From service with the Peace Corps in Togo to a post-graduate fellowship in Madagascar, much of Lydia Grate’s (’22) life and career have been shaped by incredible experiences at the intersection of education, public service, and world travel.
Now, working with the Obama Foundation as a Global Programs Associate for the Voyager Scholarship Program, Grate has the opportunity to help others enjoy those same life-changing experiences. She plays an integral role in supporting the design, planning, implementation, and evaluation of the Voyager Scholarship Program.
Open to students entering their junior year of college, the Voyager Scholarship provides financial aid, meaningful travel, and a network of mentors and leaders to students passionate about public service. The scholarship includes up to $50,000 in “last dollar” financial aid for students’ junior and senior years of college, a $10,000 stipend and Airbnb housing to pursue a summer work-travel experience, and upon graduation, an annual Airbnb travel stipend of $2,000 for ten years.
“It has been exciting to work on a newly created program,” Grate said. “An amazing groundwork has been set yet there’s still so much opportunity to think creatively and adapt based on learnings.”
In addition to her work in guiding the program, Grate also gets to work with the scholarship recipients themselves – what she calls the most rewarding and inspiring part of the job.
“Meeting the students always brings me joy and excitement,” Grate said. “I am equally inspired by the change they want to create and touched by their personal journeys, especially when they share how much the scholarship means to them. Many students were working multiple jobs, relying on student loans, or simply unsure about their next steps before being selected for the Voyager Scholarship.”
Grate’s time as a student at the Clinton School of Public Service was filled with distinctions and unique opportunities. She was selected as a member of the 2020 B.A. EmpowHER cohort, named a Little Rock Nine Scholarship Recipient, and completed two field service projects with the U.S. Department of State.
There was one additional experience from the Clinton School that she credits for preparing her the Voyager Scholarship Program – serving as a graduate assistant in the Office of Field Service with Tiffany Jacob, the school’s Director of International Programs and Outreach.
“Many skills from this experience overlap with my current role, including program administration, virtual and in-person event coordination, partnership management, and communicating program updates with a variety of internal and external stakeholders,” she said.
Looking back on her time at the Clinton School, Grate said that the first-year, team-based Practicum project stands out as her favorite course and field service project. She and her teammates spent the academic year researching the impact of the Thea Foundation’s Art Closet program in the Little Rock and North Little Rock School Districts. The team interviewed teachers, school administrators, and stakeholders across the education system connected to the Art Closet program, which funds creative material and supplies requests from public school educators.
“This experience laid the foundation for my interest in monitoring and evaluation and was my first exposure to formal research design, data collection, and data analysis,” Grate said. “I’m immensely grateful to the support from my team, the Thea Foundation, and Dr. Nichola Driver at the Clinton School for making our project so impactful. At the end of our research, the Thea Foundation used our data to apply for a grant, which they were subsequently selected to receive.”
All of these opportunities, at the Clinton School and beyond, set the stage for Grate’s current work and impact – finding and supporting young leaders who can bridge divides and help solve the world’s biggest challenges together.
“At the Obama Foundation, we are guided by a core belief: that ordinary people working together can change history.” Grate said. “Our mission is to inspire those people to take action, empower them to change their world for the better, and connect them so they can achieve more together than they can alone.”