Christie Gingras is a joint MPA/MAIR student with one more semester of studies remaining. She is a Robertson Fellow and a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Mongolia.
This summer, I was fortunate enough to intern at United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) in Hawaii. Within PACOM, I interned for the Global Peacekeeping Operations Initiative, a State Department program implemented by Department of Defense. In support of the program, I conducted feasibility and trend analyses, wrote case studies, implemented a new monitoring system, and provided recommendations for a new course evaluation system. Additionally, I was able to attend the Association of Asia-Pacific Peace Operations Training Centers Conference in Sri Lanka as part of the GPOI team.
This internship was an incredible experience, but three aspects of the internship stood out as being particularly advantageous to my future career. First, I was able to observe civilian-military as well as interagency cooperation, both within the federal government and abroad. Learning how the military and DoD operates will be invaluable in a future career in post conflict reconstruction, where they will be involved in reconstruction efforts. Next, I was able to build on my ground-level experience in the Peace Corps and appreciate how, at the higher, operational level, programs are managed in support of the strategic policy for the region. Finally, I was able to spend time networking with other individuals at the combatant command who connected me with colleagues in Washington, D.C.; I plan on leveraging these connections in the fall as I begin my job search for after graduation.
While not working, I took advantage of living in Hawaii. I hiked and enjoyed the beaches. I learned fencing from one colleague and krav maga from another. All in all, I had an incredible time and will be dreaming of O’ahu during Syracuse’s long winter!
This fall I have been fortunate enough to spend the semester interning with Social Impact, Inc., a development and management consulting firm headquartered in Arlington, VA. In addition, like most other students, I have also been taking night classes at Maxwell’s home base in DC, the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Social Impact has three major pillars or departments: impact evaluation, performance evaluation, and strategy, performance, and capacity building. I work for the latter division, SPCB. My duties as intern cover a wide range of assignments, from overhauling and revamping the SPCB team’s knowledge management platform, SharePoint, to attending meetings with clients such as USAID for projects like developing strategic and change management plans.
As someone who is relatively new to the consulting world, my internship has been an eye-opening experience. Though I was familiar with USAID in an academic context, working with the agency as a consulting client has given me an entirely different perspective on the organization. I’ve had the chance to learn about USAID’s project cycle, the types of work they fund, and how their projects are monitored and evaluated (M&E is actually a specialty of Social Impact’s).
One of my ongoing projects has involved coding qualitative data (focus group discussions and key informant interviews) for a performance evaluation of WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) initiatives implemented by USAID and its partners in Madagascar. Through this coding assignment and other projects I’ve been able to help out with, I get to see up close and in person how the different types of research designs we often discussed in my Introduction to International Relations Research and Quantitative Analysis classes are actually implemented on the ground, which is fascinating. It’s exciting to realize that the research designs you studied in class are used so often in the implementation of development projects.
Though most of my fellow Maxwellians are interning at think tanks and research and policy organizations, interning at a for-profit consulting firm has been an interesting experience. Some aspects of the consulting sector, like business development and proposal writing, are fairly similar to the work I did as a fundraiser for an environmental non-profit before I came back to graduate school. Other aspects, though, like the contract approvals process and sourcing ad-hoc consultants for new projects, are completely different. Ultimately, I’m thankful to have the opportunity with this internship to learn more about the industry I hope to enter upon graduation.
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.
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.
Zack Lubelfeld is a joint MPA/MAIR who will finish his two degrees this month, then move onto a Boren Fellowship.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sarah Baumunk is a joint MPA/MAIR student who also interned at the U.S. Department of State’s Western Hemisphere Affairs Bureau, Office of Policy Planning in Washington, DC. She also took evening courses as part of the Maxwell-in-Washington program.
I sit on the phone on hold while trying to help an Eritrean asylee file a claim with his insurance company after a recent car wreck, when a Haitian immigrant—who only speaks French—comes to ask for help with applying for jobs. In the living room outside the office I can hear a crew of Cubans and Mexicans cheering on a soccer match together. I walk out of the office to see that a generous community member has left two giant bags of donations that need to be sifted through, but before I can get a start I’m intercepted by a group of West Africans who remind me we’re still out of vegetable oil to cook with. Once I get the extra oil and bring it into the kitchen, I’m waved down by about a dozen Ethiopians and Eritreans insisting that I come eat with them. They treat me to one of their specialties—lentils in a tomato sauces on top of injera (a typical East African spongy bread)—and we practice their English. With a full stomach, I shoo everyone off to their respective rooms just in time to make the 11 o’clock lights-out, and retreat to the office where I pull out the futon that I will sleep on that night. All in a typical day’s work while interning with Casa Marianella this summer.
Casa Marianella is a homeless shelter that provides hospitality and support for immigrants and refugees in Austin, Texas. While the nonprofit organization was originally founded 30 years ago to assist primarily Central American and Mexican immigrants, it has since evolved to encompass a much wider variety of noncitizens, with the majority coming from Eritrea, Ethiopia, and French-speaking West African countries. Casa has 38 beds to offer (although it frequently is home to many more) to residents who are either immigrants who can no longer work due to medical problems or asylees who arrive in the US and have no friends or family in our country. Residents stay for three to six months on average, while they receive legal help from pro bono lawyers and case management from staff members like myself.
Working at Casa Marianella this summer was a life-changing experience that brought practical experience to my studies, allowed me to sharpen my soft skills, and showed me what a compassion-driven organization looks like.
Over the past year, I have studied immigration policy and law through a number of Maxwell and law school courses. Given this background, I entered my position in Casa Marianella with a broad understanding of immigration in the US, but was surprised by how much I had to learn about the ground-level experience of immigrants today. From the job search for non-English speakers, to the tedious paperwork, to the hour-long drives every six months to check in with the government, working at Casa gave me valuable insight into the way our immigration laws and policies play out day-to-day.
My time at Casa was additionally an excellent practice in honing those soft skills that are so difficult to learn while sitting in a classroom. In a lot of ways, working at Casa was very similar to being a summer camp counselor. The job involved almost constant multitasking, and I quickly had to develop the ability to gently let people know they would have to wait while a more pressing issue was solved. I learned how to use a combination of enthusiasm and tough love to push our residents to do challenging things like find work, apply for an apartment, or meet with a lawyer. I saw how establishing a relationship of mutual respect and caring was essential to maintaining fruitful relationships with each resident.
Finally, Casa opened my eyes to the value of prioritizing compassion and hospitality as an organization and personally. One of the most surprising things about Casa was how willing every staff member was to go the extra mile for each person that walked through Casa’s door or called on the phone. The Executive Director Jennifer Long always described the goal of Casa as doing the most good for the most people—regardless if they are our residents or not. This attitude toward life and public service is particularly poignant in our global political climate today. As we see so much negativity being hurled at people that are different than us, Casa stands as a reminder that our world is seriously lacking in compassion—and for some groups more than others. This summer I was shown that the practice of unfettered compassion can be the most effective tool to encouraging others to become their best selves.
More recently, during Chris Damon-Cronmiller’s Fall Semester, he volunteered at the United States International Council on Disabilities while taking part in the Maxwell-in-Washington program.
This past summer was, for lack of a better word, quite a whirlwind for me. I am glad to say that I got an awful lot out of the experience, and furthermore I could not have done it were it not for the help and support of this year’s Global Programs Award.
At the beginning of the year, my original plan was to pursue an internship with the International Disability Alliance (IDA) and their main office in Geneva, Switzerland. While I was eventually offered an internship, unforeseen circumstances unfortunately resulted in me having to decline their offer. Nonetheless, I went ahead with my original plan to partake in this year’s Graduate Internships in Geneva program (at the recommendation of PAIA) knowing that I would be able to have an enriching opportunity there.
While in Geneva, I had the tremendous honor of working under Werner Schleiffer, a 30 plus year veteran of the UN, now as Maxwell’s primary liaison in Geneva. After a week or so in the area, he was kind enough to offer me a research assignment on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The assignment entailed the following:
Finding and consolidating general arguments for and against the SDGs, from voices of both the Global North and the Global South (so long as the voices seemed to be from reputable sources, of course).
Figuring out and detailing the pros and cons of a select few SDGs which were either of interest to me, of which the most information existed in the world, or both.
Finally, (using the information and work gathered for the previous two responsibilities as a basis) developed a rudimentary guideline for practical implementation of said goals.
By the end of my assignment, I gained a lot of practical information concerning the SDGs (along with their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals) that was previously unknown to me and enriched my MAIR and MPA studies on campus. Additionally, I gained new insight into the connections between them and disability rights, for real application to both the second half of my Maxwell career and for my life after graduate school (whatever that may be). The latter was particularly important to me as someone already deeply interested in international affairs due to extensive experience abroad, and with several years of disability and neurodiversity rights advocacy under my belt within the U.S. There was, all in all, more connection between these goals and disability rights than I could have ever imagined.
Living between the France-Switzerland border, touring the Swiss countryside (courtesy of Werner) and spending time in Geneva (the “world’s center for human rights and development”, as Werner put it) wasn’t exactly bad either. Despite my short time there I nonetheless created some memories that I doubt I will soon forget (and I am sure the same can be said for everyone else who participated in the practicum.
Needless to say that I have no regrets about how the summer turned out, and am greatly looking forward to the next great big adventure during the fall.