Story by Sarah Sabatke
Sometimes small choices can lead to big opportunities. Mizzou alumna Taylor Cofield always knew she wanted to study political science in college, but she didn’t know exactly how. It all came into focus when she took an Arabic class during her freshman year. The class opened up a new world and has shaped her career path ever since.
Cofield discovered a passion for the languages, histories and cultures of the Middle East, ultimately deciding to add a major in international studies. Her interests in foreign policy and diplomacy, paired with her passion for the region, has taken her across the world.
Cofield received a highly competitive scholarship from the Critical Language Scholarship Program through the U.S. Department of State to further her Arabic study. She traveled to Jordan in summer 2016 and lived with a host family for three months. She immersed herself in the local culture and intense study of Arabic.
“I definitely learned that, regardless of [our] societies and cultures, we have a lot more in common than we allow ourselves to believe,” she says. “That’s something I got from living with a host family and being forced to speak a different language, to live in a different culture. It was something that was new to me, but it didn’t feel odd.”
Cofield credits her experience in Jordan with leading her to the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship, which provides graduate students with financial support, mentoring and professional development to prepare them for a career with the State Department.
“It basically set me up for life,” she says.
In addition to her coursework, Cofield’s career path was shepherded by her out-of-class activities. She participated in student government as a senator in the Missouri Students Association and a member of the group’s social justice committee, which tied in well with her political science and international studies majors.
She was also a three-year athlete in pole vault, which is what brought her to Mizzou. She liked her coach’s emphasis on academics. “We’re athletes, but we’re students first,” she remembers the coach saying. “Ultimately, you’re here to get an education.”
Her education not only earned her the Pickering fellowship but also the federal Harry S. Truman Scholarship in spring 2017.
Cofield graduated from Mizzou this past May and will do two years of graduate school at Texas A&M University, studying international affairs with a focus on national security and diplomacy. Her involvement as a Pickering fellow will ultimately lead her to a career as a diplomat with the U.S. Foreign Service.
Cofield credits her Mizzou mentors for teaching her to stand strong in her convictions and to find her voice, one of the reasons why she decided to get involved in student government.
“Don’t be afraid to speak up, not only for yourself but for others, because if you don’t, you never know who will,” she says. “That’s something they instilled in me.”