Making a Global Impact

Sam Bowden ’24 aims to affect foreign policy as a James C. Gaither Junior Fellow from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.


Sam Bowden ’24

Sam Bowden ’24 was in Przemyśl, Poland, last summer volunteering at a refugee shelter for those impacted by the war in Ukraine when he had a life-changing realization.

“There was so much I learned just talking to people and seeing the on-the-ground situation that I don't think a lot of people are even aware of,” he said. “It was one of those things that really drew my attention towards the immediate realities of my field of study and how I might ultimately be interested in contributing to more work immediately relevant to people.”

The Russian and English double major from Cincinnati will get his chance now that he’s been awarded the coveted James C. Gaither Junior Fellowship from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He will work in Washington, D.C., as a research assistant to Carnegie’s senior scholars in its Russia and Eurasia program starting in September.

Each year, approximately 15 one-year fellowships are awarded to graduating seniors and others who have graduated during the past academic year from a pool of nominees who come from several hundred participating universities and colleges. Kenyon's most recent Gaither Junior Fellow was Anna Bammerlin ’14.

Before starting the fellowship, Bowden will spend the summer in the nation of Georgia continuing his studies in Russian as a participant in the State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship Program.

It’s no surprise, then, that Bowden, whose family has roots in Poland, brings robust language skills to the fellowship. He said he’s excited to put them to use on the cutting edge of foreign policy research — even though he’s never taken a political science class. 

“At first I was a little hesitant about committing to this because it's ostensibly a foreign policy/international relations/political science-type job, and I've never engaged with this material in the classroom.”

That hasn’t stopped Bowden from becoming intimately knowledgeable about the region and its history. After he began taking Russian as a Kenyon sophomore, he started down a rabbit hole of learning through additional reading and podcasts.

​​”I just found myself getting really engaged by history and culture and all of the things that necessarily contextualize a language when you're learning it,” he said. “And that led me to just do all of this reading in my free time.”

It was a little intimidating — and ultimately liberating — to apply for a fellowship that wasn’t directly related to his academic studies, he said.

“The best thing that Kenyon has done for me is establish that your discipline is not a prison. It is really just a thing that gives you certain skills and you can apply anywhere,” he said. “Kenyon has given me the opportunities to succeed in disciplines that aren't on my academic transcript, which allowed me to visualize myself anywhere instead of just in wherever my classes might intuitively dictate.”

Bowden’s wide-ranging interests have led to a variety of extracurricular activities. Among other things, he is president of the Neuroscience Club and a co-leader of the student science and arts magazine Lyceum, where he heads up the podcast team. He also has played cello with the Kenyon Bach Society and served as a Hoskins Frame Summer Science Writing Scholar.

James McGavran, associate professor of Russian, had nothing but praise for Bowden — and high hopes for what he might be able to accomplish through the sort of work enabled by his fellowship.

“Sam is brilliant, a multitalented and self-motivated young person whose interests and level of engagement inspire others around him,” he said. “Working with him on his Gaither application was important to me because I want people of Sam's intellect and broad education in the humanities working on policy issues surrounding Eastern Europe. My hope, honestly, is on people of Sam's generation to help build a more equitable future for people in that beleaguered region.”

Joseph L. Klesner, professor of political science and international studies and director of the Center for the Study of American Democracy, serves as the faculty liaison for the fellowship and assisted Bowden with his application. He’s also excited for him to be a part of such meaningful work.

“It's a terrific opportunity for a young person who has a desire to begin a career in the foreign policy arena,” Klesner said. “The people he'll work with will write memos or policy reports that land on the desks of senators, foreign affairs assistants or people in the policymaking community in the State [Department] or the National Security Council.”