Tag Archives: Internship Stories

Vahid Khatami Does Data Analysis at Microfinance Opportunities

Vahid Khatami is a recent graduate of the joint MPA/MAIR program. He is going on to work in an international financial institution in New York City.

Vahid Khatami at MFO

Lack of access to financial services is still an economic barrier for many households and small businesses around the world. Based on the global Findex database in 2014, only 34% of people in Sub-Saharan Africa have access to a financial account and less than 16% use formal savings and borrowings. Similar data for other developing regions has emerged leading to the use of microfinance tools to expand financial inclusion globally. But, promoting the best financial tools for low-income households is very complicated, since one must consider the variety of outflow and inflow categories in their financial diaries. It raises the demand for in-depth research on these micro economies.

Microfinance opportunities (MFO) is a research organization, based in Washington, D.C., committed to understanding the financial realities of low-income households.  They work with other organizations in the microfinance industry to conduct research on behavioral economics of beneficiaries.

During my internship in MFO, I worked on three major projects. First, I was doing statistical analysis on household survey responses in four African countries including Zambia, Senegal, Uganda, and Burkina Faso. I did statistical analysis and data visualization on poverty likelihood scores by controlling demographic characteristics and types of packages provided for beneficiaries. For my second project, I designed an Android application for on-line uploading of financial diaries. The idea was raised after talking with the executive manager where I let him know about my skills in computer programming. The final product, which is going to prepare for alpha testing, makes beneficiaries enable to insert their daily financial diaries without interventions of any third party or interviewer. That data is stored in a cloud-based storage for further auto-analysis. For my third internship project, I helped MFO’s team to provide a comprehensive report on all transactions data in previous and current projects, including more than one million transaction records. Reformatting all data to a uniform structure and applying statistical measurements such as clustering methods was the focal point in that project.

Over all those assignments, I was in almost daily communication with the executive manager to present my progress in work and get guidance on the next steps. I had realized that there were no straightforward answers for problems, which motivated me to do research and ask about possible solutions regularly. I also got a valuable insight into the microfinance industry and its technical aspects, which will help me to take the next steps in my career track with more confidence.

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Emily Ma Finds Taiwan Unforgettable While at Foreign Commercial Service

Emily Ma wrote this post while interning in Taiwan during the fall of 2016. She also interned at United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) during the summer of 2016, where she was posted in Turkey for a time. After graduating with her MAIR degree, she landed a job at USCIS.

Emily Ma (3rd from left) with AIT Director, Kin Moy (4th from left) and other interns

This fall, I was able to travel to Taipei, Taiwan to intern for the American Institute in Taiwan, Commercial Section. The American Institute in Taiwan is the de-facto embassy for the United States in Taiwan, created under the Taiwan Relations Act after the United States acknowledged China’s “One-China Policy.” The functioning of AIT is no different than a typical American Embassy other than the fact that the titles of the officers are slightly different. For example, the “ambassador” is called the “director” of the Institute.

The Commercial Section is run under the Commerce Department rather than the State Department, meaning that in our lobby, we have framed pictures of President Obama and Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker rather than Secretary of State John Kerry. The purpose of the Foreign Commercial Service (FCS) is to provide assistance to U.S. Firms hoping to export abroad, or foreign entities looking to invest into the United States. Although there are other groups such as the U.S. Trade Representative, and the Economics section of the State Department, The FCS provides assistance to individual companies for a minimal fee. The fee is simply to allow the Commercial Section, an entity representing the U.S. government, to assist one individual company without providing assistance to all other U.S. companies (although it is available once the basic fee is paid).

As an intern, I have been able to attend meetings with both U.S. and Taiwan representatives of the public and private sector. I have assisted with several trade shows in which American companies have taken part in, and have done thorough research on the burgeoning activity in the area of smart city technology.

Taiwan itself is a beautiful island with friendly locals. Commercially, it is the gateway to Asia. Amidst the fierce competition, as firms try to enter China, many overlook Taiwan. Developed, and with close ties to China, Taiwan businesses are eager to diversify their portfolio, and are always looking for something new.

Whether it is for tourism, or business, Taiwan is definitely not a place to forget.

Global Programs in China:

SU Beijing

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Corena Sharp Learns How State Department Promotes Labor Rights

Corena Sharp was a MAIR student who also spent last summer interning at UNICEF in Geneva. She wrote this post last fall, and is now a new Maxwell alumnus.

Corena Sharp (center, 6th from left), Office of International Labor Affairs in DOS’ Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor

Ever read a Human Rights Report released by the State Department? They are released every year and cover every country in the world, and then some. U.S. Diplomats and NGOs alike use them to advocate for human rights. Section 7 of these reports details workers’ rights. I never considered the fascinating position of labor rights before I interned in the Office of International Labor Affairs (ILA) within the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL).

Unlike many human rights, labor rights are often considered oppositional human rights. It is rare that someone would stand up and argue that people do not deserve clean drinking water, but champions of workers’ rights often face skepticism and even hostility. When countries compete for trade deals, they often create a ‘race to the bottom’ where the lowest compensation and fewest benefits make countries and companies more competitive in the name of economic growth. However, many have begun asking ‘growth for whom?’ The Sustainable Development Goals are trying to address this issue through the promotion of ‘inclusive growth.’ The strongest force for protecting workers is the freedom of association and collective bargaining. Yet, few things can shut down a conversation faster than the word ‘unions.’ Achieving decent work is incredibly important for sustainable development; the challenge is changing the perceived either-or categories that labor rights and economic growth are often given.

My small office takes the lead to develop Section 7 into an effective tool for advocates. Developing a successful final draft of these reports goes beyond just proofreading. An effective report is built from research contributed by every editor and thus requires clear communication among the drafters. By utilizing SharePoint, DRL fosters the collaboration among Foreign Service Officers at embassies abroad, editors in regional offices, and policy offices such as ILA.  ILA in turn coordinates with the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and the Department of Labor. Back-to-back tranches of these reports flow into the office—each with different editors depending on their successful completion of each stage of the editing process. The more complete the report, the better a government can be held accountable.

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Zack Lubelfeld Investigates Drug Trafficking at Department of Treasury

Zack Lubelfeld is a joint MPA/MAIR who will finish his two degrees this month, then move onto a Boren Fellowship.

Zack Lubelfeld

Last Fall Semester, I completed an internship in Washington, D.C. at the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), in the Department of the Treasury. I worked in the Crime, Narcotics, and Western Hemisphere Division, which is located in OFAC’s Targeting Office. CNW’s primary focus is on implementing and enforcing the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, or the Kingpin Act, which allows the United States to sanction individuals and entities involved in international narcotics trafficking. These sanctions prevent narcotics traffickers from accessing the international financial system, with the goal of forcing them to cease by starving them of access to money.

It was an interesting experience for me, because I got to see up close part of the United States’ efforts to combat drug trafficking organizations around the world. More than that, though, is that the work I was assigned was no different than that of the sanctions investigators with whom I worked. The opportunity to do the job as if I were any other full-time employee was an invaluable one. I was able to see that my work was actually contributing to the division’s operations, which was really satisfying.

Furthermore, I learned a lot from the experience. Because of the nature of the work, a lot of my learning was done on the job. Fortunately, my coworkers were all very friendly and happy to help me, so whenever I had a question it was easy to find someone who could answer it. The basic components of the job were not very difficult – a lot of reading, researching, and writing – but I had to adjust to a different style of thinking, because much of the work was investigative. It was a new experience, drawing information from all sources to complete an investigation, but by the end I was definitely more comfortable approaching the information like an investigator.

I very much enjoyed my time interning with OFAC, and I gained a lot from it. The experience definitely confirmed that I want to do this sort of work once I graduate. The work done by OFAC has a demonstrable effect on American efforts to maintain our national security. It was very rewarding to get to be a part of it, and to contribute to keeping the country safe.

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Sonia Rangel, Mastering International Trade Relations

Sonia Rangel is a joint MPA/MAIR. In addition to her Fall Semester in Washington, DC, she interned at Instituto para las Mujeres en la Migración in Mexico City and was part of a team of MPA students who completed a consulting project for Refugee and Immigrant Self Empowerment in Syracuse.

Former US Ambassador, Earl Antony Wayne, and Sonia Rangel at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Without a doubt, my internship this Fall Semester at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars has been a meaningful and wonderful experience. I am a research intern for a Wilson Center Public Policy Fellow and former US Ambassador to Mexico, Earl Anthony Wayne. The internship has been a great opportunity to investigate economic issues and work closely with a former high level diplomat. This has been an exciting experience for me, because it has provided me with the opportunity to learn more about US – Mexico trade relations and economic ties, a vital topic for both countries that was often discussed during this past presidential election. I have developed a more nuanced understanding of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the benefits it has created for both the US and Mexican economy.

In conjunction with the internship, I am enrolled in a Maxwell course on International Trade and Economic Negotiations that has complemented my internship in many ways. The course has allowed me to understand the complexities of a trade negotiation process by which the rules of trade are developed. The research for my internship has exposed me to the effects of trade agreements once they have been implemented.

Additionally, it is a privilege to work at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a living memorial for President SummerWilson, the only US President with a doctorate degree, and a place of research for some of the brightest scholars and experts from around the world. The Center’s mission is focused on independent and in-depth research to form policy proposals through open dialogue. During the course of the internship, I have had the opportunity to attend forums and events hosted at the Wilson Center on a wide range of topics such as Brazil-US relations, transatlantic challenges in fighting violent extremism, and national security in Mexico. Furthermore, I work in an open space among other remarkably intelligent research assistants and scholars investigating a multitude of different issues and topics and have acquired knowledge through their research.

Working with Ambassador Wayne has been a valuable experience. I have developed a deeper understanding of trade and economic issues through the tasks that I have completed. Likewise, I have also enjoyed learning from his deep knowledge and practical experience. I also admire his high level of intuitiveness and graciousness towards all people. Overall, my experience at the Wilson Center has exceeded my expectations and has led to professional and academic growth.

Entrance to the Woodrow Wilson International Center of Scholars

Sonia Rangel at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars library

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Jack Gall Helps Promote Accountability in Foreign Policy

Jack Gall in Washington, DC

Jack Gall is a recent graduate of the MAIR program who wrote this post while interning during his final Fall Semester. Prior to interning, he also completed a summer course at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on the framework created by the international community to address the threats of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. He combined this with an independent research project with a Maxwell faculty.

This fall in Washington DC has been a rewarding experience as I have worked as the Center for International Policy’s national security intern during some of the most exciting and turbulent times in our nation’s capital in our nation’s capital in recent history.

The Center for International Policy (CIP) is a think tank that promotes transparency, cooperation, and accountability in foreign public policy. CIP was founded shortly after the Vietnam War’s end and has for decades engaged in research and advocacy programs ranging from arms control reform and diplomatic conflict resolution to US security assistance monitoring and environmental protection. The majority of my work has been supporting CIP’s national security program, led by Harry C. Blaney III. A State Department diplomat of over 20 years, Mr. Blaney runs a blog that covers and commentates on current US foreign policy events called Rethinking National Security. Harry has been an invaluable mentor in analyzing the impact of current events, preparing for my post-graduate plans, and fully appreciating the enriching opportunities Washington DC has to offer (he’s particular to local art galleries and I highly recommend the Phillips Collection).

By far the storyline that dominated coverage for the national security program was coverage of the 2016 Presidential Election and the following transition process. My primary responsibilities have been following daily election developments, providing worthwhile quotes, and proofreading and posting regular blog posts. In addition, I have worked to expand the blog’s readership through social media outreach and occasionally wrote posts of my own focusing on my interests such as nuclear security. As an exception to a generational stereotype, I didn’t have much experience with Twitter prior to my internship, so outreach has come with a bit of a learning curve.

Outside of working on the blog, my time at CIP also includes front desk duty and occasionally assisting other programs with open-source resource, database correction, and one hectic but memorable envelope-stuffing marathon for fundraising. My fellow interns are passionate about the work they do in promoting CIP’s mission for a peaceful and cooperative world. Overall, my time at the Center for International Policy has provided valuable professional experience in the public policy arena and taught me the importance of being inquisitive, assertive, and understanding in my work.

Jack Gall and Harry C. Blaney III at CIP

Austin Strain, Jack Gall, Celina Menzel, Leyko Nagayoshi, and Paritt Nguiakaramahawongse at CIP’s Pumpkin Social Function

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Ana Monzon Promotes UN Recovery Month at U.S. HHS

Ana Monzon is a joint MPA/MAIR student and a Robertson Fellow. She is currently finishing her MAIR degree at Sciences Po in Paris, France.

Maxwell Professor Mike Wasylenko; Ana Monzon’s HHS Supervisor, Director of Office of Consumer Affairs-Ivette Torres; Ana Monzon; Dean of the Maxwell School-David Van Slyke, Professor and Dean Emeritus John Palmer at the University Club in Washington D.C. during a Robertson Foundation for Government Fellowship event.

While taking classes in Washington D.C. through the Maxwell School’s Global Security & Development Program, I interned with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. I worked on issues of mental health and substance use disorders under the leadership of the Associate Director of the Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA) at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Given my experience in international outreach and coordination, I was tasked with extending National Recovery Month (see President Obama’s Proclamation of the 2016 National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month here: http://tinyurl.com/gohk3bc) observance and its related benefits internationally, both internally with SAMHSA’s Office of Global Affairs and externally with global partners.

In promoting the official recognition of Recovery Month by the United Nations, I drafted a Policy Memo and Talking Points for SAMHSA’s Director for the Center for Mental Health Services to utilize in high-level discussions at the Mental Health Gap Action Programme Forum at the World Health Organization’s (WHO) headquarters in Geneva. I helped draft the recommendations for the Position Papers on Non-Communicable Diseases and Alcohol for the United Nation’s Pan American Health Organization’s (PAHO) 55th Directing Council Meeting held in September. We recommended, among other things, for PAHO member countries to designate an annual monthly observance dedicated to lauding the benefits of recovery from mental health and substance use disorders. As a result of ongoing discussion and meetings, SAMHSA garnered support from Senior Directors from PAHO and the President of the World Health Federation for Mental Health to include the theme of Recovery in their organizations’ celebrations of International Wellness Day and International Mental Health Day, in April and October of 2017, respectively.

I am in front of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) of the World Health Organization after a meeting with Senior Advisors of PAHO’s Alcohol and Substance Abuse Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health Department.

At the grassroots level, I gathered information from and reached out to organizations working in Recovery initiatives in Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Mexico, El Salvador, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Canada, Australia, and the U.K. I worked to institutionalize some of these international organizations as SAMHSA’s leading International Planning Partners. As such, these international organizations will now be able to officially partake in the planning of the 2017 Recovery Month, along with over 200 domestic organizations across the nation, under the leadership of SAMHSA. Their role as Planning Partners will allow these civil society organizations abroad to garner stronger support from essential agencies in their countries (e.g., National Ministries of Health, and Regional Offices of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and WHO).

For my future career in the federal government, lessons of leadership and public management from high-level staff in SAMHSA will prove invaluable. At a personal level, I take with me the incredible stories of human resilience of women and men who are grateful for the voice and visibility SAMHSA gives them in their journey to long-term Recovery, through public grants and/or Recovery Month efforts. I have learned a great deal about the human experience and struggle brought about by these behavioral health conditions, and I believe to be a more compassionate person today because of this internship opportunity.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Service Administrator, Sylvia Matthews Burwell

I am at the National Press Club in the 2016 National Recovery Month Luncheon.

Ana Monzon at the HHS Office in Rockville, Maryland

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Mark Temnycky, Greetings From DOD

My name is Mark Temnycky. I am a Ukrainian-American pursuing a Master of Public Administration and a Master of Arts in International Relations. I am also seeking a Certificate of Advanced Study in the European Union and Contemporary Europe, and a Certificate of Advanced Study in National Security Studies.

This fall I was fortunate to intern at the U.S. Department of Defense: Office of the Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Policy (DoD: OSD), located at the Pentagon, where the duration of the internship lasted 16 weeks. During this period I assisted in developing U.S. and NATO strategy and policies; represented the DoD in interagency meetings, ensuring Department equities are protected while facilitating accomplishments of U.S. policy objects; prepared briefings, decision papers, and action memos for senior DoD officials; and interacted weekly with officials in the National Security Council, Department of State, Intelligence Agencies, U.S. European Command, and U.S. Mission to NATO.

During my days off, including the weekends, I was able to explore the numerous riches that Washington, D.C. has to offer. For example, I visited many of the memorials, visited the various Smithsonian museums throughout Washington, and attended numerous cultural events at embassies and festivals. I was also exposed to the sports culture in Washington, where I met some players from the U.S. men’s national soccer team; some friends and I attended the U.S. vs. New Zealand friendly at RFK Stadium, and we watched the Philadelphia Eagles take on the Washington Redskins in an NFC East division game at FedExField.

Overall I am very blessed and thankful for this experience. I learned more about the various administrative processes of the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. NATO Policy, the various issues that NATO faces during the twenty first century, and the strength that the NATO Allies have in order to overcome these issues. The experience was simply surreal. Thank you Washington!

Mark Temnycky at the Pentagon.

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Melissa Horste Assists Civil Society in Chile

Melissa Horste is a joint MPA/MAIR student who will be graduating in June 2017. She took advantage of SU Santiago to intern and take courses at Pontificia Universidad Catolica.

Melissa Horste

During the fall of 2016, I interned for a small nonprofit in Santiago, Chile, called Fundacion Multitudes, which seeks to strengthen civil society and improve government transparency in Chile and the region. Admittedly, I felt like the oddball in the organization at first. As a former legislative aid, the nonprofit world is a little foreign to me and in Chile, I found myself having to navigate a different culture in terms of both the sector and the country itself. However, over the course of 4-months and more than 300 hours, my role in the organization shifted from a researcher to project manager as I gained a deeper understanding of the problems facing civil society in the region and put into use the tools we have gained at Maxwell.

Small nonprofits like Fundacion Multitudes rely heavily on a team of energetic, but unpaid, volunteers. As a relatively new nonprofit, Fundacion Multitudes doesn’t have a lot of financial resources, but it makes up for it in networking with other organizations both within Chile and abroad. Fundacion Multitudes has a lot of potential, and I aimed to help them improve their internal processes to build their own capacity. After helping them apply successfully for a grant, my boss made me project manager, and I quickly went to work on developing a Plan de Trabajo. What I thought was a simple Gantt Chart was a revolutionary tool for the organization. (A special ‘Thank you’ to Professor Schnell for introducing us to Tools4Dev, which I used as a constant reference during my internship.) I hope to leave the organization with a packet of tools like this so they are better equipped to develop proposals and implement projects in the future.

Melissa Horste at a geyser in Tatio, Chile

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Camila Urbina Escobar, Working on Donor Relations at World Food Programme in Paris

Camilla Urbina Escobar is a DeSardon Glass Fellow and joint MPA/MAIR student expecting to graduate in the summer of 2017.

In many ways, Maxwell has helped me find my professional and personal identity. It has helped me understand my passions and how I can better be of service to my community, my country, and anyone. The journey that started with the opportunity of a lifetime to attend Syracuse University brought me to my Fall Semester studying at one of France’s foremost academic institutions, Sciences Po, and doing my second internship for the World Food Programme in a year. It has been an amazing chance to experience academic and professional life in France in a brilliant historical and cultural environment.

Studying in the Shadow of Giants

The academic leg of my French adventure was at times almost unbelievable, studying against the backdrop of art museums and steps away from historic Paris was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Sciences Po is one of France’s oldest and most prominent academic institutions, the alma mater of French Presidents and Prime Ministers. The professors and courses were a dream come true for a passionate student like myself. I was able to take incredible courses, including Promotion of Human Rights with Professor Aryeh Neier, the founder of Human Rights Watch; Global Health Management with Karl Blanchet, one of the best professors of the London School of Tropical Medicine; and a negotiation class with Alain Lempereur, the man that until recently was supporting the UN talks in Syria.

Sciences Po was the opportunity to learn from amazing professors and make invaluable networking connections by sharing the classroom with people from all over the world, representing Maxwell and contributing my perspectives in one of the most diverse academic spaces I have ever experienced.

At The French Liason Office

As I wanted to take full advantage of my opportunity of being in Europe and continue the work I started in Timor-Leste over the summer, and was accepted to work with the UN’s World Food Programme Paris Liaison Office, which handles all the donations from the government of France and Monaco to the agency.

It has been a wonderful opportunity to understand the relations between WFP and the European governments, and work in donor and public relations for the organization. Supporting their communications efforts and attending meetings with the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs about their donations to their countries of interests. Being part of one of WFP’s high performance teams and contributing to their work has given me the chance to improve my French and strengthen the  competences I received at the Maxwell School with experience working with the UN in a context of European relations—a chance to put theory to practice.

Being in France gave me invaluable networking opportunities, allowed me to work in a multicultural environment and provided me with insights into the inner workings of the liaison offices of the world’s most effective humanitarian agency. This experience has brought me closer to a dream I have had since I was 12 years old, working for the United Nations to help countries like my native Colombia. Maxwell has allowed me to be one step closer to that dream with the opportunity to have a working and studying experience in France.

Camila Urbina at the Pont Neuf in Paris

Camila Urbina at UNESCO HQ where the WFP offices are located

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