BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- At just 22, recent Indiana University graduate Isak Osagyefo Nti Asare already has lived and studied in more countries than most people visit in a lifetime.
He graduated with highest distinction from IU's College of Arts and Sciences on Saturday with a Bachelor of Arts degree and majors in political science and linguistics, a minor in African languages (Swahili and Akan) and an undergraduate certificate in African Studies.
Nti Asare learned last week that he also has been selected for a Thomas R. Pickering Graduate Foreign Affairs Fellowship, which provides funding to participants as they prepare academically and professionally to enter the U.S. Department of State Foreign Service. He will receive $40,000 for each of the two years of his graduate program, as well as stipends for participation in domestic summer internships that follow each academic year.
"Isak's biography and record of accomplishments already read like that of a distinguished ambassador, so it is fitting he has won a Pickering Fellowship," said IU Bloomington Hutton Honors College Dean Matt Auer. "Everyone at the Hutton Honors College is ecstatic for Isak."
Nti Asare attended high school in Laramie, Wyo., and fell in love with the IU Bloomington campus on a senior year swimming recruiting trip.
"It was the first recruiting trip I went on, and then all the others just didn't seem right," he said. "I think Herman B Wells once said that Indiana was always a place where you could 'feel imaginative,' and that was very much the case. I came here and felt at home. I felt imaginative, like I could do anything I wanted to do here."
One of Nti Asare's mentors is Professor A.B. Assensoh, director of graduate studies and admissions for IU Bloomington's Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies. Assensoh said that along with many other faculty members, he and his wife, Office for Women's Affairs Dean Yvette M. Alex-Assensoh, are very proud of "young Isak."
A.B. Assensoh impressed upon his mentee the importance of having work published.
"He took that advice so seriously that, even as an undergraduate student at Indiana University, Isak already has published no less than two review essays in refereed journals (produced by IU Press and Brill Academic Press of Europe)," Assensoh said. "(Dean Assensoh) and I expect young Isak Osagyefo Nti Asare to excel and blossom intellectually-cum-academically anywhere that he ends up for graduate or professional studies."
Within the span of this past academic year, Nti Asare acted as treasurer of the African Languages Club (he was previously the president) and was undergraduate outreach coordinator for the African Studies Program. He received the Elvis J. Stahr Distinguished Senior Award; the Outstanding Senior Award and Outstanding Undergraduate Achievement Award (both from the Department of Linguistics) and the Wendell L. Willkie Scholarship for graduating seniors in political science.
He was also named McNair Scholar of the Year, is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and received departmental honors from the political science and linguistics departments for his two distinct thesis projects (one for each major). He is working on A Dictionary of the Susu Language of Guinea along with recently named Beinecke Scholar Kip Hutchins and Professor Samuel G. Obeng, director of the African Studies Program.
"He's really a terrific student, leader and person who will undoubtedly go on to do many significant things beyond IU," said Assistant Professor of Political Science Lauren MacLean."Isak is not only intellectually engaged and academically serious, but he also always has a big smile for everyone he meets."
When people talk about Nti Asare, they usually mention his characteristic humility. True to form, the accomplished student said he only agreed to be interviewed to honor his faculty and fellow student mentors.
"I think a seed is only as good as the soil in which it's planted, and I guess a seed is only as good as the tree from which it came, right? Even the best of seeds and the best of soil need a really good gardener," he said.
Nti Asare said that he can look back and clearly see his growth since freshman year. Two overseas trips -- one to Ghana the summer after his freshman year at IU, and one to Tanzania last summer -- were incredible learning experiences. In Tanzania, he worked for a brief time with an NGO that helped AIDS victims.
"They were talking a lot about research and studies, which was impactful to me, because it showed that academic research and the things we're doing at universities make a big difference in the world," he said. "Our studies, our travel, our work, can have an impact. I think that's what ultimately motivated me to want to do a career in international development and international affairs."
Richard S. Melvin Professor of Law Kevin Brown said he expects that one day, Nti Asare's natural leadership abilities and his talent for inspiring confidence in others will make him a significant player in the international scene.
"Isak is more prepared than any student I have ever known to pursue academic interests in issues pertaining to indigenous politics, globalization, processes of democratization, poverty alleviation and the international political economy," Brown said. "He has lived in eight different countries on four different continents. When you talk to Isak, you know that you have met someone who is truly special and destined for future greatness.
"Frankly, in my 24 years as a professor, I have never met a student that I am more confident will play a huge part on the world's stage in tackling the world's most significant problems than Isak," he added.
Next up for Nti Asare: His June wedding to Maria Moore, whom he's known since his sophomore year of high school in Wyoming, and then deciding where to attend graduate school.
IU will always hold a special place in his heart.
"IU is an awesome place," he said. "It is the soil that brings the gardeners -- professors -- and the seeds -- students -- together. When the seed grows, he can only look back and be thankful to the environment which attributed to his growth."
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