Joseph Shumunov ’25 is the first Kalamazoo College student to be honored with a Beren Fellowship from the Tikvah Fund.
The Beren Fellowship, which seeks to encourage and support young scholars in leading lives of Jewish purpose and leadership, includes eight summer weeks in New York City. The cohort of current college students and recent graduates will spend three weeks in seminars led by leading scholars and thinkers, learning and debating Jewish history, texts and politics. Then, each fellow embarks on a research project or internship focusing on an area of Jewish public policy or Jewish life that intrigues them. In the final week of the fellowship, the fellows hold a conference to present their work to each other as well as to other students, writers and professionals in the Tikvah network.
A double major in political science and international and area studies, Shumunov proposed in his fellowship application a project analyzing the relations between Israel and Azerbaijan and how their relationship might benefit the U.S. geopolitically. His mentor in the research, who also offered Shumunov an internship, will be Michael Doran, a senior fellow and director of the Center for Peace and Security in the Middle East at Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. Doran specializes in Middle East security issues.
Shumunov’s interest in the project springs from his role as a virtual social media intern for the U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan, assisting their public affairs department, creating Instagram posts, reviewing public briefings and writing cables for the ambassador.
In his first two years at K, Shumunov has also participated in Model UN (and will serve as a co-president), Refugee Outreach Collective (including Homework Champions Tutoring), and Hillel (where he has been vice president).
In addition, Shumunov values the experiences he has had with Afro Fiesta Desi Sol, as an important space on campus to celebrate cultural differences, and in talks between Hillel and College administration regarding antisemitism on campus, which helped him see how each person can drive change.
Amy Elman, the William Weber Chair of Social Science and a professor of political science, suggested to Shumunov that he consider applying for the Beren Fellowship.
“I’ve had Joseph in three classes now, and he distinguishes himself by having the ability to synthesize difficult materials,” Elman said. “Joseph is that rare student who is interested in being challenged. He’s serious about political thought, and he’s genuinely interested in helping the American Jewish community thrive, which is no easy task given the surge in antisemitism worldwide.”
When he read about the fellowship, Shumunov thought it would be a good opportunity for networking, possible publication of his research, learning and connecting.
“I lived in a very Jewish community in Detroit, and a lot of my time has been devoted to Judaism and my religion, especially because I went to a Jewish school for most of my life,” Shumunov said. “Coming to K has been a transition for me because now my only access to the Jewish community is maybe a small Jewish Studies program and Hillel, and that’s made me crave it more.”
The Beren Fellowship has existed in a variety of forms since 2009, and this is the first year a Kalamazoo College student will join the cohort.
“The Beren Summer Fellowship is thrilled to welcome Joseph as a fellow this year,” said Alan Rubenstein, senior director of Tikvah’s University and Young Professional Programs. “We are excited to see how he will bring his learning about the modern Jewish condition and his deep study of American foreign policy in the Middle East back to the Kalamazoo community.”
Shumunov hopes to bring what he learns and experiences back to campus, particularly to classes with Elman and as part of ongoing efforts to combat antisemitism on campus.
“One thing I’m looking forward to is that these students are part of my age group and a lot of them are coming from campuses that also face rising antisemitism,” Shumunov said. “I think a common denominator within our group will be that we know what’s happening, and we want to fix it; we want to apply what we learn to our campuses when we come back. I think we’ll be sharing about our experiences and discussing why antisemitism is rising on campuses, why it’s becoming normalized, ways to combat it, to change it and to prevent it from happening.”
After completing the Beren Fellowship, Shumunov plans to study abroad in Jordan from August to December and intends to complete a humanitarian internship during this time there. He hopes to work with refugees and migrants in Jordan and to complete a Senior Integrated Project examining the lives of refugees and migrants or diasporas in the world.
The Tikvah Fund is a private philanthropic foundation based in New York with the mission of promoting serious Jewish thought about the enduring questions of human life and the pressing challenges that confront the Jewish people.