Sonal Lal

Cronkite Global project manager chosen for prestigious Payne Fellowship

Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024


Throughout the years, Sonal Lal has developed a passion for international education.

And now she’s sharing that passion with students at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. 

Lal is a project manager for Cronkite Global Initiatives, where she designs programs for international students and participants from different countries. She was also selected for the prestigious Payne Fellowship, a seven-year program that encourages students from underrepresented groups to pursue foreign service careers with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). 

Lal graduated from Gonzaga University with a bachelor of arts in Spanish and international relations and a minor in dance. She is pursuing her master’s degree in global management from ASU’s Thunderbird School of Global Management and expects to graduate in May 2025. She will then join the USAID Foreign Service, where she will move abroad and look to address global challenges related to education.

Lal cultivated her love for international education during her childhood growing up with immigrant parents from the Fiji Islands. 

“My friends spoke English, my friends ate U.S. American food, but then I’d go home and we’re speaking Hindi and eating Indian and Fijian food,” she said. 

In high school, Lal joined the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program, a four-week program that promotes team building, cross cultural communication and conflict resolution workshops. The program was funded by the U.S Department of State and brought 10 Americans and 40 Iraqis together to discuss similarities and how to work together aside from the differences that are perceived.

Lal joined the Cronkite School after working as a program coordinator with Global Ties Arizona, where she led international exchange programs in partnership with the U.S. Department of State. The Cronkite School was one of the main partners for hosting international journalists that came through the program.

“Seeing how much my international delegates loved learning from Cronkite faculty and staff, encouraged me to apply to work here so that I could have a more direct impact on my participants, reach larger audiences, have access to more resources and focus on educational and academic programming,” she said. “Cronkite Global Initiatives is one of the most dynamic units I have worked with in terms of the types of grants and programs they seek to pursue and implement.”

Lal sees an array of international education opportunities for Cronkite students who participate in Cronkite Global Initiatives study abroad programs. She also wants to encourage Cronkite students to pursue further opportunities such as the Payne Fellowship.

“The fellowship is perfect for Cronkite students that want to gain more international exposure, want stability in a job, want to continuously meet people from all over the world and to hear other people’s stories,” she said. “You don’t have to be from the same place or come from the same language in order to connect with people.”