Final Thoughts on My State Department Internship

As I enter the last week of my internship at the State Department, the original goals that I outlined during my WOW application provide a good sense of how my summer in Washington D.C. has helped me to grow, personally and professionally. The academic goal that I had set for myself was to improve my research skills. During my initial interview, the deputy director of my office suggested research would be one element of my internship, and I was intrigued by the idea of improving upon that skill in a professional setting. While my internship was not research-heavy in the way that I was anticipating, one of my last projects was to write a report on the kafala work sponsorship program that exists in many countries in the Middle East. At what was almost the last minute, my original academic goal was met, and I grappled with the struggles of research outside of an academic institution where there is not a convenient library database to pull articles from.

My career and personal goals were more successful, which were to network with State Department employees and to see how I enjoy living in Washington D.C. Between getting to know the interesting people in my office and meeting employees in other offices and bureaus, I am ending this summer with an expanded network of professionals who I have been lucky enough to already receive advice from and who I know I will be able to reach out to in the future with career questions. I also loved my time in D.C. this summer! It feels like there is a never-ending list of things to do every weekend, which includes all of the fantastic Smithsonian museums that are always free. Two of the Smithsonian museums require getting (free) tickets in advance, and I have been lucky to attend these more exclusive museums. I visited the Holocaust Museum with a couple of my friends from Brandeis, and I visited the African American Museum of History and Culture when the closing event for the State Department’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom was held there. After this summer, I am strongly considering returning to D.C. after graduation, since this summer has shown me how much I enjoy living here.

A photo of the reception at the African American Museum of History and Culture that I attended!

This internship hasn’t necessarily clarified my career interests, but it has helped me realize how many different paths there can be to reach the same end goal. I know I want to help people and I would love to work in women’s empowerment, and I’ve been able to learn more about the ways those goals can be accomplished within and outside the State Department. For any other students who are interested in my internship or in working for the State Department, I would recommend exploring the many different ways that exist to get involved with State, which make you a more competitive applicant for a summer internship. I applied to be a Virtual Student Federal Service intern during the 2017-2018 school year, and I was able to assist the U.S. Embassy to Libya with their alumni outreach. I also participated in the National Security Language Initiative for Youth, which is a State Department funded program that brings high school students overseas to begin studying a critical language. While NSLI-Y is only open to high school students, the Critical Language Scholarship is the college equivalent, and I strongly believe that nothing is as impactful as practical experiences overseas to familiarize yourself with whichever region of the world that you’re most passionate about.

The experience that I’m most proud of this summer started as the project that I felt most unqualified to handle. I was tasked with helping to organize the swearing-in ceremony for the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. That responsibility included drafting a speech for Secretary of State Michael Pompeo to give when he attends the swearing-in ceremony. Unfortunately, the swearing-in ceremony’s date was recently changed so I will not be able to attend and I’m sure Secretary Pompeo’s official speechwriters will change what I drafted. However, preparing a swearing-in ceremony for a high-ranking official in the Department and writing words that might be spoken by Secretary Pompeo was definitely one of the highlights of my internship.

Overall, I’m so appreciative of the opportunity that I’ve had this summer! Between the people I’ve met, the experience of working in the main State Department building, and the lessons I’ve learned, this summer has been incredibly informative and enjoyable.

Halfway Through!

I’m about halfway through my internship at the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA), and I have enjoyed it immensely so far. While the Office of Regional and Multilateral Affairs unfortunately has no windows, my colleagues and the interesting information that I am constantly learning about makes up for the lack of sunlight. I have been lucky to work closely with two of our office’s staff who previously did internships with the State Department. From their own experiences, they know how valuable it is for me to work on substantive content and have assigned me projects that have allowed me to better understand issues like women’s empowerment programs in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and the relationship between NEA and Congress. Unlike when I’m at Brandeis and have a set schedule with classes predetermined at the beginning of the year, my projects differ more frequently at my internship, and I have the opportunity to further research and explore interesting topics as I learn about them.

In general, working at the Harry S. Truman (HST) building, which is also known as the main State Department building, has allowed me to have access to additional interesting opportunities. Conferences that are held at HST are easy for interns to slip into. One example of this was when I had some free time in my schedule, and I was able to sit in on a panel discussing space initiatives around the world. This coming week, the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom will be occurring. I will be volunteering as a control officer, which means that I am assigned to escort a distinguished guest who was invited to attend and speak to a panel about her experiences as a survivor of religious persecution. I look forward to this responsibility as much as I look forward to the panels that I will be able to sit in on promoting religious freedom that will be occurring throughout the three-day event. When panels are not happening, there is still so much to see and do throughout HST. In one corner of the building, there is the Hillary Rodham Clinton Pavilion, which currently has an exhibit on consular and diplomatic work throughout the world.

 

So far, I have had the opportunity to develop my technical writing skills by writing summaries of events I’ve attended, congressional briefings, and reports from the embassies and consulates throughout the region. While the skills necessary for writing academic, lengthy papers are valuable, it seems that concise summaries will be more useful if this is the line of work that I ultimately end up in. Another skill that I have developed and during the first half of my internship is an appreciation for attention to extreme detail. When preparing documents for the senior leadership of NEA, I have developed the habit of double checking the amount of spaces and the formatting of each aspect of the document to ensure that the highest quality document has my name on it at the end of the day. I will continue improving  on this transferable skill, making sure that each document look appropriately uniform and organized.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government.

Starting at the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs

This summer, I am interning at the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs’ (NEA) Office of Regional and Multilateral Affairs (RMA) in Washington DC. Due to the extensive length of time required to receive my security clearance, I was unable to start my internship until this past Monday, June 17. As a result, I am still getting settled and spent my first week attending orientation, setting up an email account, and completing mandatory trainings on topics such as cybersecurity. RMA works on issues that broadly affect the region, and in the coming months, I will be specifically assisting with the Congressional and Global Affairs portfolios. This will include projects relating to NEA’s work with the Hill and women’s issues and empowerment, human rights, religious freedom, and human trafficking.

I have three goals for my internship experience this summer. My academic goal is to improve my research skills through the accumulation of information that will be necessary for me to work on projects relating to topics such as the current women’s economic empowerment work being done in the region and the ongoing confirmation processes of ambassadorial candidates for Posts in the Near East region. I also anticipate constantly doing research to stay informed on the news in the Middle East and North Africa, which is often a busy region where things frequently change, and this summer so far proves to be no exception.

My career goal for this summer is to network with people working in the State Department, both within the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and the entire department in general to learn more about their career trajectories that brought them to Washington DC and to learn about what their current jobs entail. For so long, I have imagined working for the State Department, and it is exciting to see firsthand what it is like. I have enjoyed the opportunity to meet colleagues who share the same interests as me but are a few steps ahead in their professional journeys, and everybody that I met during my first week has been incredibly kind and generous with their time.

Finally, a personal goal of mine is to see how I enjoy living and working in Washington DC. Coming from a suburb of Dallas, the Washington DC area has been a place that I have aspired to work in for a while, without knowing what it will be like. Part of my excitement in receiving this internship related to my eagerness to be exposed to DC and to begin feeling comfortable exploring it. I was in DC for over a week before my internship began and filled that time with Smithsonian museums and visiting monuments and Congress. Walking around the city and running into iconic buildings like Congress and the White House has not gotten old, and so far, I am really loving this city.

 

I look forward to being able to update this blog with more information about my experience as I get further into my internship!

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government.

Wrapping up at State

 

IO/RPC’s summer interns.

When I write essays, I generally can foresee how they end — with a memorable conclusion that wraps everything up nicely. In contrast, when coding, I cannot anticipate the eventual end of my program as easily. This is probably because I am much newer to coding than I am to writing, which I’ve practiced since first becoming literate.

Similarly, this internship experience has been an unknown, one whose future was not so ascertainable in advance. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and I have tried to learn as much as I can along the way. This was one of the underlying themes behind all three of my academic, professional, and personal WOW goals. I hope I was successful, at least partially, in taking advantage of all of the opportunities presented to me. I loved that I was able to work on my own projects at this internship, and one of my biggest takeaways was probably the amount I was able to learn about R, Python, and some of its many text-focused IR applications. I feel really lucky that I was given the chance to be able to do this.

I also reached out to people in other offices at the State Department, and had some really interesting conversations on their career paths and current jobs. I was often very nervous going into these interactions, but I’m so glad I went through with it — I learned a lot about different career options, just like I’d originally wanted, and I was able to ask as many questions as I wanted. My advice to future interns would be to try and have as many informational coffees as possible. Email people with interesting careers in other offices or bureaus at the State Department; some of them are bound to respond, and the conversations you’ll have will be impossible elsewhere.

I’ve also set a few new goals, based on things I’ve noticed about myself that I have perceived as weaknesses in an office setting like this one. For most of my internship, I had this Anne-Marie Slaughter quote hanging from my computer on a sticky note:

“I continually push the young women in my classes to speak more. They must gain the confidence to value their own insights and questions, and to present them readily. My husband agrees, but he actually tries to get the young men in his classes to act more like the women—to speak less and listen more. If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal. We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate our choices, too. We have the power to do it if we decide to, and we have many men standing beside us… We’ll create a better society in the process, for all women.”

Slaughter was the first female head of the policy planning staff at the State Department, and she’s an all-around excellent role model for women in the workplace.

In any case, I’m proud of myself for holding out for this internship — despite my delayed start date — and for all that I’ve learned along the way. It was an incredibly fascinating, educational experience, and I felt like I was witnessing history take place.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government.

Midway Through at State

A statue in a courtyard of the State Department.

Although somehow halfway through, I feel like I’m finally getting adjusted to the swing of things at work. Periods of busy activity appear in bursts, buttressed by lulls. In part, I have been told that this is the nature of work in this office. After all, the G-7 doesn’t occur without prior diplomatic trumpeting, and the UN General Assembly is an annual affair.

As an outsider, it’s been novel for me to see the preparations that precede meetings, speeches, and congressional Q & As. I’d never given as much thought before to the effort that goes into making sure federal figureheads are truly representing the Department’s policies and priorities.

In a process called ‘clearance’, multiple offices sign off on the contents of a document. The offices who sign off on the document are designated to ‘clear’ on that document because they have regional and functional expertise in areas relevant to the document’s contents. In many ways, it’s kind of like a group project. I like the collective nature of it, the idea that every bright person at State is pooling their knowledge to make it greater than the sum of its individual parts. How cool!

Of course, this could also be called a diffusion of responsibility — who, indeed, gets to make policy? These are some of the fundamental questions I have: what is American foreign policy in theory? How is it enacted in practice on the ground? How do these two paradigms differ? Who is making it, in theory and in praxis? I’m encouraged to attend think tank events at work, and these could help shape a response to some of these questions.

Outside of work, I take long walks to the many free museums the city offers. I frequent blogs such as this one on free things to do in DC to see what’s going on. When I have the time, I try to attend meetings for various activist, political, and religious groups, which has given my summer many different — and sometimes competing — flavors.

Interning has vastly differed from university life in that the schedule is set. I walk to work at 7:50 every morning, getting there by 8:15; I get home around the same time each day. At school, I have the freedom — and the burden — to forge my own schedule. Having a life outside of work here means I have to sum up energy around sunrise or sunset. Before work, I try to go on long runs around the Lincoln memorial and ponds, the grass dewy on my sneakers. After work, I often head back to the same place, to read in the grass and watch the summer sun sink into the night. In all honesty, being in the same room for an entire day becomes tiring; I try to be outside as much as I can when I’m not at work, even if that means I’m sweaty and itchy from humidity and mosquitoes.

Perhaps being in an office — in any professional setting — is itself a skill, a learned habit, just like being successful at school is. Maybe it just doesn’t seem that way to most adults because they’ve learned the activity so well already.

I am trying to constantly learn from this environment, which is so novel and fascinating in every detail. I hope to take away both tangible skills — I’m learning data analysis applied to international relations, and teaching myself Python, text and sentiment analysis, and more — and intangible soft skills, like the art of diplomacy in a conversation.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government.

Getting Started at State

I’d been thinking about this sticky summer morning for over ten months. After going through the equivalent of airport security, I had finally done it. I was inside the lodestar of American diplomacy: the Department of State.

The main building — called the Harry S. Truman — is even more labyrinth-like than I’d expected. Perhaps it’s the physical manifestation of the bureaucracy it represents: the Department is divided into different bureaus, and within each bureau are different offices. I am interning with the Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO), and within that, the Office of Regional Policy Coordination (RPC). This office focuses on the United States’ relationship with a host of international and multilateral organizations, including the United Nations and G-7. It’s also in charge of the Multilateral Moneyball project, which focuses on analyzing international relations quantitatively. This summer, my work will in part specifically focus on this project. I’m really looking forward to seeing how data analytics can inform foreign policy decision-making.

I’d also like to better understand the workplace environment at the State Department. I’m very interested in a career in public service, but I’m not sure where my values, interests, and skills are best suited. I’d also like to better understand how State Department staff enact policy under administrations whose politics they may or may not agree with. What are the lines between personal politics and public duty?

The interactions I’ve had with the very kind and hardworking people in my office have already been illustrative and invaluable. Everyone in my office is friendly and approachable; I’m lucky to have multiple mentors here. After a few days in the office, the learning curve still seems steep: there are more acronyms than I’d ever imagined could exist. I’m still getting into all of the systems — receiving my own email, setting up my own phone, making up passwords for all of the accounts I’ll need access to. I have my own cubicle, and, thankfully, there are two other interns in my office who have been here longer than I. They’ve been instrumental to my smooth on-boarding process.

I’m thrilled to start my internship. It was a longer process to finally walk through the doors of the Department of State than I’d even anticipated. The process started at the very beginning of my fall semester, when I applied through the federal website with a few essays and the selection of three bureaus. I had phone interviews with several potential supervisors, and by early November I accepted a preliminary offer, dependent on the approval of my security clearance. The security clearance process was another application — with hundreds of pages of online paperwork — and I was given mine only right before I started work. I also, of course, applied to the WOW, to be able to do an unpaid internship.

Many thanks to the benefactors of the WOW fellowship, who have made this whole experience possible through funding  — without them, I would not be here.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government.

Final Week at Public Citizen

My final week working at Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch was as action-packed as ever. For my last week only myself and one other intern remained, so we got a lot of one-on-one time with our supervisors, which was valuable for creating a stronger network. Our last few days happened to be the days right before (and during) the first round of NAFTA renegotiations, a critical point in our summer as much of our time was spent researching and campaigning to change/replace aspects of the agreement. The other intern and I had the amazing opportunity to attend a pre-negotiation discussion with some of the top trade representatives from Mexico at the Woodrow Wilson Center (part of the International Trade Center). Called “Mexico and the NAFTA Negotiations”, the panel included an economist from the Peterson Institute, several Mexican representatives, and several people from the Mexico Institute of the Wilson Center. The event was incredibly well-attended, and we got to hear some of the Mexican prospective on the negotiations before they happened (decidedly pro-NAFTA with a hope of some modernization of the agreement). It was a very valuable experience, and I was thrilled to be a representative from my organization at the meeting and able to report back to Global Trade Watch with event notes. More information on the Wilson Center here.

Mexico and the NAFTA Negotiations Panel

The director of Global Trade Watch also held a conference call with Congressman Ryan and Congresswoman Delauro to discuss the renegotiations, which the other intern and I transcribed to be sent out to our list serves. The rest of my week was spent packing and sending out “Action Packs” to those interested in organizing in response to the NAFTA negotiations. I also was able to have lunch with two of my supervisors, which helped me connect with them more and get to know them more as people.

At the end of my internship, I felt like I had met my learning goals for the summer. I learned a lot more about the inner workings of a non-profit (and the slight chaos that can go along with it), I learned about research techniques and some basic Excel skills (which are useful for the future), I got more comfortable making phone calls and phone banking, and I learned a lot about international trade, specifically focused around NAFTA and ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement, which is a problematic provision of NAFTA). I felt like I grew a lot as a part of the team and that the work I was doing really did help benefit the organization.  I was also able to take charge on some of the Action Pack-ing and it was fun to be in a position of leadership. The internship helped solidify my interest in working at a non-profit, as I learned more about what it is really like to be there. It was very satisfying to feel like I was working for something that mattered, for the greater good. I realized that I like a challenge and being a leader when I can, and that it can be very good to step up and take charge. I would give a student looking to work at Public Citizen and just in the non-profit sector in general the advice to be flexible and expect a little chaos: you will end up doing a whole bunch of random things that you didn’t expect you would be doing, but it is a great opportunity to learn and grow. I am most proud of myself for keeping an open mind and learning a lot about NAFTA this summer, as well as of all of the projects I completed for the team. I felt like I was really able to help with their efforts, and I learned more about myself in the process.

Some not-very-politically-neutral puppets at a Trump/Koch Brothers Protest

I will miss working at Public Citizen (and living in D.C.!) but I am excited to go into senior year at Brandeis utilizing the tools that I learned over the summer and appreciating the clearer idea I have about what kind of work I may want to pursue. I am very grateful that WOW made this wonderful experience possible.

 

Mid-Point at Global Trade Watch

It is hard to believe that time is passing so quickly and that I am more than halfway done with my internship at Global Trade Watch! It has been an action-packed couple of weeks, full of research projects, phone banking, and attending protests. Washington D.C. really is the place to be in the midst of all this political turnover. I have settled into the day-to-day life and working environment of a political advocacy non-profit. Every day I work from 9am to 6pm in an open cubicle next to another intern, working on whatever projects we have in store for the day. We get our projects mainly from the senior researchers, but also from the field director or from anybody else who needs help with a project. We usually have a few days to complete the task, but almost all of our work does end up being circulated or used in some larger component within the organization, so all of our work is high priority and often on a deadline. It is very exciting to be able to contribute to the actual workload of the organization. It feels like we are truly able to participate and that our jobs mean something. Our projects can range from anything like sending off information packets and making phone calls to researching export and import data and the corporate contributions that have been made to a congressman’s campaign. A few weeks ago we spent days calling congressional offices to update our contact lists with the names and emails of current staffers, a tedious but very necessary task. Luckily, our supervisor also gave us cookies to keep us happy! I also got the chance to attending a NAFTA 101 Briefing at the House of Representatives! It was in a small conference room and the panel was mostly talking to a room of interns sent by various higher-ups, but it was still very exciting to be a part of! I took notes and later sent out a write-up to my team.

Working in an office is definitely a different experience than attending classes in a university setting. Because it is a longer stretch of working hours, 9 hours with a one hour lunch break, it requires a more long-term form of concentration than focusing on a 50 minute lecture. It is sometimes a challenge to stay focused on a single, perhaps tedious task for hours on end. Conversely, sometimes there are gaps in projects where there is nothing to work on and we have to be able to use our time productively on our own while waiting for an assignment. Both of these skills take focus and practice, and I am glad I am getting a taste of what that can be like before I head out into the workforce permanently. On the other hand, I really appreciate the lack of homework and being able to truly be done with work for the day once I return home. I don’t have to worry about completing an assignment late at night, and I never have to sacrifice sleep for work.

I truly feel like I am getting a lot out of my internship this summer. I am

Senator Elizabeth Warren speaking at a Planned Parenthood rally!

learning a lot of valuable skills, such as streamlining research, becoming more comfortable talking on the telephone, and learning more about how to use excel spreadsheets. I am also learning a lot about politics and legislation, even though I am not working directly with the government. I look forward to being able to bring these skills back to Brandeis with me when I return in the fall. I plan to use my more advanced research skills, honed over this summer, to my advantage in my classes when I have to do research projects. I plan on using my acquired skills in excel and data processing particularly in my Econ classes in addition to being a marketable skill for my resume. Since I will be applying to jobs before I know it, I think getting more comfortable on the telephone will really help me in the interview process. Most importantly, I believe I will take away a better sense of my interests and what I might like to do as a career. I am especially enjoying the research aspect of my internship, and I think that is a good thing to know about myself. On the other side, I know I will not want to pursue a career in field organizing, it is just not for me! This already has been such a rich summer and I look forward to what else is in store.

Our website

Watch this video of Lori Wallach, director of Global Trade Watch, talking about our work!

First Week at Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch

Me outside of the Penn Ave office the day before I started!

I may be a little late to the game, but I have just completed my first week interning at Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch! Public Citizen is a non-profit public advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. founded by Ralph Nader in 1971. Public Citizen (from its mission statement) “serves as the people’s voice in the nation’s capital” and is comprised of five policy groups, including Congress Watch, the Energy Program, the Health Research Group, Litigation Group, and Global Trade Watch, the division in which I will be working this summer.  My first day was an exciting one, and I had the opportunity to attend a Global Trade Watch staff and interns meeting at our Penn Ave office as well as an all-Public Citizen meeting at the main office in DuPont Circle. I was able to meet and introduce myself to the director of the Global Trade Watch division as well as the president of Public Citizen!

Global Trade Watch’s main focus at the moment is campaigning to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, with a trade deal that is more beneficial to the working people and plays less into corporate power. “At the heart of NAFTA are rights for thousands of multinational corporations to sue the U.S., Canadian and Mexican governments before a panel of three corporate lawyers, who can award the corporations unlimited sums to be paid by us, the taxpayers.” (From the Replace NAFTA website) Global Trade Watch organized a delivery of Replace NAFTA petitions outside of the US International Trade Commission building, attended by several labor organizations and U.S Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)! Later in the week Public Citizen also played a role in protesting outside of Trump’s $35,000 a plate fundraiser for his 2020 presidential campaign.

Replace NAFTA Rally

I am really looking forward to learning more about public advocacy, trade, and political action during my time at Global Trade Watch this summer. As a career goal, I hope to explore the world of public consumer advocacy and law and figure out whether it is something I would like to spend my life doing. I have always wanted to make a difference and fight for the underdog, and Public Citizen seems like a perfect introduction to this world. I also hope to make meaningful connections with my supervisors, other interns, and possible mentors that could serve me well in the future. I hope to make these connections and learn about the field in my day-to-day interactions around the office, and by making a good impression on my employers! I am excited to see what this summer holds.

A Fulfilling Summer in the Office of Water

I can’t believe my internship with the EPA just wrapped up! My internship at the EPA Office of Water (OW) immersed me in water policy, and I now know so much more about water quality valuation, water scarcity, environmental justice, and public health. My office had a diversity of professionals, and I enjoyed learning about the overlap of water policy with economics, tribal affairs, climate change, and more. My internship offered me the opportunity to attend seminars throughout Washington D.C. and the EPA, learn more about the economics work at the EPA, and delve into meaningful research for the agency.

My office at the EPA was in the center of DC. I was sad to say goodbye, though I a may be back some day soon!
My office at the EPA was in the center of DC. I was sad to say goodbye to my co-workers, though maybe I will be back some day.

My 25-page report about water indicators to add to EJSCREEN, the agency’s environmental justice screening and mapping tool, was my largest contribution to the Office of Water. I proposed and researched ten water indicators related to environmental justice: water scarcity, flooding vulnerability, sea level rise, storm surge, safe drinking water, lead contaminated drinking water, nitrate contaminated drinking water, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFOs) waste discharge sites, access to water recreation, and water infrastructure quality. I assessed the public health ramifications of each indicator, disparities in the indicator’s burden on the population, and the data quality of existing datasets for these indicators. Each of these water indicators could provide important information for communities and lead to community and agency action to mitigate these risks.

At the end of my internship, I had the opportunity to present my ideas to the EJSCREEN Steering Committee. I spoke to a group of representatives from different EPA offices and regions and highlighted the importance of considering water scarcity, flood vulnerability, and sea level rise as indicators in EJSCREEN. The presentation offered an excellent opportunity to practice my public speaking skills, and I feel confident that the committee will focus efforts on the water indicators related to climate change. Maybe the next version of EJSCREEN will feature these indicators!

I also compiled a report comparing EJSCREEN with another agency community screening tool called C-FERST, and I passed this report along to both the EJSCREEN and C-FERST teams. I wrote two policy memos for the Water Policy Staff after I attended two different seminars in D.C., and I was able to help a co-worker with an Office of Water Tribal Sharepoint. A few of these assignments stemmed from conversations with co-workers in the office, and this emphasized the importance of speaking up, asking questions, and taking initiative.

Special OW intern seminars were one of the highlights of my summer. All six interns met professionals throughout the Office of Water and had the opportunity to learn about OW work ranging from climate ready water utilities to drinking water in Flint, Michigan. We met the Deputy Assistant Administrator in OW, heard the EPA’s Deputy Administrator speak, and learned about how to apply for federal jobs through USAJOBS. Just these seminars alone were an incredible learning experience!

EPA Internship Certificate

Interning with the Office of Water was also an eye-opening experience into the workings of the EPA. On a water policy level, I learned how society often undervalues water. The EPA has an important role to communicate the expensive and intricate process of protecting valuable watersheds and treating and distributing our drinking water. On an agency level, I saw how natural science and economics work together to help protect the environment, as science must be translated into meaningful policy. My experiences illuminated the interdisciplinary nature of the environmental field and the need for our nation to better address water management and disparities in environmental burdens related to water. Overall, my internship was a fantastic learning experience, and I am thankful for the WOW Fellowship and my supervisor at the EPA for their support.

 

A Summer of Learning

Every day at the EPA brings a new and exciting learning opportunity. My supervisor has encouraged me to attend seminars throughout the EPA and Washington, D.C. and to write memos for the Office of Water. In the end of June, I attended a seminar about federal coal leasing at Resources for the Future, an environmental economics think tank, and heard Jason Furman, the Chief Economic Advisor for President Obama, give recommendations about reforming the federal coal leasing program.

As a student studying environmental economics, the discussion was intellectually stimulating and offered a new perspective on energy policy. In the following week, I attended a town hall meeting led by EPA Deputy Administrator Gina McCarthy, and I learned about EPA’s amazing accomplishments in the past few weeks—the Toxic Substance Control Act reform and the Volkswagen settlement. The talk was energizing, and I felt proud to be part of such an impactful agency.

Panelists at the DC-Israel Water Summit discuss transboundary and off-grid water
Panelists at the DC-Israel Water Summit discuss transboundary and off-grid water management.

The DC-Israel Water Summit, a conference about Israeli solutions to its water scarcity crisis and its applicability to U.S. water policy, was the highlight of my summer so far. This summit was absolutely amazing, as it brought together both my love for Israel and my passion for the environment. The summit was also relatively small, so I had a chance to meet water professionals from around DC and meet the author of Let There Be Water, a book about Israel’s approach to its water crisis. I heard from panelists who were from USAID, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Israeli research institutions, Coca-Cola, the Israeli embassy, the Brookings Institution, and more.

 

Seth Siegel's book about Israeli water innovation
Seth Siegel’s book about Israeli water innovation

The summit was both personally and professionally fulfilling. The Israeli response to its water crisis was incredibly inspiring and gives me hope for other countries to overcome their own resource scarcities: Israel recycles 85% of their wastewater, decoupled water usage from economic and population growth, and now has a water surplus and exports water to Jordan and the Palestinian authority. We have a lot to learn from Israel! After learning all of this from the summit, I had the chance to write a memo for the Water Policy staff to share these findings and offer recommendations. For myself, I may consider a career in the water field— water management will be a growing focus in the U.S. and has potential for great reform and modernization.

I also started working on two reports for the Water Policy Staff. First, I am comparing two similar environmental screening tools—an environmental justice tool called EJSCREEN and the Community Focused Exposure and Risk Screening tool (C-FERST). Two different committees worked on these tools, and I am tasked with comparing any overlap between the two tools and providing my thoughts and recommendation to both the C-FERST and EJSCREEN committee.

Additionally, I am in the midst of writing a recommendation of water indicators to add to EJSCREEN. This requires doing a literature review of different environmental justice topics related to water and climate change, assessing available data sets to find high-resolution data, and making an argument for adding these new indicators. So far, I feel most passionate about my water scarcity indicator, especially after attending the DC-Israel Water Summit. I know the EJSCREEN committee is most open to adding climate change related indicators, so perhaps they will add this indicator. At the end of the July, I will pitch my ideas to the EJSCREEN Steering committee. I have my fingers crossed!

Inside the EPA: My First Week in the Office of Water

This summer, I have the privilege of interning with the Office of Water at the headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, D.C. I am an Environmental Studies and Economics double major, and I am working with an economist on water quality policy. The internship is a perfect fit as I get to apply my economics coursework, help impact our nation’s water bodies, and learn about the incredible work of the EPA. I appreciate the OW’s warm welcome for me, and I am fortunate to work with so many talented environmental professionals this summer.

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My cubicle for the summer

My first week has been a whirlwind of getting my cubicle set up, meeting lots of new people, weaving my way through the labyrinth of the EPA headquarters’ building, and getting a taste of the economics work in the EPA Water Policy office. For the first few days, I shadowed my supervisor and read environmental economics academic papers pertaining to water quality. I sat in on engaging meetings, ranging from discussions about the water quality index to planning for a stated preference study (a survey given to people asking how much they would pay for improvement in water quality for a water body near them). I enjoyed learning about economist’s role in the EPA and seeing coursework theory applied in the meetings.

The welcoming and friendly vibe of the EPA has been one of the highlights of my internship. The EPA feels like a community, as everyone is passionate about the environment and effecting change. My co-workers have gone out of their way to introduce themselves and make me feel part of the office. The Water Policy Staff has an interesting variety of professionals in the office—staff that focus on climate change and water, tribal affairs, water scarcity, ecosystem services, water quality economics and more. Throughout the summer, I will try to get to know more of my co-workers to learn more about their career path and their current work in the office. I am sure that I have a lot to learn from them!

This week I also started my first intern tasks. I started brainstorming water indicators for EJSCREEN, an environmental justice mapping tool that maps proximity of at-risk populations to environmental hazards. There are few water indicators on the tool, so I began to brainstorm new indicators, such as water scarcity, access/proximity to water resources, and drinking water violations. It is a lot of work to collect the data, create a methodology, and pitch my idea to the EJSCREEN committee! I am happy to be making a difference, and I hope the additions in the tool can be used to flag environmental hazards, like Flint Michigan, and to help the EPA implement policy.

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My ID badge

In addition to my intern tasks, my supervisor is encouraging me to attend water-related EPA and NGO seminars throughout the summer and to write summaries for the office. Today I attended a talk about urban ecosystems, and tomorrow I am going to a seminar at Resources for the Future to learn about the federal coal leasing program. I cannot wait to delve in to my internship, and I am very thankful for this learning experience.

 

-Allison Marill

The end of my FDD internship

My summer internship at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies proved to be an extraordinary experience for me both intellectually and professionally. I was afforded the ability to write and conduct research on a daily basis,  greatly sharpening my researching skills. Moreover, I received continuous constructive feedback on all my work from my supervisor, which helped me to identify flaws in my writing and gaps in my political analysis. Finally, I was tasked to work on a range of issues, including many subjects in which I had not had previous experience. Researching unfamiliar topics was both challenging and enlightening, as it pushed me outside of my comfort zone and forced me to rely on the skills I had acquired over the summer as an analyst. As such, I can point to two published reports as tangible examples of the work I have produced over the course of the summer semester.
The experiences that I had and the skills that I developed over the course of the summer will undoubtedly be critical for me as I return to the academic environment at Brandeis. I expect that I will be able to make a seamless transition back to college work because of all of the writing and research that I had to do during my summer internship. In particular, I believe that my journalism project this upcoming semester will benefit tremendously because I feel that I have developed new theories and analytical resources as a result of my work at FDD that I will be able to apply to my independent study.
Now that I have had numerous internship opportunities at think tanks and academic research centers, I would like to have an opportunity to work inside the government and see how foreign policy is articulated and implemented within the national security industry. Interning at think tanks has given me a valuable outside perspective and I think that would be a valuable asset within the policymaking apparatus. I also look forward to future opportunities to publish my work, especially in academic journals and prominent foreign policy magazines. One could certainly say that, having had the chance to publish this summer, I have caught the publishing bug. I would also like to learn more about the inter-agency policy making process, which is something I feel somewhat ignorant about at this point in my professional career.
Interning at a foreign policy think tank such as FDD is a valuable experience and I would highly recommend such an opportunity to aspiring political analysts and policy wonks. That being said, I think that those going into the field should be aware that the work varies from day to day and may not always be as exciting as one would hope. Moreover, interns must be versatile and flexible in responding to the demands of their supervisors. Most importantly, I would exhort future interns to reach out to senior fellows and professional analysts, not just for professional advice but also for constructive feedback and criticism on their work. The most valuable experiences that I had over the summer came when I submitted my work to my supervisor and received feedback that helped to shape and focus my research and writing.

Mid-point of my FDD internship

At the mid-point of my internship, I feel that I am making considerable progress on my learning goals. At FDD, I have had the opportunity to draft analytical pieces and conduct granular research on a daily basis. I am also able to collaborate with senior research fellows who help to shape and focus my analysis. My internship has sharpened my writing skills because I am forced to write concisely and expediently to meet the deadlines and expectations established by my supervisors. Moreover, I am constantly shifting projects and topics, which has improved my ability to quickly synthesize information and provide analysis based on the limited information available. Finally, I am sometimes tasked to do research on certain obscure issues that have not been sufficiently covered in the Western media. As a result, I must rely on foreign language sources and build off of incomplete information, two facets of my work environment that have greatly enhanced my research skills. Although there is no established or institutionalized mechanism that allows me to track my growth during the internship, I receive constant feedback and constructive criticism from my supervisors. This feedback loop has greatly improved my writing and analytical skills and forced me to engage at a deeper level with the research material I handle.

 

I have also had the opportunity to write for a general audience at FDD. I am most proud of the three pieces that I have coauthored that have been published online in various locations. I am currently monitoring conflict and tracking the evolution of violent non-state actors in North Africa and I have collaborated on two research products pertaining to the current conflict between two militia coalitions in Benghazi, Libya. I have compiled resources and produced written reports on the nascent violent struggle in Benghazi and have also designed two graphics that map out kinetic activities (i.e. violent attacks) in the city. In addition, I helped to produce briefing material for war games concerning the potential spillover of violence in Iraq into neighboring countries. The latter assignment was particularly engaging for me because it allowed me to anticipate events and consider contingency plans should violence escalate in neighboring countries. This thought exercise also provided me with an insight into the war planning process that occurs within the government as policymakers seek to predict events and suggest possible policies to help manage crises.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, this internship has had a fundamental impact on my analytical skills and research abilities. The skills that I am cultivating at FDD will serve me tremendously in both my academic career and in my professional life. I feel much more comfortable as a writer because I am frequently writing reports and memos and have little time to agonize over a future project. Perhaps the most important skill learned at FDD that I will be able to transfer back to an academic setting is my ability to assess research and identify gaps within the analysis of my peers. This skill will be highly useful in helping me to identify flaws within my work as I continue to write papers at Brandeis. This internship has been a very valuable learning experience thus far and I look forward to continuing the work and applying the skills that I have learned in an academic environment.

My first week at FDD

I am interning at Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) this summer, a think tank focusing on foreign policy and national security issues, located in Washington D.C. The FDD provides analysis, policy recommendations and research to politicians, government officials, military officers and other members of the foreign policy community. FDD fellows and researchers fuse academic research with practical experience and analysis in order to educate policymakers about national security issues. As an intern, I will be focusing primarily on issues concerning violent non-state actors (VNSAs), including terrorist organizations and violent insurgency movements. My responsibilities include producing research memos for senior fellows and compiling source documents on emerging issues. In addition, I will assist senior fellows as they write policy papers, congressional testimonies and research monographs. I will also have the opportunity to participate in FDD”s intern speaker series, a program that brings national security professionals and policymakers to FDD”s offices to share their experiences and to educate interns about various opportunities in the policy community.

The process of finding and securing an internship at FDD was relatively straightforward. I previously interned at two think tanks in DC,  the Institute for the Study of War and the Center for American Progress, and was familiar with FDD’s work before I applied for the internship. In particular, I was very impressed with the comprehensive and objective research and analysis produced by various FDD scholars on counter-terrorism issues. Given my interest in pursuing a career in counter-terrorism and national security, I felt that FDD would be a good internship opportunity and I sent in a resume in February. My resume was passed on to a senior fellow who specializes in counter-terrorism issues and I had a brief phone interview with the fellow to determine whether I would be a good fit for FDD. I was offered the job at the end of the phone interview and accepted a few days later.

My first week was very enriching and exciting, as I received a brief orientation on Tuesday before quickly jumping into a research project focusing on the organizational structure and trajectory of an insurgent movement in South Asia. I received a brief training on proper formatting for research memos and source documents before I was tasked with developing a literature review that comprised all relevant scholarly articles concerning the South Asian insurgency group. The project was briefly interrupted because our research unit was required to produce a graphic to help explain the emerging political crisis in Libya. However, we quickly compiled the research required for the graphic and I switched back to building out the literature review and helping to fill factual gaps in an existing draft discussing the insurgency group.

I hope to sharpen my skills as a political analyst this summer and to improve my writing skills further so that I can confidently produce research memos within a short period of time. FDD is a fast-paced environment and so I expect that my efficiency and productivity will improve as I continue to adapt to the new work culture.

Goodbye for now, DC!

From past experience, I have found that evaluating a summer internship after it ends can be as valuable as the work experience itself. Interning serves as a window into a potential career path, hones existing skills, and develops new talents. Often, however, it is only afterwards that one can fully assess the organization and the personal impact of the experience. As my time interning at the Coalition on Human Needs has now ended, I look back on my two months there quite positively. Not only was I given responsibility and able to play an active role in the small office, but my time at CHN also helped me grapple with potential career options.
I arrived in D.C. this summer with a number of goals: to write as much as possible; to see and understand the unique relationships among various policy issues; to absorb all possible information from both office interaction and city exploration; and to establish some meaningful relationships. I am confident that each of these goals has been met throughout my eight weeks at CHN. While the subject content of CHN’s weekly “Sequester Impact Report” is not drastically distinct week to week, finding and reading articles and subsequently writing summaries of them detailing the impact of the sequester gave me an opportunity to polish my writing. I also wrote an article for CHN’s newsletter, the Human Needs Report, on student loans, which was published on August 7 (http://www.chn.org/human_needs_report/student-loan-bill-enacted/). Throughout the summer I was given small projects that required both research and writing. For example, CHN’s website includes write-ups explaining each policy issue they work on. Some of these updates, unfortunately, are not up-to-date. I was able to update the health care reform section
(http://www.chn.org/issues/health-care-reform/).
At CHN’s bi-weekly coalition meetings, the overlap among policy issues is clear. Single issue-based member organizations are equally invested in issues other than their own, for issues in Congress bleed into one other. A representative’s vote on one piece of legislation may indicate his or her move on another seemingly unrelated issue. Focusing on my own independent reading – the New York Times, the Washington Post, Congressional Quarterly – has also been an invaluable way in which I have come to understand the interconnectedness of issues. I also made the most of my short time in the city by having conversations with CHN staff members, asking questions, and attending events outside of the office. For example, I attended a panel discussion on filibuster reform at the National Press Club. The panel of speakers – including Norm Ornstein – shared their opinions about whether Harry Reid should amend the Senate filibuster rule in response to Republicans’ blockage of President Obama’s seven executive nominees. Filibuster reform is not exactly a sexy issue for the general public, so most people are unaware of its implications. The panelists agreed that without filibuster reform, and therefore with important executive positions left unfilled, the Republicans will gain more power and gridlock will continue to plague the federal government.
But my internship has also exceeded my original expectations. Not only did I meet the goals I initially outlined, but I have also begun to define my future career path in more concrete terms. While interning at CHN, I realized I could see myself working in the nonprofit political advocacy world in Washington once I graduate. However, as I was immersed in this nonprofit world, I was also able to picture myself following the academic route, which is a wildly different environment, but could be a valuable path to take before entering the DC world.
Overall, I look back on my summer interning at CHN optimistically. And, I am confident that as I continue to reflect independently on my experience throughout the year it will become even more meaningful to me.

Zoe Richman

A Summer in the Beltway Half Way Done

As my fourth week interning at the Coalition on Human Needs comes to an end, I am pleased to report that my summer in Washington, D.C. has been informative both inside and outside of the office.
While I am proud to see each week’s Sequester Impact Report that I have written posted on the CHN website, what I am most enthusiastic about is the active role I have played in the office. Each week, my supervisor, Danica, and I meet to touch base on the status of my assignments. We also discuss potential projects and ideas. Last week, Danica and I spoke about the possibility of creating a CHN Blog. In order to attract writers for the blog and to underline – and not undermine – the central mission of the coalition, however, we must creatively pinpoint a precise theme and purpose for the blog. Danica and I brainstormed possibilities and ultimately agreed that the blog should serve as a tool for individuals not involved directly in human needs advocacy to help the efforts of CHN. In order for the blog to appeal to this crowd, an informal writing style for the blog entries may be best. However, this more casual approach deviates from the standard formal writing style of the text that CHN publishes and disseminates. We plan to begin working on the blog once Debbie Weinstein, the Executive Director of CHN, approves the proposal Danica is now working on. I am eager to begin the CHN Blog project, but I am excited also about the process through which we defined the potential blog’s purpose. Rather than Danica’s telling me what the blog would entail, she involved me in the decision process.
It is through brainstorming and interaction that I have learned the most during my time at CHN. While I understood the fundamental objectives and basic infrastructure of CHN when I began my internship in June, it was not until I spoke with staff members directly that I fully recognized the fluidity of the office’s day-to-day nature. While each staff member has a distinct title, collaboration is essential in their work. After speaking separately with both Richelle Friedman, the Director of Public Policy, and Angie Evans, the Director of Outreach and Field Activity (http://www.chn.org/about-chn/contact/), the overlap in the staff members’ responsibilities became more visible to me.
While a considerable amount of my learning has stemmed from direct interaction with the CHN staff, another portion has been independent. When I compile articles for the weekly Sequester Impact Reports (http://www.chn.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/SequesterImpacts7-13-7-19.pdf), I am able to do a lot of reading. Of course, I read the articles relating to sequestration cuts, but I also read articles tangentially related to the cuts and on the current hot policy issues. Not only have I learned more about the policy issues (immigration, food and nutrition, minimum wage), but I have been able to see the unique overlap of these issues that makes the collaboration of the coalition’s member organizations so natural.
I am also doing a lot of writing, which was one of my main priorities when outlining my goals for the summer. I believe that the most important way to improve one’s writing is to write, for practice makes writing more succinct and natural. My long term project is to write an article about student loans for the Human Needs Report, CHN’s newsletter, which will be published on July 22. Because my work involves interaction with staff members and writing, I am honing my communicative and writing skills considerably.
It is difficult to monitor my growth quantitatively, but I do know for sure that I am learning. I feel that the world of non-profit advocacy has become clearer for me. In addition, I am coming to see both the basic and complex connections among policy issues.

– Zoe Richman ’15

Week 1 at the Coalition on Human Needs: Complete!

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The Coalition on Human Needs (CHN) is a network of organizations sharing a similar mission: to help low-income people by advocating for human needs programs in Congress. CHN, focusing on a range of policy issues including health care, immigration, nutrition and education, facilitates the collaboration of its member organizations in two primary ways. First, CHN hosts a bi-weekly coalition meeting, the Friday Advocates’ Meeting, for representatives of the network’s member organizations. At these meetings, attendees summarize the current development of policy issues and build consensus on these issues. Second, CHN disseminates information to its member organizations and the general public through its website (http://www.chn.org/) and by emailing its network of over 60 thousand individuals across the nation. For example, its newsletter, the Human Needs Report, published every other Friday while Congress is in session, discusses national policy issues affecting the low-income population. The office is small, with a full-time staff of four women in addition to a seasonal consultant and me as the sole intern. CHN is located at 1120 Connecticut Avenue in Washington D.C. (a sixteen minute walk from where I am living!).

After only only four days, I am looking forward to the responsibility that will be delegated to me in this internship.  Each week, CHN publishes a Sequestration Impact Report, which highlights some specific effects that the sequestration cuts have had on certain cities and states.

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I wrote this week’s Sequestration Impact Report (http://www.chn.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Sequester-Impact-June-8dw2-Autosaved.pdf), which required compiling articles detailing the sequestration’s impact and writing short summaries of the stories. After Deborah Weinstein, the Executive Director of CHN, edited my report, it was published on the website, which was exciting. Many of the member organizations use the reports, and it’s very fulfilling to know that I contributed to this publication. On Thursday, I had lunch with my boss, CHN’s Communications Manager, Danica Johnson. The lunch was mostly designed to get to know each other, but we also set up a meeting for early next week to further discuss my internship goals and expectations.

As of now, I know I will be able to voice the specific area of work (either field work, lobbying, communications) and the policy issues that I would like to focus on. Danica also told me that if I’m interested in writing, I could potentially write an article for the Human Needs Report, which would require researching a policy issue (this is something I am eager to do!).

After just a week into my internship, I am confident that I will learn a great deal this summer. Because CHN is concerned with several policy areas, I will not only become well versed in each issue, but I will be able to see their unique overlap and mutual dependencies. In addition, I will observe the strategies that CHN uses to build agreement within its network on how to take action. I will also witness the sensitive and careful approach CHN must take when drafting its articles so as not to offend or infringe upon the missions of any of its many member organizations.

Last summer, I worked as an intern at the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) in Washington, D.C., which crystallized my goal to establish my career in non-profit work. Throughout this academic year, I evaluated several organizations whose missions emphasized social action through political advocacy. Whereas FRAC was narrowly focused on the issue of hunger, CHN’s broader policy agenda has a greater appeal to me. Before being offered the internship, I was interviewed by Danica Johnson, CHN’s communications manager, who contacted my references and consulted with the CHN staff. I accepted her offer and geared up for a great summer!

– Zoe Richman ’15