William and Mary


Ghana for Four Days: How to Use the Liberal Arts

November 6, 2013 by

I hope everyone had a great summer. I am sure there were many internships, jobs and needed relaxing. I traveled to Ghana. I traveled with one of William & Mary’s Social Entrepreneurs, Ali Siddiqui, who serves on the board of the Acumen Fund, the world’s largest social investor, and runs a private equity shop in Pakistan. We traveled to a social enterprise investment in the greater Accra-Tema area that focused on cultivating rice. It contributed to the local community with jobs and opportunities. Mr. Siddiqui provided insight into the importance of understanding the community and being transparent and honest with the community. Foreigners and Ghanaian people operated it, but they distrusted the foreign element in the community. The business owners gave us a tour and explained how Acumen and the community jointly owned it. Although a simple business it was the Acumen fund that helped get it off the ground that gave jobs and social benefits to the people in the surrounding community.

Adam, another student, and I then proceeded to travel with Mr. Siddiqui for the next couple of days as he evaluated the business opportunities in the country for his private firm. We visited various government offices and local business leaders. It opened my eyes to the world of international investing. Mr. Siddiqui examined the ports, the type of infrastructure, the type of raw materials and their quality. He needed to look beyond just economic concerns though. He needed a  multifaceted perspective because he had to analyze the culture and the government structure. My liberal arts education from W&M came alive in Ghana as I realized the importance of evaluating each perspective. The College has taught me to blend all the subjects together to really see the greater picture. My anthropology class mixed with my economic development course, which blended with my finance and history courses. I felt that the experience had a greater impact because of my liberal arts background.  This provided better insight into understanding international investing, social enterprise, and international relations all in four days in Ghana. I still cannot believe I spent four days there that exemplified the importance of liberal arts and gave me a goal for my career.

The College is a truly special place that extends well beyond the campus. It extends to places where William & Mary students gain these truly unique experiences that open their eyes to the importance of a liberal arts background. William & Mary students continue to learn and pursue unconventional paths because the school continues to offer great opportunities like my trip to Ghana. I went from ushering the Commencement ceremony, to spending a week at the beach with my improv group, to learning about social enterprise and global investing in Ghana, to working in New York City for my summer internship and it made my summer unforgettable. It was a crazy start, but this is the college experience that I can only expect from William & Mary.

Roll Tribe from Ghana,

Stephen Bennett

Getting Comfortable

September 19, 2013 by

Well, the DC Fall intern class has officially completed our first full week of work! Armed with pantsuits, briefcases and walking shoes, we venture out every morning with the fellow Crystal City-ers with “real jobs”. Not to say our jobs aren’t real or that we aren’t doing just as much work (and more) than our paid co-workers. We surely look just as professional as the other ho-hum commuters frowning on the Metro. We’ve entered the rat-race, but our spirits are still fresh, and we are ready to take on what is thrown at us.

Corporate America is not what I expected. There are so many little tasks that need to be completed just to keep things running. No, not getting coffee, but entering contact information or updating a database. These tasks seem insignificant, and I find myself asking, “When will the big work start? When will I have that groundbreaking project? When will I be the President of the United States?” Okay, maybe that last one escalated too quickly. But when I take a step back from the tedium, I realize that the small daily tasks I perform save my supervisors a lot of time, which then enables them to do the big things. Once I gain their trust by completing the little chores, they feel comfortable delegating to me the bigger projects, like representing them at an important conference that they don’t have time to attend. Or sending out a daily email to 9,500 people (eek!)

One of the most difficult parts is trying to find the perfect balance of how often to talk to your supervisors. I want to have something to do, but I don’t want to bug them to death. One of the problems I’m facing is the fact that I’m in two departments, so each supervisor assumes the other one gave me something to do. It’s tempting to continue to let them assume that so I  don’t have any work, but it can get boring pretending to be productive. I’ve started going to my supervisors in the morning to let them know what is on my plate for the day, so they know that I have time to do certain tasks. I’ve learned that it is important to assert your desire to learn. By being eager to help out and showing you are ready to get your hands a little dirty, supervisors will respect you as an asset to the organization, and treat you like a colleague rather than an understudy. Also, I’ve found that many supervisors want you to get the most out of the experience, so they are willing to help you reach your goals if you just speak up about them. I know it’s nerve-racking, but speaking up to your supervisors can solve a lot of problems and keep you from being forgotten.

Elephant at the Zoo

Elephant at the Zoo

In other news, I got to explore a little bit of DC this weekend when a friend came to visit. On Saturday we went to the National Zoo, which is HUGE and free. Although I visited the Zoo on the scavenger hunt, we actually only saw chipmunks and no animals. This time I was able to make it through almost all of the exhibits. My favorite was the otters – they played follow-the-leader the whole time. Also, there was a butterfly room where the butterflies actually would land on you! It seemed like a lot of the animals did not have much room to play – the elephant kept ramming into the gate trying to get out. But I guess in the wild they don’t get fed and protected from poachers, so it’s a tradeoff. Unfortunately the animals don’t get to make that decision for themselves. I don’t know how much I would like being stuck in a cage with snotty kids banging at me…

On Sunday we went to Eastern Market, a super cool neighborhood with an all-day, everyday farmers market. There are a ton of great restaurants in the area, and we settled on one called the Chesapeake Room. After lunch we got a cupcake from a food truck, and headed over to the tents. There was a wide variety of produce – everything from beautiful heads of lettuce to juicy peaches. There were live bands playing, soap shops, art tents and jewelry artisans. It was an awesome atmosphere – definitely a place I want to return to.

Last night the interns had dinner with our mentors. It was fun hearing about their time at William & Mary. Although the campus has changed a lot, the prestige of the school remains. Also, many cool programs have been introduced since their time there, like the DC program. It was great to see that so many alums left W&M prepared for a career that they love. One of the most important things I got out of my dinner was that it’s okay that I don’t know what I want to do after college. My mentor was actually glad that I didn’t know what to do – it gives me time to explore and be flexible. He didn’t settle into something until he was almost thirty, but once he did, he loved it. I think it’s important to take the time to discover where you can do the most good.

7 Helpful Tips for the Job Search

September 11, 2013 by

Long gone are the days of cold calling (and emailing)! It’s time to take matters into your own hands, with a refreshed perspective.

By now, I’m sure you’re all experts at applying to college (and maybe internship and jobs as well). However, there are some things we may overlook or forget. Below are seven tips for all those navigating, or preparing to navigate, through the seemingly stagnant sea of unemployment. These tips are also for those seeking an alternate route from their current career path. The following aren’t necessarily a perfected formula to get you hired, nor do they lead directly to the dream job of your choosing. However these tips provide insight on how to be proactive and vigilant while steering through the job search.

1. Make a road map of everything.

Here's one of my past road maps. I do these as an exercise to reevaluate my goals and values.

Here’s one of my past road maps. I do these as an exercise to reevaluate my goals and values.

If you don’t know exactly what your calling is (that’s okay, no one has it all 100% figured out during, and even after, college these days), then it’s time to take a step back. Construct a visual that encompasses you as a person. Look at the big picture. It’s more than just a resume – it’s seeing if what you already have aligns with what you envision for yourself. If they don’t, then outline the steps to get there. This can be in the form of a list, diagram, drawing, collage, or whatever helps you to visualize your goals, and the steps to reach those goals.

As you prepare to create a road map, consider the following questions: What do you want in your next job? What experience – including work, internship, volunteer and leadership – do you have? What are your most important goals and values? How can you tie in everything to lead you to those goals, while staying true to your values?

Some things you may want to highlight include your:

  • Assets (degrees, work experience)
  • Career Goals (graduate programs, the type of job you want, the hours you’d be willing to work, preferred environment and locations where you’d like to work)
  • Interests (professional/personal interests and how you are working towards said interests)
  • Guiding Principles (personal values, Life Values inventory, causes you want to stay involved with)
  • Personal Goals (actions you vow to take to improve your emotional, mental, emotional and social well-being)

Try to do this exercise a couple times a year, to see if your goals are shifting and to keep track of your progress.

2. Polish off your CV (and other application essentials).

Compile a giant CV (even if they’re more so for established professionals) that contains all of your work experience, education and skills. Provide as much detail as possible (careful to not over-exaggerate or misrepresent yourself, it will catch up with you later).

For your resume: If you are exploring more than one professional field, make different versions of your resume, drawing from the comprehensive CV you already have.

For your cover letter: Again, if you are exploring more than one professional field, you’ll find it helpful to have different versions of a cover letter to tweak as needed (once a job application comes around).

3. Network with everyone, even if you don’t think it’ll lead to a job prospect.

Most jobs and gigs we get result of a connection that we have. It’s all about the people that you know. Having that road map and CV updated will help you to clearly voice your career goals, as well as the direction you’d like to go in.

Contact friends, family, professors, former employers, colleagues, mentors, etc. Update them on your interests and experience and ask for help, and to pass along any info they may come across.

Reach out to people who already specialize in a field you’re interested in. Pick apart their brain. Ask about their experience, as well as any advice they’d be willing to offer.

4. (For current students and recent graduates) Take advantage of all that the W&M Cohen Career Center has to offer (workshops, networking days, office hours, Alumni network, etc.).

Not enough students utilize the Career Center! There are many opportunities, often free! One event that graduating seniors should look out for is the Etiquette Dinner. Registration goes by a first-come, first-serve basis, and allows students to learn about proper etiquette for formal or professional meetings over meals, dinners and special events.

If you’re a recent graduate, you may use the Career Center’s resources for up to two years after graduating. Don’t squander this opportunity.

5. Apply.

Easier said than done, but it’s no use sifting through the countless applications you’ve come across if you don’t sit down and start filling out the application. And if you did Step 2, then you’re at an advantage.

6. Ace the Interview(s).

If you are notified that an employer would like to interview you, be as proactive as possible. Respond on time. Ask questions. Show that you’re genuinely interested in the position, and are looking forward to the interview.

While preparing for the interview, do your research (especially if you didn’t when you were applying). Be knowledgeable of the organization/business/firm. Know their mission statement, core values and projects they are working on. Prepare questions you anticipate the interviewer will ask you. Prepare questions you want to ask the interviewer (about the position, the organization, advice, etc.).

Following the interview, send a thank you letter (if it was a panel interview, send a letter to each individual who interviewed you), stressing your interest in the position, as well as your qualifications that would make you the best fit.

7. Follow Up.

Upon receiving a response (hiring or rejection), reply promptly and courteously. Even if you didn’t get the position, express your interest in working with the organization in the future. If the interviewer is able, ask them to notify you of future openings that they believe would be a good fit for you. Don’t sever ties with them simply because you were rejected. Maintain contact, especially if you’re still interested in that particular organization. They may even be able to refer you to other positions with other organizations. Keep your options open.

Reaching New Heights

August 20, 2013 by

After graduating a few months ago, I returned home to my friends, family and seasonal job. All three things are reliable staples of my hometown, and have become new routes that lead back to my experience at William & Mary. There is a fountainhead of W&M alumni that have migrated to DC from Williamsburg, and many of them eclipsed my time at the College. My first weekends back in town were spent reliving the glory days with friends from high school and fellow W&M grads. We shared stories about campus experiences, and the challenges and rewards that awaited me as a new graduate.

The transition back home felt a little odd, after being away at school. This summer many of my friends had left their hometowns, starting new careers or traveling abroad. On the other hand, I returned back to my parent’s house to bide my time until starting grad school. I went on several interviews looking for something within my field of art education with limited success. My achievements were coming at slower pace than my time as an undergrad, and I admit that I was frustrated as well as a little confused. However, I settled back into my routine of working at my seasonal job at a local rock climbing gym, and my summer regained its initial momentum.

I first became involved in outdoor recreation as a freshman at W&M by taking a class called Adventure Games. I recommend it to any prospective or current student as a fun class to spice up a schedule filled with classrooms or labs. The majority of the class is taught on W&M’s ropes course, which is an outdoor obstacle course with various activities and elements. My professor was upbeat and hilarious, and each class felt like a day at a playground for college students. Some days the class played games of Cyclops-tag, rappelled down the campus police station, or traversed the zip-line across Lake Matoaka. My time as both a student and later as an employee on the ropes course prompted me to work at the climbing gym in my hometown.

As a climbing instructor I encounter climbers of all levels, and the experience that I’ve gained in working an unconventional job has prepared me for my work in graduate school. In my classes I teach students the fundamentals of rock climbing, such as: how to use equipment and gear, knot tying and belaying. It’s been incredible taking a hobby that began in a random class at W&M into a fun job. However, the most rewarding part of my time at the gym has been my encounters with W&M alumni who are also fellow climbers. The joy of meeting someone who is also a member of the Tribe is like meeting a new member of your family. My W&M community has continued to grow even though I have left the campus behind.

A summer of rediscovering familiar routes and reaching new heights has bridged my transition between Williamsburg and Manhattan. I leave for NYC in just a week, and I’m excited to start grad school. Likewise, I’m really excited to see if they have a climbing gym on campus!

My Jamaican Summer

July 10, 2013 by

Alright I got behind on my posting again (about two months) so I am going to be rushing to get some stories out while they are still fresh in my head.

One of the benefits of studying at St Andrews is that I have covered many more topics of study between William & Mary and St Andrews. One of the things that few students will cover at William & Mary is the topic of the environment, but it is one of the key concepts at StAs such as environmental collaboration between states within conferences or institutions like the UN. This has turned out to be really beneficial to me as I have accepted an internship with the United Nations Environmental Programme, the best part is that it allows me to live in Kingston, Jamaica for three months.

968957_10201121570254963_1832246442_nI work within the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) Sub-Programme within the over-arching Caribbean Environmental Programme’s Regional Coordinating Unit. Other sub-sections within the same office are the Communications, Education, Training and Awareness Programme, and the Assessment (CETA) and Management of Environmental Pollution (AMEP) Sub-Programme. The office is located in downtown Kingston and something that I am oddly excited about is that the headquarters of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is located on the floor right below us, something that we studied in a fair amount of detail at StAs.

So far my responsibilities within the office have been reviewing reports and updating the resources that SPAW distributes to raise awareness on its actions and projects. This includes updating the SPAW website, a daunting task, but at least I am learning a lot about SPAW as well as a little bit of programming and image editing.

Finally! Now that that post is out of the way I can get to writing about some of the more interesting topics like my experiences in Jamaica since arriving here at the end of May.

The DC Experience /// Site Visits pt. 2

June 27, 2013 by

In my last post, I began summarizing my favorite site visits that our Leadership & Community Engagement Institute took during our two week class. Below, I have listed and described four more standout visits.

5. Perhaps one of our most resonating visits came Mike Powell, the son of former Secretary of State, Colin Powell. He opened by sharing his life story with us, beginning with his humble beginnings as a TWAMP (Class of 1985) – a Government major, Yates resident, ROTC cadet and involved student. He continued regaling us with anecdotes from his military career that was unfortunately cut short in an automobile accident while stationed in Germany. Because of the accident, he endured not only an incomprehensible amount of physical pain (he spent a year in the hospital rehabilitating), but emotional pain. Since he was young, he had been working towards a career in the military and following in his father’s footsteps, but his circumstances forced him to change his life’s direction and give up on his dream. These trying times taught Mike to persevere through hardships and redefine success as an attainable end. Following his departure from the military, he tried his hand (and succeeded) in seemingly everything, having attended Georgetown University Law Center, serving a clerk for the DC Court of Appeals, a private attorney and in the Justice Department… not to mention a stint as an advisor to the Department of Defense. He eventually ended up working in the field of communications, serving as the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from 2001-05, and currently the President of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. Mike shared insight on his principle-driven leadership style, which is highlighted by his ten core pillars that shape himself and how he leads. He sees them as sacred and unique to every person – so much so, that he refuses to share his own with anybody. To Mike, the contents of one’s character reign paramount when assessing a leader, and their importance cannot ever be understated. The lecture itself was so captivating that by the end of it, I could not believe an hour and a half and elapsed. His stories, life experiences and advice took the shape of a motivational leadership seminar, and they truly inspired every person listening.

6. In terms of community engagement, DC Central Kitchens is likely the organization that is most directly impacting tangible change. We first met with Chief Executive Officer Mike Curtin, who chronicled a brief history of the organization, along with logistical information on how it is run. First and foremost, Mike made it clear that DCCK is not a soup kitchen. Instead, it distributes food to various soup kitchens and shelters around the District; but its primary purpose is to mobilize otherwise underserved individuals into the workforce. Through a training program that lasts several months, DCCK trains individuals to work in the foodservice industry. After they graduate from the program, the Kitchens will hire these individuals and provide them with a living wage and help them find housing in order to be self-sustaining. They will cook and prepare food that in turn goes out to various places, including soup kitchens, shelters, and as of late, to schools in the District. Throughout his presentation, Mike Curtin was very expressive about the role of his organization in providing opportunities for DC residents. He passionately averred that society had forsaken these individuals, and amidst the inefficiency and inaction of Washington bureaucracy, real people were suffering dire consequences. I thought it was particularly interesting when Mike said that DC Central Kitchens will have been considered successful when it can no longer stay open – it is not often that an organization sets out to go out of business and have its services no longer needed. Though its scope may not be as grand as MCC or Aspen (yet), there is no doubt that DCCK plays an incredibly important role in the lives of many underserved individuals, providing them with a venue to turn their lives around and find success.

7. Penelope Spain was one of only two site visits that actually came to visit us at the William & Mary DC office. She has her background in law, having attended Washington College of Law and graduating in 2005. While in law school, Penelope started a club that allowed students to go to a local detention center, and from this emerged Mentoring Today. She chronicled the organization’s beginnings as a group at WCL dedicated to helping incarcerated youth get reassimilated into society – though it remains small (there are 3 full-time employees), the organization has garnered a fair amount of attention and recognition within the DC/Maryland community. She shared with us the intimate inner-workings of Mentoring Today, shedding light on how she runs a nonprofit with such small overhead. Though she has run into her fair share of hardships, she has remained unwavering in her mission to helping the oft-forgotten youth, providing them with the stable figures that have usually been absent in their lives. I loved her passion and drive, along with her do-it-yourself mentality that inspired her to start her own organization – for these reasons, Penelope was one of my favorites of our site visits.

8. William & Mary/Teach For America alumna/Anacostia High School teacher Lauren Sterner marked the final of our site visits, and in my opinion, it was the most profound. It was the only visit in which we got a firsthand view at a community engager in action. We sat in on two sections of Ms. Sterner’s 9th grade English class, and though not every student seemed engaged in curriculum, she did a phenomenal job in captivating the attention of many. Despite a gentrification project that the school has been undertaking for the past few years, the district is still poorly funded – prior to starting her first class, Ms. Sterner explained that several English teachers would be cut due to budgetary restrictions. We witnessed even other poignant examples of this underfunding during the class itself, from the outdated textbooks that were being used (some were even older than the students themselves), to Ms. Sterner’s announcement to the students that the classroom was out of paper. I view individuals like Lauren as champions of education. Despite having other opportunities, both in profession and in location, she chooses to serve those students who need it and can benefit the most, and I find this admirable to the utmost extent. As someone who has a general interest in education, I was inspired and motivated by seeing Lauren in action. Ideally, we would have gotten to speak to her for longer but this site visit nonetheless impacted our class greatly.

As I stated in my previous posts, our two week class was not a William & Mary class in a traditional sense. Sure, we had our fair share of readings, discussions, lectures and writing assignments, but we still found time to visit many outstanding organizations/individuals all around DC. At times, it seemed overwhelming, considering the sheer amount of people and places we visited; nevertheless, I am very thankful to have gained that kind of experience. Perhaps the most enriching part of the two weeks came in the form of exposure. We saw all the shapes and forms that engagement could manifest itself in, from working in international development, to the government, to the classroom. We all learned that there are countless ways to affect positive change within the community, and as leaders, we ought to follow our own path, find our niche, and excel.

New Town, New People, New Media

June 4, 2013 by

To those reading this, my name is Erik Michel, but you probably already knew that because my name is already on this post. I’m a member of the Class of 2014 at W&M. Currently, I’m in DC as a New Media Fellow with the W&M DC Summer Institute. The Institute is run through the school’s Washington Office located near Dupont Circle. Before this summer, I’ve only been to two areas of the city: The National Mall and the zoo. But let me tell you, Dupont is a pretty swank place, and it’s right near the heart of the city. For two weeks I spent time in the classroom in Dupont and various site visits all around the city. Now, I’m a week and a half into a 10-week, full-time internship at the DC Shorts Film Festival.

The first two weeks of classes feel like ages ago, but many of the things we learned have stuck with me. Our teacher, Professor Ann Marie Stock, jam-packed our time together with awesome discussions, fun guest lecturers, and really cool site visits (National Geographic, Discovery Channel, C-SPAN, the Newseum, The Smithsonian Museums of American History and of the American Indian, just to name a few). I could tell you countless details about this time, but there’s not enough space here to cover it all. Overall, though, there were two things that I learned over this time. Firstly, don’t go to film school. I’m a Film Studies Major (technically, it doesn’t exist, but I like to pretend it does), so film school seems like the next logical step. But I met quite a few people out in the working world who do film-type things, and the ones that did go to film school even said that it’s not really worth the money you put into it. I’m sure that most people reading this don’t care about the importance, or lack thereof, of film school, but the next thing I say should appeal to anyone reading this.

From National Geographic to the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting (Look it up. It’s pretty cool), one message resonated throughout the week: it is better to do something you love than to get payed for something you don’t enjoy. Sure, it’s a simple message, but it comes from the heart (Arthur reference. I couldn’t help myself.). Some people I know are stuck doing something they think will make them successful and rich, but is a very boring job. Others are stuck doing something they hate for very little money, but I’m sure each one would say the same thing. So have fun with what you’re doing in life. And don’t be dead-set on doing one thing either. Keep your options open.

After the class ended, I said goodbye to Dupont Circle (though I still visit sometimes), and hello to Penn Quarter, where the DC Shorts Office is, just a few blocks East of the White House. The office is small compared to most of my other fellows (except for my office mate and fellow New Media fellow Gina), comfortably fitting only about 6 people, but thankfully, the other people who work there are nice. My supervisor, festival director Jon Gann, has been in the DC area for years, running the festival as it is going into its 10th year. And as things are starting to come together, things are starting to get stressful, but I’m excited for the rest of the summer.

Anyway, I’m sure you’re tired of reading this. It’s mostly a jumble of words. I’ll write more often and not try and squeeze 3.5 weeks into one blog post. Erik out.

Time moves faster than you think, so cherish it!

May 28, 2013 by

It’s been a year since I graduated from W&M, took a leap of faith and moved to Thailand – completely on my own. Since I’ve been abroad, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the most inspiring people. I teach English at a school in the mountains. It’s a remote village, and the nearest city is a six-hour bus ride away. The hotspots to go to during the day are the 7-11 and a couple of coffee shops in town. It’s quiet here. There are no tall buildings, lanes of traffic or smog hanging in the air. Instead, I see mountains and rice fields in the valley below the school. But I’m not alone. In fact, I feel more immersed in a community than I ever have before. I didn’t think that was possible, especially after going to W&M for four years – the College will always be my second home.

It wasn’t easy to get here, to this point of contentment, to this place of peace in my life. I have never lived on my own before (with the exception of a summer internship, but I had random roommates for that experience), let alone move across the world to a completely foreign environment, only to immerse myself in a culture far from my own. Here, the languages I hear the most are Thai and northern Thai. My students come from hill tribes and their native languages are Karen, Lawa and Hmong. English and Chinese are taught at the school where I work, though no one is fluent in either languages other than the native speakers (I’m the native English speaker at the school, and we just started our Chinese program so we have university students from Guanzhou, China on rotation here to complete teaching internships).

Moving abroad for an extended period of time (though, now that I’ve been overseas over ten months, I feel like it’s just short-term), can be a big change. If you’ve never been out of your comfort zone before, this is certainly the way to do it. I’ve encountered a variety of hurdles along the way, but nothing was impossible. Everything until now has been an experience or lesson for me, and has certainly made me more open and understanding of the world.

So, if you’re preparing for a big move (be it to a new city, a new part of the country, or halfway across the world), do not fret. And if you’re thinking that one whole year overseas is a long time, I would say it most certainly is not. Time moves a lot faster than you’d think. If I could, I would stay here even longer. I feel like I just arrived and my job here has just begun.

Just the other week, I was talking to one of the teachers here.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea if you go back to your country. You have to stay here,” she said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I’ll miss you,” she responded.

I’ll miss her, and all of the teachers and students here at my school, more than she’ll ever know.

A State-Approved, State Department Post

May 21, 2013 by

Following accounts of State Department Operations Center and State Department Panel provided by guest bloggers Melanie Gilbert and Ben Kenzer, respectively.

May 14, 2013

We visited the Department of State the same day we went to Health and Human Services; but I didn’t write about them in the same blog because I have absolutely no concept of space and time. Just kidding! Actually, the following information had to be approved by State Department officials, which took a while; but makes this blog even cooler, in my opinion. Prepare yourselves for a state-approved, internationally-accepted piece of writing … if you can.

At the State Department, we had the incredible opportunity to learn first-hand about how the Operations Center of the Department of State functions thanks to Alexis Sullivan ‘04 and James Jay. A 2011 video made for the Operation Center’s 50th anniversary showed us footage of how employees handle calls on a daily basis, which could be from US citizens, foreign leaders, U2’s Bono, or the Secretary of State himself. When a crisis hits, this 24/7 team is there to gather and disperse information to the necessary people as quickly as possible. This team is pulled from the best and brightest in the Department and its members are from a variety of backgrounds. After this site visit, it was obvious that working for the Operations Center is definitely challenging, but important because this unit is crucial to the State Department and allows the United States to enact necessary national security policies. Alexis even shared that she was in the “quarterback” seat of running the Ops Center when several important events have occurred.

After learning about the Operations Center, we experienced a wonderful presentation from a State Department panel organized by the Chief of Staff of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Sarah King with Adnan Kifayat, Deputy Special Representative to Muslim Communities, Heather Lanigan, Office of Middle East Transitions, and Jason Starr ’06, Iran Officer in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Around the Secretary of State’s conference table, the panel discussed the impressive cultural exchange programs organized through the Department of State that include nearly 100,000 participants each year, as well as the important global connections the US fosters via public diplomacy. We at the W&M DCSI were particularly interested in State Department policies on the “frontier” of public diplomacy—programs that seek to engage with the public in nations such as Iran and Venezuela. The panel was candid, enlightening, and extremely insightful towards the W&M DCSI’s goal to elucidate the complex inner workings of US security policy.

I’ve wanted to work at the State Department since I graduated high school. Unfortunately, the competition is proving a bit too competitive and I have yet to be an intern there. However, visiting the site actually made me feel better, as I felt as though I have something to aspire to. Maybe one day I’ll be running around the Operations Center, struggling to give assistance to a distressed diplomat – or maybe I’ll be meeting with fellow State Department officials, procuring some kind of plan to reduce the Iranian threat. Even if I never end up at State, I can at least say I’ve been behind-the-scenes and greatly respect the work that this institution does. It’s extremely important that we emphasize culture, language, and history when dealing with others – and I can say for sure that the Department of State incorporates all three factors (and more) in the context of their foreign relations. All the better for us!

Health and Human Networking

May 21, 2013 by

Following Account of HHS visit provided by guest blogger: Darice Xue

May 14, 2013

The second day of the Institute was geared toward a discussion of how epidemics affect national security concerns. We visited the Department of Health and Human Services’ Operations Center, where there were employees from various departments (including the CIA and the Department of Defense), contributing to the efforts of tracking disease and ensuring the well-being of American citizens. The room was equipped with countless computers and a wall made up entirely of television screens (think of a highly-sophisticated version of Hollywood Squares). An emergency briefing cut our visit a bit short – but I have to admit, it was cool to be in the midst of the fray.

We really got to see the Operations Center at work; I was impressed by the amount of precision exhibited by the Health and Human Services’ team: every news station was featured on the myriad of screens – and I could see that employees were covering multiple countries, making sure no health concern went unnoticed. Basically, this team makes it extremely difficult for the U.S. to be surprised or unprepared for most anything. From our discussion, we were able to explore the roles of both civilian and U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps analysts working within the department and see how HHS coordinated information between departments to send in fast and efficient responses to global health crises.

Washington D.C. is not all about epidemics, however – it’s about the contacts! In the midst of our travels between site visits, we experienced classic D.C. in that you’re likely to have chance run-ins with people who are from your past and doing great things, today. For example, as we were walking to HHS, we had the great fortune to bump into a friend of Professor Floyd: Jamie (Bay) Nishi ’04, now with Devex. On the spot, she briefed the class about her current job and offered to serve as a resource for us in the future. William & Mary friends are everywhere! And luckily for us students, those friends double as valuable contacts.