Northeastern student, passionate about social entrepreneurship, wins Pickering International Affairs Fellowship

headshot of Katherine Kikta
Katherine Kikta who studies international business, recently earned the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Graduate Fellowship. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

In some ways, Katherine Kikta’s experience as a Northeastern student is not unlike your typical undergrad. 

Kikta, now nearing the end of her fifth year, had some idea of what she wanted to study when she first arrived on the Boston campus in 2019—only to switch directions once her experiential education got underway.

Kikta’s mother wanted her to study business. “I wanted to make sure that I support myself, so I ended up making sure I got my business degree,” she told Northeastern Global News.

From the beginning of her educational journey, Kikta understood the value a business degree can provide in terms of financial security. But it wasn’t until she found the Northeastern Army ROTC program that the world of possibility began to cleave open.

Training with the ROTC instilled in Kikta a sense of adventure—an intellectual curiosity that her marketing and accounting internships simply couldn’t satisfy. Indeed, it was her experience in the Army that led her to discover such topics as global health, infectious diseases, humanitarian crises and armed conflict—subjects she started to gravitate toward on her own. 

“They were teaching me how to be a good Army officer, they were teaching me all the leadership skills and just kind of opening my eyes to everything around me,” Kikta says. 

As time went on, Kikta grew interested in academic research. One research fellowship led to another, and by 2022 she was studying Mandarin Chinese dialects in Singapore, a trip that was funded through a Gilman critical languages scholarship. She is also currently a semifinalist for a Fulbright Scholarship.

Kikta is now the recipient of a Pickering International Affairs Fellowship, adding to her list of accolades and opportunities a $42,000 stipend to cover the costs of a two-year master’s degree in a field adjacent to the U.S. Foreign Service—a potential career destination that she says excites her.

“The Pickering recognizes outstanding young Americans with interests in pursuing  careers in the U.S. Foreign Service, providing funding towards a master’s degree, two summer internships with the State Department, and mentorship for their eventual career in the foreign service,” the award’s website says. “The award recognizes excellence and seeks to ensure that the Foreign Service reflects the face of America to foreign audiences.”

But Kikta says she hasn’t completely dropped the business focus. After all, she intends to graduate with a fully accredited degree in international business. Rather it was through her business classes—social entrepreneurship, specifically—that she discovered the subjects she’d like to study at the graduate level. 

Social entrepreneurship, she says, is a way to connect business skills with a variety of real-world causes. 

“It just opened me up to more international relations issues, so instead of just focusing on business and learning the foundations of accounting and financing, I was really willing to look outside of the box,” Kikta says. “That sparked my desire to focus on social entrepreneurship.”

“I realized that when I was given the opportunity to go do work abroad versus work at Wayfair one summer (and ended up choosing the Wayfair position) I realized I wanted to fully commit to doing international relations work,” Kikta says. 

Kikta also interned at Imprivata, a Massachusetts-based digital security firm. Working in a 9-to-5 environment was disillusioning, she says, recalling the moment she felt called to research.  

“I knew a colleague at Yale, and I was able to get involved in one of their projects that focused on Ukraine’s HIV testing programs with their LGBT populations, and I got a lot more enjoyment doing that work and learning all of the skills associated with being a researchers, whether it be methodological processes or learning statistics in an applied way,” Kikta says. 

Her other work, which she did at Northeastern, has dealt with issues associated on counterfeit COVID-19 products, narcotics, war crimes and the use of political apologies.

Tanner Stening is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @tstening90.