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Innovative Teaching at the School of Diplomacy Prepares Students to Make an Immediate Impact on the Field  

A classroom discussion in the School of Diplomacy and International Relations

Education is an ever-evolving profession, with research, best practices, and curricula changing constantly. Students' attention is a commodity to be competed for in the modern age, as distractions abound and invade the academic space. In this shifting landscape, new methods of teaching can be the difference between an engaged student body and an entirely forgettable semester. Innovative teaching methods engage students actively in their own learning while simultaneously illustrating the practical applications of their knowledge.

Innovative teaching at the School of Diplomacy has earned our faculty the University's Teacher of the Year award for two consecutive years, and it comes in a variety of forms: from creative writing assignments and in-class projects to academic experiences fully conducted in the field. A number of Diplomacy professors incorporate the use of policy memos into their curriculum, an exercise that pushes students to place themselves in the role of organizational leaders, State Department analysts, or national government officials and offer solutions to a given issue. Policy memos are not a subject-specific strategy; Diplomacy students may write a memo on the Syrian Civil War for Dr. Anne Marie Murphy's Comparative Foreign Policy class one semester, and then dive into a memo on military action in the South China Sea for Dr. Sara Moller's International Security course the next. As opposed to a more traditional assignment, this particular piece demands that students apply their knowledge and research skills while incorporating real-world factors and their time-sensitive nature. The end goal is for students to finish a policy memo with the confidence to deliver it to a policy maker.

Beyond policy memos, students are guided in the expression of their opinions and theories on international topics through assigned op-ed pieces. This is a technique commonly used by Dr. Martin Edwards in his graduate classes on global governance and international organizations. Students write op-eds with their peers on a particular topic and then post their work on a blog site created for the class. Students also collaborate with their professors; just as graduate student Lis Kabashi did with Dr. Edwards to argue why promotion of the UN Sustainable Development Goals could be a weapon again populism. These posts are more than an online exhibition of the students' original ideas, they are also physical products of their education that when submitted for publication will grow students' influence and build their resumes. In this sense, the assignment is multi-faceted: not only do students gain practice in the composition of op-ed pieces, they also are exposed to the process of pitching their writing for publication. Diplomacy students have been highly successful in this regard, with op-ed pieces appearing in The Diplomat, the Foreign Policy Journal and more.

Another popular technique among Diplomacy faculty is the use of simulations. In multiple classes at both the graduate and undergraduate level, professors dedicate specific days each semester to conducting simulations in which students assume the roles of real-world actors in both the private and public sectors and attempt to negotiate resolutions to problems that currently plague the world. Often, professors assign students particular roles to ensure a diversity of opinions and responsibilities within the simulation. Students have assumed the positions of the President of the United States, and the Permanent Representative of the U.S. to the United Nations debating the American position on COP21, representatives of various countries discussing global security crises, and lawyers arguing cases at the International Criminal Court.

The most extensive forms of innovative teaching literally move students into the field to gain first-hand experience in their chosen areas of expertise. The School of Diplomacy offers such opportunities both domestically and internationally through academic study seminars, internships, and more. In the first few months of 2017 alone, students have explored the newly opened island of Cuba, the Basque Country in Spain and the hallowed halls of the United Nations Headquarters. During international study seminars to Spain and Cuba, students engaged with high-ranking officials and examined conflicts from a local perspective, while UN Field Seminar participants attended Thursday briefings with UN Department of Public Information (UNDPI) and non-governmental organization leaders, and discussed solutions to world issues with integral players. On April 27, at UN Headquarters, UN Field Seminar students presented the results of research on the global refugee crisis, conducted in collaboration with peers from Felician University. An official UN youth-led event, "The Refugee Crisis: Exploring Solutions," was cosponsored by Seton Hall's Center for UN and Global Governance Studies and Felician University's Center for Global Academic Initiatives. In their presentation, students shared their insights on the modern day plight of refugees and internally displaced persons from Haiti to Afghanistan. They proposed solutions to not only their peers from New York University, but to two external evaluators: Mr. Joseph Donnelly of Cartias Internationalis and Mr. Bruce Knotts, professor at NYU and Chair of the United Nations Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organizations (UN DPI/NGO) Executive Committee. According to the Seminar instructor and Director of the School's Center for UN and Global Governance Studies, Rev. Brian Muzas, Ph.D, the evaluators gave the students “enthusiastic positive feedback and congratulated [them] on their high-quality work." Illuminating public and private resolutions to the immense challenges facing refugees all over the world, this multimedia presentation was a dress rehearsal for large-scale briefings that students will lead throughout their careers.

As part of the School's internship program, nearly 150 interns per year gain professional experience at 600+ internship host sites in over 70 countries. One popular location is the nation's capital, where Seton Hall students work with agencies such as the U.S. Department of Justice, Interpol and others through the School's Semester in Washington, D.C. program. Students take Seton Hall classes at the United Nations Foundation while completing internships full-time. Catharin Dalpino, former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and D.C. program instructor, leads students through an extensive two-month exercise in which they negotiate complex international relations issues, submit written recommendations on courses of action, and ultimately justify their ideas in a formal presentation. This assignment effectively combines characteristics of policy memos, simulations, and verbal defense; demonstrating how innovative teaching techniques influence one another to create new strategies and further student learning. The integration of such an extensive capstone project into the program provides intellectual and professional enrichment simultaneously, maximizing the semester that students spend in Washington, D.C.

Innovative teaching techniques go beyond the mere sharing of knowledge and cultivate open spaces for students to generate their own distinctive perspectives, solutions, and contributions to the field of international relations. In combination with the support of faculty and access to a variety of resources, such strategies and assignments create a tangible connection for students between their academic learning and future professional success. Whether it be an internship, an academic seminar in another country, or an on-campus simulation, all of these experiences demand that students think outside the box and dive into challenges headfirst, learning and growing from the process, as well as the successes and missteps along the way. As the School continues to invest in innovative approaches to learning, students will only continue to benefit from the comprehensive training offered to them, whether it be at home or abroad.

Categories: Education , Nation and World

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