Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, undergraduate and graduate students of various majors can take part in the School of Diplomacy's Semester in Washington, D.C., program, a collaboration between the School and the United Nations Foundation. This year, studies and internships are being held virtually.
This program was developed to provide students the opportunity to compete for prestigious semester-long internships with Washington, D.C., based agencies, organizations and companies, while maintaining their full-time student status and financial aid packages. The program's coursework allows students to gain valuable insight into the inner workings of Washington, D.C., through interactions with outstanding practitioners based in the region.
Program director and professor of practice, Dr. Ray Walser, spoke about how the experience is both the same and different this semester.
"In essence, the content and requirements of the course have not changed. Students are still expected to engage in critical thinking, perform research and written exercises and engage in classroom discussion. The use of the Microsoft Teams internet platform and small class sizes allow for regular interaction."
Dr. Walser indicated, "The chief vehicle for the insider experience is a wide range of conversations with present and former government officials, scholars and policy advocates." This semester, students have heard from a serving admiral in the Coast Guard, two retired Army generals, a former national security advisor for Latin America and chief operating officer of the International Republican Institute, two retired ambassadors, experts at the United Nations Foundation and a vice-president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Some of the major changes include no in-person contact, no in-person speakers and no visits to Washington sites – Congress, the Pentagon, the State Department, think tanks, etc. Dr. Walser says, "It is not the same to participate virtually…but (students) appear to have adapted well."
One of the D.C. Program participants, undergraduate Annika Springsteel shared some of her thoughts with us on how the program is running this year. Even though she had expectations that there was a good chance the program would be held online, Annika was disappointed at first. Nevertheless, she highlights that the program "has grown on her", and now she is able to complete the D.C. Program while taking in-person classes on campus using the privileges of the HyFlex system, and while continuing to work in the Office of International Programs.
Annika believes that the virtual format of the Semester in D.C. Program still provides the same career opportunities as it did before the coronavirus pandemic. She emphasizes the excellent work of Professor Walser for bringing in guest speakers that represent various fields in the government. Annika Springsteel points out the fact that all students enrolled still have a fascinating opportunity to ask questions and speak to first-class professionals, namely, ambassadors, CIA officers, Generals, Congressional staffers and more.
One advantage of the program, is that students can network with professionals that have followed career paths many students of diplomacy and international relations are interested in pursuing.: "All of them [the guest speakers] have been very generous with their contact information, so we have the option to reach out to them for further information and networking", Annika says.
All students have secured virtual internships for this semester, not limited to Washington, D.C. Mohanad Alsaid, an undergraduate student, for instance, is currently enjoying his position as an intern at the Department of External Communications and Information Control of the Costa Rican Permanent Mission at the United Nations.
Dr. Catherine Ruby
Alondra Camargo currently holds a position as a Research Assistant at the Modern War Institute at West Point. Alondra highlights that this position was offered to her by Dr. Ruby, Director of Internships and Career Development at School of Diplomacy. The scope of Alondra's work focuses on conducting research to find and analyze the practices that extremist groups in Africa use to recruit new members. Moreover, she is compiling the data for the Battle Summary Index, which summarizes the most well-known battles in urban history. Alondra's goal is to work at a think tank. She emphasizes that her experience at MWI will benefit her in gaining research experience and broadening her knowledge of international relations in general.
The Semester in D.C. Program provides a safe and robust learning opportunity regardless of the format. The School of Diplomacy's Semester in DC Program is accepting participants for the Spring 2021 semester.