Projects for Peace: The Vision of Kathryn W. Davis

"My challenge to you is to bring about a mind-set of preparing for peace, instead of preparing for war."


Jakob Lengacher never planned to major in Chinese. He was interested in nuclear physics and nonproliferation when he enrolled at UMass Amherst, but then he failed his first physics exam. That same semester, Jakob took a Chinese language class for fun and aced all the assignments. It was an unexpected turn that offered a new direction.

Two years later, Jakob was majoring in Chinese and spending his junior year in Harbin, China, on a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship. “Living and studying hours from the North Korean border created a surreal environment,” says Jakob. “Despite the possibility that an uncontrolled detonation could result in nuclear fallout reaching us in Harbin, each North Korean nuclear test elicited nonchalant responses from my Chinese friends and neighbors.” As a denuclearized North Korea quickly became fantasy and the country loomed ever more threatening across the Yalu River, Jakob cemented his determination to join the nonproliferation field.

Back in the States, Jakob discovered that the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey offered a graduate program in nonproliferation and terrorism studies. Study of foreign language is one of the requirements of his MIIS degree, so he prepared for a summer in Middlebury’s complete immersion program. One might assume he would continue studying Chinese, given his experience in China. Instead, Jakob was a Davis Fellow in the Kathryn Wasserman Davis School of Russian. He explains that Russia’s nuclear arsenal and rapid innovation in the nuclear energy field are impossible to ignore, and the nonproliferation field needs professionals with an intimate understanding of Russia, as well as China, to build trust and foster cooperation. It’s a role he would like to fill.

But first, there’s another opportunity to pursue.

Shortly before arriving at the Davis School of Russian, Jakob received news that he’d been selected to receive the Thomas R. Pickering Graduate Foreign Affairs Fellowship. Recipients of the Pickering Fellowship receive two years of financial support, mentoring, and professional development to prepare for a career in the Foreign Service.

The Foreign Service is a corps of working professionals who support the overseas interests of the United States. They are “frontline” personnel who can be sent anywhere in the world in service to the diplomatic needs of their nation.

Once his commitment to the Foreign Service is complete, Jakob intends to pursue a position with the International Atomic Energy Agency. He’s confident his professional capabilities, commitment to cross-cultural communication, and passion for nuclear nonproliferation will make him a valuable asset. “My long-term career goal is to use my language skills to work toward a more stable world safe from nuclear weapons,” he says. “The Foreign Service wasn’t exactly part of the plan, but it’s an opportunity I can’t pass up.”