. and am currently interning at the U.S. Embassy Bangkok. These internships have provided me with the training, exposure, and experience for the type of work I will one day do as a political-coned officer. Through my graduate work at Fletcher, I am gaining the knowledge, expertise, skills, and experiences that are preparing me for my career. I am concentrating in international security and global maritime studies, but will also branch out and take classes in disciplines such as human security, conflict resolution, and international trade. Outside the classroom, I am the leader of Fletcher Islamic Society (FIS), which I helped reestablish in the fall; Fletcher Students of Color and Allies (FSCA), which I helped transform from the Ralph Bunche Society; and Women in International Security (WIIS). Additionally, I am a blogger for the Admissions Office and help organize the annual Arctic and Energy conferences.
After I graduate next May, I will take the oath of office and join the U.S. Foreign Service, inshallah. Becoming a U.S. diplomat would truly be a dream come true—and for my family, it will symbolize achieving the American Dream. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping me become a step closer to my dream by sponsoring the Islamic Scholarship Fund. I am humbled by your investment in my educational pursuits and inshallah, I can pay it forward one day.
Bio: Mariya Ilyas is currently pursuing her master’s degree at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where she is studying international security, global maritime affairs, and conflict resolution. Born in Pakistan and raised in Alexandria, VA, Mariya aspires to serve her country and be a voice for underrepresented groups when she joins the U.S. Foreign Service as part of the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship.
Mariya is a passionate advocate for diversity and inclusion, and organizes programming around these topics as a leader of the Fletcher Islamic Society, Fletcher Students of Color & Allies, and Women in International Security. She is also an avid writer and uses travel blogging as a tool for cultural diplomacy—to foster dialogue, exchange perspectives, and increase understanding of foreign cultures.
Prior to Fletcher, Mariya worked in both the public and private sectors: teaching English in Turkey (Fulbright Scholarship) and Pakistan (Davis Projects for Peace Award); interning at The White House, the U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Embassy Bangkok; and working for a fortune-100 company in Boston as an analyst. Mariya graduated in 2013 from Bowdoin College, where she majored in mathematics and minored in sociology and government.
Areas of Interest:
International Security, Global Maritime Affairs