A few days after learning that the COVID-19 pandemic would force him to leave campus, Jonathan Kay ’20 was scrambling to figure out where to spend the rest of his senior spring. But then he got quite the pick-me-up: He had been chosen for a Gaither Fellowship with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C.
“I went from feeling all that stress and that sadness to knowing that I would have this to look forward to,” says the honors political science major from Los Gatos, Calif. “I was over the moon.”
Kay is one of just 12 seniors and recent graduates from across the U.S. to earn the fellowship this year, and just the fourth Swarthmore student to receive the honor since 2007. He will be a research assistant to senior scholars in Carnegie’s South Asia program.
“I'm looking forward to soaking up as much knowledge as I can,” says Kay, who served as a Joel Dean Research Fellow and a President’s Sustainability Research Fellow at Swarthmore. “I'm excited by the sheer variety of what I’ll be working on, from democracy and governance issues to international security, as well as the prospect of having real responsibilities for making sure we’re putting out insightful, excellent research.
“Even just immersing myself in Carnegie’s atmosphere,” he adds, “being around some of the most insightful foreign policy researchers in the world, meeting policymakers and academics, and having a community of passionate junior fellows that can learn from each other, will be incredible. It’s going to be intense, but I’m excited for the challenge.”
Because of the pandemic, Kay won’t have quite the same experience as past Gaither fellows. Assuming social distancing remains in place through the fall, he won’t be in the same building with the other Carnegie researchers.
“That will certainly be a loss,” he says. “Fewer opportunities to chat with smart people over lunch, that kind of thing, or have opportunities to participate in events with policymakers and academics. That said, I’m extremely fortunate that most of my work can be done remotely, and I think we can be creative with other ways of learning from each other and meeting new people remotely.”
The opportunity aligns with Kay’s plan to do policy research for a few years before pursuing a Ph.D. He views international peace as an increasingly vital topic at a moment of worldwide backlash against international cooperation.
“Our biggest problems are collective action issues, like climate change, refugee aid, and biosecurity,” Kay says. “We lack political will, but we also lack basic ideas for how to actually design equitable and effective institutions to address these problems.
“That's what I hope to research,” he adds. “I hope to add my voice to the choir of people reminding us that states’ fates are inextricably linked, and the United States’ prosperity and liberties (such as they are) mean little if much of the world is denied the same.”