Thursday, December 19, 2013

All Over

Rick, MPIA-SIS, 2014

Blog Post #5

Well, the semester has drawn to a close.  When I arrived in Washington it was about 100 degrees and humid as anywhere; now it’s 30 degrees, snowing, and holiday decorations are everywhere.  I guess it’s time to look back and reflect on my time in Washington.

First, I cannot believe how fast it goes.  I was just trying to keep my schedule straight each day between work, school, networking, and so on. The days turned into weeks, the weeks into months, and the months into a semester.  I guess the lesson is don’t waste a day.  At the beginning of the semester there were always more days, and if something didn’t work out in the schedule, it could be put off until the next week.  Now, I wish I had another couple of days here before my lease runs out -- let alone a week!  If you’re trying to network with someone or visit places while you’re here or anywhere, make your default meeting request “how about later today?”  Don’t fail to capitalize on any of your time here, or anywhere.

Second, I don’t know how I managed to juggle a full-time work schedule, full-time course load, putting together fellowship applications, and trying to expand my network.  It was really difficult to fit things in from time to time, but the key is to stay extremely organized.  It might sound even crazier to suggest keeping everything organized with all that going on, but without keeping half a dozen lists of day plans, week plans, upcoming events, deadlines, and long-term calendar reminders, I know I would not have been able to keep track of everything!

Third, Washington is the place to be.  If you’re interested in a career in federal public service, you need to find your way down here sooner rather than later!  The professional opportunities here are far better than just about anywhere (depending on your specialty) in the realm of government service.  If you’re interested in the Think Tank world, there are few other places that rival D.C.  Honestly, GSPIA is great and all, but I wish I were staying here for my final semester as well.

Fourth, in your internship, make sure you find a project that you can make your own.  This should be something that if a potential employer calls your internship supervisor, he or she will immediately think “Rick was great. He took over this issue and delivered a great project.”  Not only is this great for evaluations, it’s also a great thing to have in your experience as a response to future interview questions.  If you get to your internship and you think that you won’t get opportunities to shine, don’t hesitate to ask around about other opportunities in the city.  I know of several people who switched internships during their first few weeks in Washington so don’t be afraid to look around!  With as many government offices, Think Tanks, and non-profits as are in this city, there are always opportunities for people offering to work (read: intern) for free.

Finally, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.  If you’ve got a lot going on, a lot of pressure, and more deadlines than you can count, then you’re going to need to blow off some steam from time to time.  Washington has a ton of nightlife, great (compared to Pittsburgh) public transportation, and tons of people.  Meet other Pitt classmates and alums out on weekends.  Make new friends in the GDSP program.  Find new, professional friends while networking.  It doesn’t matter whom, but get out there and have some fun after all that work you’re doing!

One last class and that’s a wrap, folks.  See you all back in Posvar in January!

Friday, December 6, 2013

GSPIA Students Compete in Allegheny County DHS Policy Case Competition

On November 9, several GSPIA students competed in the Allegheny County Department of Human Services’ annual policy case competition. The Department of Human Services recapped the event in its monthly newsletter:

A team of graduate students from the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) took first place and the $3,000 prize in the Department of Human Service (DHS) 7th annual case competition, held Nov. 9 in the Human Services Building, Downtown.
Aston Armstrong, of Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs; Andrea Thurau of Pitt’s School of Social Work; and Maureen Washburn of CMU’s H. John Heinz III College won the competition,  operating as Team Birmingham….
DHS challenged teams to develop a three-year recruitment and retention plan to meet the department’s desire to build a modern human services workforce while meeting a range of employment challenges.
Teams devised strategies to improve one key workforce characteristic -- talent, diversity or commitment – for one targeted workforce segment – front line, support or leadership. Teams had to think creatively; develop a timeline; ensure their plan extended to providers and contracted workers; offer a process of evaluation; and finally, make a 20-minute presentation using PowerPoint and verbal arguments before a panel of judges to convince them of the viability of their ideas.
The teams had from Wednesday evening, Nov. 6, when they received the challenge issue, to 7 a.m. Saturday to prepare their case….
Fourth Place, Team Homestead [Grays]:  Aviva Diamond, Carnegie Mellon University, Heinz College; Deborah Garofalo, Duquesne University, Social and Public Policy; David Streeter, University of Pittsburgh, GSPIA; Stephen Zumbrun, University of Pittsburgh, School of Law.
GSPIA students Kayla Branch, Megan Davis, Katelyn Haas, Michael Toronto, Yuzhao Xie, and Linghui Zhu also participated in the competition.
You can learn more about the case competition here.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Rick's Blog: Post #4

Rick, MPIA-SIS, 2014

Blog Post #4

While the primary aspect of the Washington DC Semester is the internship, there are two more aspects that deserve considerable attention.  The first are the networking opportunities, and the second are the courses taught during the semester. 

Besides the experience gained by interning at an organization in Washington, the ability to network with practitioners, academics, and other students is key.  I’ve had the opportunity to meet with a great many officials, practitioners, and fellow students with whom I hope to keep in touch in the future.  I’m not saying that the professors, classes, and students at GSPIA aren’t excellent, but it is important to expand one’s professional circle as wide as possible.

Sometimes it’s a bit daunting as to where to begin, but once you get the ball rolling, networking seems to come naturally.  There are a few keys here: 1) Start with people you do know or people you work with; 2) Expect that not every person you contact will respond; 3) Actually be interested in learning more about what those people do and how they got there. 

I think it’s important to get comfortable with networking by starting with people that you have some familiarity with beforehand. Once you get comfortable with the process, you will be better equipped to handle meeting people that you’ve only gained contact with through another contact, or through cold emailing.  This can be really helpful for dealing with times when you just don’t click with the person you meet with or speak to.  Be ready for the fact that when you reach out to people you aren’t already close to, a fair number of them will not get back to you.  When you finally do manage to get out there and network with new contacts, don’t be that guy or girl who comes across as only interested in how to get hired in that organization.  Instead, be actually interested in what that person does, what sort of skills or background are important in their job/office/field, what is new or developing in their field, and how that person got to where they are now.  Lastly, remember networking is a two way street: be prepared to share your own story, work, and interests in a way that relates to that person.

Since working and taking classes at the same time can be quite time-consuming, it is quite helpful that many of the courses here involve guest speakers and panels in a regular fashion.  While not a replacement for your own networking by any means, it sure helps to have access to practitioners and officials in this manner.

I found that the courses were well suited to the work/school dynamic of the Washington Semester.  The professors were all well aware that we were primarily engaged in work and professional activities, and conducted these courses accordingly.  Professors assigned work that was reasonable for our schedules and allowed for significant independent direction to address our diverse interests.

One last thing of note on courses: I am currently taking a class back at GSPIA while in Washington this semester.  I am able to do so by using the videoconference capabilities at the Pitt offices here in Washington and in Room 3431.  If you are considering the Washington Semester, but really want or need to take a particular course back at Pitt, it might be possible to make it happen!  I don’t think that my situation applies to the vast majority of courses, but it worked for me and for a few others in the past. If you are interested in taking a course back at Pitt during the Washington Semester, I suggest speaking to your career services advisor or to Jessica Hatherill about if it might work.  Just remember that the classes back at GSPIA will likely occur during your working hours!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Rick, MPIA-SIS, 2014- “Alphabet Soup”

Rick, MPIA-SIS, 2014

Blog Post #3

Just about everywhere you go there is some sort of insider lingo.  Friends, school, and work all have inside jokes, references, and specific vocabulary relevant to the situation.  The government, it seems, takes this to a whole new level - just about everything has some sort of acronym or shortening.  The Department of State (DoS) is just as acronym heavy as anywhere in the United States Government (USG).

Just take a look at the official organization chart of the Department: each bureau and office gets its own letter designation.  Working for the Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, Office of Euro-Atlantic Security Affairs becomes T/AVC/ESA. 

Not only do offices have acronyms, but also documents, programs, and even people!  It’s definitely a learning curve when starting out.  I have never heard anyone actually say the phrase “Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary,” but I have heard countless references to the “PDAS.”  For laws, one must look no farther than the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA).  It takes awhile to get up to speed with the new vocabulary (not to mention the new information behind that vocabulary). 

On my first day in my office at State I was handed a binder with an intern orientation guide, which included a 60-page single-spaced acronym list.  Ironically, I soon discovered that few of the things I needed to reference on a daily basis were in this list!  Based on that, I decided to update and expand the list to be more relevant and helpful to those interns that will come after my tenure.  It’s also a good project to fill in time when I finish up official assignments early.  As it stands now, the list weighs in at about 105 pages and counting!

That’s not to say that we spend all day coming up with sentences made up entirely of acronyms, or that you’ll need to spend your nights after work memorizing lists of acronyms.  It does help, however, to become familiar with a few common acronyms and the organizational structure of the Department of State.  If you’re really serious about pursuing opportunities at the Department of State, I strongly suggest taking Prof. Skinner’s Foreign Policy and Diplomacy course.  Not only will the familiarity help you better target your application to your interests and experience, but also once you get in, you will be able to bend that learning curve farther in your favor.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Purposeful Penny Holds First Annual 5K

Jemima Homawoo- MID 2015
On September 22nd, members of Purposeful Penny, a student-run organization created by graduate students in The University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA), gathered together at Schenley Park to prepare for the first event of the year. Though the day began cloudy and dreary, excitement and anticipation were high, and success was to be reached. Runners from across the GSPIA community, friends, and family arrived to support Purposeful Penny. The runners ranged from GSPIA students (second-year student Ted Masten ran the whole race with an American flag) to runners who traveled from overseas (Ms. Victoria, the founder of Bright Kids Uganda). 

At the closing of the first ever Purposeful Penny 5K, nourishment (which was graciously donated) was consumed in order to replenish the runners after all their hard work, and awards were given out. It was calculated that Purposeful Penny raised $1,800 for Bright Kids Uganda and Room 2 Read: Nepal, both organizations focused on educating children. 

The focus of Purposeful Penny is to raise money for these two organizations and display the hard work needed to push forward the importance of education all over the world. Not only does Purposeful Penny host fundraising events, but you can also find at least one member sitting dutifully at the GSPIA lounge from 8:30am to 12:30pm each weekday, ready and waiting to provide a cup of coffee for a dollar. Professor or student, if you come in on a Monday dreading the beginning of a work week, you can find some joy at the face of a Purposeful Penny member, a cup of good coffee, and the knowledge that your dollar is going to great organizations focused on education. 

Purposeful Penny is continuously looking for new means of raising money. And this year once again, the inter-cultural potluck is being planned for November 14th. The event will feature food prepared from the heart, entertainers performing to put smiles on supporters’ faces, and the chance to win a prize from the raffle. The potluck is an opportunity to bring everyone together over one thing that all people love to do: eat. Hard work is being put into organizing this event, while the members of Purposeful Penny also work hard to stay on top of their studies! Purposeful Penny is one of those organizations that realized what needs to get done to reach a goal, puts in 110%, and gets it done. It might be one penny that is raised, but one penny given multiple times means that change can happen.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Rick, MPIA-SIS, 2014

Getting Here

Blog Post #2

(Early Morning outside Main State)

By the time this is posted the deadline for summer 2014 internship applications to the Department of State will be only a couple of weeks away. I was in the same position in which many of you are now: trying to get the application package put together while juggling school, work, extracurricular activities, family, and everything else.

While there is nothing that will get you the one of these coveted spots for certain, you can do a few things that, I think, will help you successfully navigate the process of applying for an internship with the Department of State.  Disclaimer: These are my personal views and do not represent the views of the Department of State or the University of Pittsburgh.

  • Really research and target a particular office or bureau. Go through the website.  Read all the material published by the Department of State on their internship program.  Become familiar with the organizational chart of the state department and find an office that does the sorts of things you have experience with and like doing.  While I cannot say for certain what made my office pick me, I believe that specific, uncommon knowledge, skills, and abilities that I displayed in my resume and essay landed me in my particular office. When you do find an office or offices that fit your skills, experiences, and interests, be sure to check the internship guide to make sure those offices participate in the program.

  • If you want to work at an embassy in a foreign country, then know the language. I can’t imagine a hiring manager selecting someone who doesn’t speak the local language over someone who can, or who can speak it with greater fluency.  Also, explore possibilities outside of major international destinations.  Speak French? Explore opportunities in Africa.

  • Put the necessary amount of time and effort into crafting your application package.  Block off the time to sit down and write a great submission well ahead of the deadline.  It might sound obvious, but how often do we squeeze things in between the end of 3 PM class and dinner? Or between 2 other papers due by next Tuesday and that dinner party on Saturday night? [I’m guilty of squeezing this in this week between work, finishing several fellowship applications, finishing a presentation assignment, classes, and several networking engagements.] After you’ve completed your package, set it aside for a couple of days and then revise it.  Consider having someone else read it over and give comments to you before you make your final submission.  Really put the time and effort into making this the best application package possible.

  • Be consistent.  You can apply for two different offices when you submit your materials.  However, you can (or at least was the case for me) submit only one essay. I cannot imagine that it will do your any favors to pick offices or bureaus with little in common, and then write a broad essay that does not directly address the specific skills relevant to the activities of those offices.  Pick offices that deal with closely related topics or use the same skill-sets.

  • Be prepared to succeed.  You will need to undergo a security clearance investigation prior to receiving a final offer. Read up on official sources regarding the clearance process.  Don’t be overly scared by the process, but if you don’t think you will make it through at this point in your life, it may be worth it to explore other opportunities.  If you decide to go through with the process, make sure you have the necessary documents in order. It is probably wise to start gathering the information that you will need for an SF-86 as soon as you have the time.  Even if you don’t need this information for the State Department, I suspect many of you will be applying to other government positions that require background investigations.  Above all, answer your investigator openly and honestly.

  • Remember that this is a numbers game. The State Department receives thousands upon thousands of applications for what are only a few hundred positions.  If a random drawing filled positions, then the odds of landing a spot would be heavily against any one of us.

  • Be realistic.  Along with the numbers game, you are also up against some extremely stiff competition.  There are some really amazing interns here at the State Department. Many of them already have experience doing the things that their offices do.  Plenty of them come from institutions with brand-name titles.  I have met more than a few other interns whom have prior internship experience with the Department of State.  While every GSPIAn has a solid resume and experiences relevant to their degree program, at this stage of the game, so to speak, the bar has been raised.

  • Have a backup plan.  I was in the same position that many of you will be in towards the end of next January: I found myself reading an email telling me I was an alternate selection.  The world did not end. I still went through my background check and received my security clearance just like the primary selections.  I never did get the hoped-for email telling me that the primary selection had fallen through.  I was, however, able to land another, albeit less prestigious, internship position with the State Department for the summer that I could do part-time from home via the internet.  This was great for me because it fit in with my schedule of researching for a professor at GSPIA while taking one class that fulfilled a minor requirement and a second class that strengthened an area of need in my academic portfolio.  Lots of people who don’t get in find extremely rewarding, career and skill enhancing internships outside of the Department of State.  Honestly, if you think you have the knowledge, skills, and abilities that the State Department will want as an intern, you will find many other doors open to you as well.

  • Try again!  The State Department and many other organizations receive far fewer applications for the fall and spring intern cycles.  If you haven’t thought about doing the D.C. Semester, explore the opportunities available to you with the program.  I had always planned on doing the D.C. Semester while at GSPIA, so I polished up my essay and updated my resume and resubmitted my application package in the spring.  Remember, though, if you want to take part in the D.C. Semester program, you will have to fill out a separate application, as well as make sure that you are on target for meeting your graduation requirements.  Talk to your career and enrollment advisors if you have questions.  I’ve found each and every one of them to be extremely helpful with every question or concern I have raised.

I hope that my next post is a bit shorter and less preach-y.  Good luck applying!

Friday, September 27, 2013

J-PAL Info Session
Thomas Chupein, Policy Manager

The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) was established in 2003 as a research center at the Economics Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Since then, it has grown into a global network of researchers who use randomized evaluations to answer critical policy questions in the fight against poverty.

J-PAL is recognized as the "gold standard" of organizations conducting RCTs in the developing world.  Additionally, they are launching a new North American division that will be looking for researchers with a domestic focus. 

Jobs AND internships available -- apply between Nov 15th and Jan 5th!

This is a fantastic organization to intern with if you're interested in obtaining hands-on, international field research experience. 

If you're interested in full-time employment, take classes at GSPIA that emphasize the following skills: Microeconomics, Development Economics, Program Evaluation, Quantitative Methods, Stata.

Previous international travel or experience is important, as if a foreign language -- however, it is NOT necessary!

If you're interested in the policy track, be sure to have excellent writing skills.

To apply:
1. Apply to the specific positions that interest you (as many as you like).
2. Fill out the common application.

Ben Jaques: (research and training jobs)
Thomas Chupein: (policy jobs)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Rick, MPIA-SIS, 2014

I’ve always had a passion for international affairs and related issues. My experiences domestically and abroad during my undergraduate business and postgraduate law degree put me on a path towards returning to school and earning an MPIA at GSPIA. I hope that after GSPIA I can transition to a career combining the aspects of my far-too-long-for-comfort educational history into a career as a Foreign Service Officer or in a foreign affairs-related career in the civil service.

For the fall semester I am interning with the United States Department of State in the Bureau of Administration while taking part in the Global Security & Development Program with other students from GSPIA, the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, and the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.

Fair warning, I will not go into detail about my internship, the operation of the State Department, or myself for security reasons. In fact, during orientation on the first day we were read a rather incredible account of a previous intern and the security violations that ensued from improper disclosure of information on the intern’s personal blog. I must also disclaim that any views I present here are my personal views and do not represent the views or of policy of the Bureau of Administration, the Department of State, or the Government of the United States.

I know it sounds a bit overdramatic. I’m sure at least some of you are thinking “the Bureau of Administration? Who cares?” Well, it may not be the “sexiest” Bureau in the Department, but is definitely challenging, internationally focused work. In my office I am able to receive some level of exposure to a great swath of the State Department’s operations: In the morning the office might be on a call with the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, Canada, spend the afternoon working with a consulate in Saudi Arabia, and the next day we can be coordinating with DoD policy in Afghanistan. Dealing with so many issues in so many places really gives me a sense of satisfaction that I am contributing to the mission and operations of the Department of State domestically and around the world.

I hope my posts will help give you some idea of some of the opportunities available to GSPIA students in Washington D.C., dispense some useful advice, and perhaps open some eyes to other, potential, career avenues.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

RealStart Internship Post

Julianne Norman, MPIA-HS, 2014
Alison Waterson, MID-NGOCS, 2014

Hello out there!  Our names are Julianne and Ally and we spent six weeks of our summer performing a program evaluation for a non profit (RealStart) in George, South Africa. George is a picturesque seaside town located about 4 hours east of Cape Town in a region called the Western Cape, and sits right on the coast of the Indian ocean.


 George is a relatively small town by South Africa standards, with a population of 120,000. Like the rest of South Africa, it is incredibly diverse and unequal with large affluent golf resorts backing onto poverty stricken townships.

We arrived in George on Thursday, May 16th, after 48 hours of travelling, two upgraded first class tickets, one ripped pair of jeans and one coke stained pair of leggings…and one lost bag. All three of our suitcases managed to make it across three continents, yet somehow the journey from Johannesburg to George was too much of a stretch. Here, finding a lost bag is like trying to track a tadpole in a large pond.  All of the bags have labels on them, but no one knows where they are.  After numerous phone calls with the typical response, “um, we’ll look for it” or “let me ask my friend who works in the airport” (we know what that really means), and a day of sharing clothes, we finally decided to head out to the airport and wait there until they located the bag. They told us they had heard nothing of the bag since their last employee had called earlier that morning.  Their suggestion was wait for the next flight from Jo-burg landing in George in 15 minutes and see if it had appeared with the luggage. We waited for the flight and then watched all of the luggage filter through and no bag.  Then, Julianne looked across the room and low and behold her bag was sitting in the corner of the room...just chillin’.

A little bit about RealStart – RealStart is a South African based non-profit which focuses on the holistic development of impoverished young people. They currently run a year-long youth development program across two campuses, with the hope of expanding the program throughout the country. They also have a number of other exciting projects in the pipeline. I (Alison) have been affiliated with RealStart for a number of years and have known its founder for five years. This was Julianne’s first interaction with the organization.

The first week of our evaluation consisted of us finding out a little more about RealStart and what it was they wanted us to achieve with our evaluation. As non-experts in the field, we spent copious hours sitting outside in the sun reading a program evaluation textbook one of our professors had given us.

We soon discovered that we did not have enough data (RealStart is only 3 years old) to do a quantitative evaluation and thus had to focus on a more qualitative one. The next few days involved writing up questionnaires and contacting as many stakeholders as we possibly could in order to set up interviews to ask them questions about the organization and their relationship with it.

Our next blog post will be coming soon...check in for the next installment, which may contain a crazy adventure or two!


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Guest Blogger: Jon Russell, Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh

Jon Russell, MPIA-HS, 2014

This summer I had the pleasure of serving as the intern in the Housing Department of the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA).  This appointment took me all the way from Pittsburgh to… Pittsburgh, so needless to say, the move was stressful.  When first arriving at GSPIA back in the fall of 2012, I capitalized on a connection I had within the URA and set up a lunch meeting with the director of the Housing Department.  After an official interview in February, I was offered a summer internship with the URA.  (Let me be an example that networking actually does pay off!)  By the second week of May, I was deep in the throes of my URA responsibilities.

The seemingly insurmountable task laid before me was the completion of the HUD Larimer Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant Application (CNIG) for $30 million to revitalize the Larimer section of Pittsburgh.  The project was spurned by a desire on the part of the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh (HACP) to replace the East Liberty Gardens and the Lincoln/Larimer public housing units.  These units are in severe disrepair and do not serve their residents adequately.  HACP partnered with the URA, the City of Pittsburgh, the Kingsley Association, East Liberty Housing Corporation, East Liberty Development Inc., the Larimer Consensus Group, Jackson Clark Partners, McCormack Baron Salazar, and Urban Strategies to implement the work of the Larimer Consensus Group and the Larimer Vision to Action plan which outlines the community’s desire for their neighborhood.

The Larimer CNIG has three primary components to its funding structure; Housing, People, and Neighborhood.  The Housing section is headed by the HACP and provides the applicant with $21 million to rebuild the public housing units.  The People section provides $4.5 million to work with the residents of the public housing units to get them back on their feet by providing individuals with employment and educational opportunities.  The URA is the lead entity on the Neighborhood section which provides $4.5 million for the rehabilitation of the entire Larimer community.  I was responsible for working with all of the CNIG partners as well as URA staff to craft a neighborhood strategy that was faithful to the Larimer Vision to Action Plan while simultaneously remaining financially feasible.  This involved attending weekly community meetings at the Kingsley Association and phoning in on weekly CNIG planning team conference calls.  Once a policy was decided upon, I drafted a description of it, worked to create a budget for the initiative, and identified key partners in the implementation of the policy.  The combined efforts of the CNIG partners and the community leaders of Larimer resulted in a competitive application to HUD which will be submitted on September 10.

While the Larimer CNIG application demanded most of my attention, the URA staff found tasks to occupy the rest of my time.  I worked on drafting URA Board of Directors Agenda items, completing multiple Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission Section 106 Project Review Forms, compiling a PA Department of Community and Economic Development Keystone Communities Grant Application for Wood Street Commons, and developing multiple Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for various development projects in the City of Pittsburgh.

This internship at the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh equipped me with skills in community engagement, in writing grant applications, and in creating project budgets as well as providing me with valuable experience in public administration, especially in an urban setting.  (The networking opportunities alone would have made this internship worthwhile.)  I will continue to work part time at the URA during the fall semester.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Dupont Experience: Mastering the 4 Ps at the Middle East Institute (MEI)

By Yumna Rathore, MID-DPES, 2014
When I was accepted as an intern at the Middle East Institute (MEI), I was ecstatic. The thought of being in Dupont Circle, next door to Carnegie Endowment for Peace and Brookings Institute, walking distance from Atlantic Council, and a metro stop away from the World Bank and Chemonics International, was thrilling. Moreover, MEI was an organization solely focused on Middle East. The definition included Pakistan and Afghanistan, two countries I was invested in. My experience at MEI can be summarized in 4 Ps:
  1. Professional Relationships: After substantial internship experiences in NGOs, international organizations, and government, I dived into the DC think tank world hoping to build professional relationships in DC. At the Middle East Institute, I was working with Dr. Andrea Rugh who was a technical advisor for USAID development projects in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa. She was a Research Associate at the Harvard Institute of International Development (1987-1994), and worked for Save the Children and UNICEF in Pakistan and Afghanistan (1998-2002).  With over 40 years of residence and work experience in the field of international education, Dr. Rugh was a great mentor. Her guidance was a key resource to a handful of connections at the UN, World Back, and other smaller organizations.
  2. Projects: The next three months starting from April were busy. My tasks varied from building a database to conducting research!
    • Compile and create a website database of 80 materials called “Primary Education Support” from 3 projects (a) a Pakistan education project funded by USAID (b) an Afghanistan education project funded by UNICEF and Save the Children, and (c) an Egypt life skills project funded by a group of international organizations.
    • Review, analyze, and summarize project materials including study reports, program evaluations, case study analyses, and practitioners’ books for UNESCO library in Geneva, libraries in Kabul, and other interested international organizations such as Global Partnerships in Education.
    • Promote and outreach website to 40+ individual professionals interested in post-Taliban education models.
    • Collect and synthesize articles in chronological order on Muslim-Coptic relations in Egypt after the Egyptian Revolution from the Washington Post, New York Times, LA Times, Al-Ahram, Beirut Daily Star, Egyptian Independent, and other secondary sources.
    • Research and report on sources of funding for Christian-supported TV and radio programming in Egypt.
    • Assist in two inter-departmental projects (a) generating a list of Yemeni, Syrian, Tunisian, and Egyptian writers for the Political Islam project (b) researching on transitional justice in Asia-Pacific countries mainly, Cambodia, Indonesia, Solomon Islands, East Timor, South Korea, and Taiwan for the Middle East-Asia Project (MAP)
  3. Preparatory Skills: Along with the work I was assigned to by Dr. Rugh, I was also a participant of the MEI Intern Development Series (IDS). The IDS provided all interns with excellent opportunities to speak with professionals from all facets of the job market. The group of 20 or so interns would meet weekly with individuals and groups such as POMED, UNDP, Ambassador Marisa Lino, Ambassador Wendy Chamberlain, and Mehreen Farooq. Interns were also fortunate enough to have extensive resume, cover letter, and networking workshops conducted by hiring officials at MEI. Also, the flexibility of the internship enabled me to go to daily events and networking meetings in more than 15 think tanks in the course of my internship.
  4. Practical Skills: Another component of the MEI internship program that I was so grateful for were the language classes. Interns could take up to two courses, one free and another at a discounted price. At MEI, I took Egyptian Arabic classes twice a week for two months. Going abroad to get language experience was not an option for me and so this was one of the best assets from interning at MEI! The institute also offers excellent Hebrew, Persian, Turkish, Dari, Urdu, and Pashto classes.
To conclude, my experiences at Dupont Circle were all-encompassing! There is much to learn from being in a city that has a stronghold on policy-making! If you have any questions about interning in DC or the Middle East Institute, feel free to contact me at Thank you!




Thursday, August 8, 2013

Sebastien Gasquet's Blog - Post #8

Last Day!

I'm writing this right now in part to keep awake: I need to be at Kotoka International Airport at 3:30 AM to catch my flight back to Europe. I can't believe it is already time to go back home...these past 2 months have gone by like a blur! It seems like only yesterday I stepped off the plane in the dead of night to begin my Accra adventure, and yet here I am yet again (in the dead of night) ready to speed away to Geneva before heading back to Pittsburgh. Why does Royal Air Maroc have such super weird schedules in Accra??

I was sent off with nothing less than a bang. This Friday the entire office organized a going-away party complete with pizza, and I even received a present from the entire WANEP crew: a razor-sharp dress shirt with a Ghanaian motif, talk about style! I have to say though, the staff really made my relatively short stay a memorable one! Today, which turned out to be my final day of work, I witnessed a conference of the zonal coordinators and NEWS directors from WANEP offices from all across West Africa: Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Gambia,Mali, Senegal,and Cote d'Ivoire to just name a few of the represented countries whose representatives I was able to meet with
My going away party!
My going away party!
The specific theme was the combat for greater gender equality in peacebuilding activities across West Africa. The organization has a program, WIPNET, entirely designed to address the lack of women in civil society organizations dealing with conflict resolution and the roles that they can play. The conference also focused on the "early warning indicators", which I have been working on all summer, that were developed by each country and that are specifically tailored to their own national issues. For example, countries like Mali and Niger had a lot of indicators pertaining to religious extremism and the threat posed by AQIM and its affiliated militias in the Sahel. As it is a conference that spans 2 days, my one regret is that I won't be able to assist the whole thing, it definitely wasn't the stereotypical huge conference where people doze off. I'm glad the end of my internship ended on a high note though!

Yes, I definitely could have fared a lot worse when it came to finding an internship! I genuinely enjoyed my day-to-day activities, and really feel as if I come away having learned a lot about what takes to work in an international NGO. Living in Accra itself was an amazing experience as well, once you get used to its little quirks (as all major cities possess) it becomes a really fun place to discover. Don't get me wrong, Ghana definitely has its issues, most of them regarding the screaming inequalities between the rich and powerful vs. the poor, but to call the people here "welcoming" is a massive understatement. I'll kind of miss being woken up by the squadrons of insane roosters that run around the city screaming like banshees. I hope this blog conveyed some of what I felt while being here, and gave you somewhat of a picture of life and work in Accra, Ghana.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Sebastien Gasquet's Blog - Post #7

Election Monitoring

This week was my birthday, which the WANEP staff very kindly celebrated with a large office pizza and a lot of well wishes. One thing I will definitely take away from here is the very welcoming atmosphere of the office, it can really make a world of difference between just working and collecting enough hours to fulfill your internship requirement and actually enjoying the work you do. This is especially true here, as members of WANEP have not only taught me some tools of the trade but also showed me around town and the countryside. I also went that day to see "White House Down" in an Accra movie theater, which was really similar to US multiplexes, including the obnoxious food prices! The day afterwards I went out with my immediate supervisor, Edwige Mensah and her family, as well as Regional Program Coordinator Queeneth Tawo and her children. We went to this very inconspicuous beach resort which served a great kebab. I also had some guinea fowl, which I thought was pretty tough game meat, a lot tougher than chicken or anything similar. But it was great to have some fun outside of the office.

In work-related news, this was the first time that we at the Peace Monitoring Center monitored up-close the events related to an ongoing election, rather than reporting on unexpected events that had suddenly occurred. In this case we followed the unfolding legislative elections in Togo, seen as a critical step towards real democracy after 40-plus years of iron-fisted rule by the Gnassingbe family (first by Gnassingbe Eyadema, then after his death his son). Our main task was looking for and reporting the location and scale of potential conflict indicators and their capacity to disrupt the process. As of now, results are still slow to come in, although estimates are indicating a majority for the ruling party. However, the opposition may accept the results as there were relatively few disruptions reported across the country. The next few days will really tell whether this election was yet another "doped" result or one accepted by all parties. And of course, this week-end will see the first round of Mali's presidential election. After a coup d'etat, an invasion of Al-Qaeda affiliated militias and the arrival of a UN peacekeeping force, it will be interesting to say the least to watch how this one will unfold.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Sebastien Gasquet's Blog - Post #6

Catching Up

Whoops, well I kind of dropped the ball on regular updates the last couple weeks: one weekend catching some sort of flu led to another which I spent in the city of Cape Coast, which then led to the next one travelling to Lake Volta with a co-worker, Vincent, who's from the Volta region. So at least I have somewhat of an excuse. Travelling outside of Accra has been a vastly different experience from inner-city living: while Cape Coast is mostly dependent on tourism has therefore has a lot of infrastructure, I was able to stop by some tiny villages on the way to Lake Volta, where houses are constantly surrounded by wandering herds of cows, sheep and goats, which vastly outnumber the village inhabitants! Lake Volta itself is a beautiful and huge stretch of water, a lot cleaner than many places on the Atlantic coast. I was able to watch traditional boats loading and unloading cargo and passengers from ports all across the lake.

While more tourist-oriented, the trip to Cape Coast and Kakum national park were memorable for many reasons, the main one being the site of the Elmina slave castle and the infamous "Door of no return" through which slaves were herded through towards the horrors of slavery...On a lighter note, the visit to Kakum was a lot of fun, the main attraction being giant suspended bridges throughout the trees from which we could see the forest canopy

The guide explained that there were actually some big animals like elephants and monkeys down below but we couldn't see them because it was siesta time. Going between Cape Coast and Kakum I got to ride in one of the ubiquitous "tro-tro" minibuses that act as public transportation between cities, where I got a taste of a typical tro-tro" experience! On the ride to Kakum the radio was blasting Michael Jackson when I heard a loud BANG. I jumped, but the other passengers just groaned: the tell-tale sign of a flat tire. The driver kept on going till we reached a small collection of huts (not even big enough to be called a village) but where an auto-parts dealer miraculously did business. After choosing from a large pile of tires, the driver with the help of some passengers screwed on the new tire, and off we went! All in all a good tro-tro experience save that mishap and a couple of cow herds the driver swerved by!

Meanwhile at WANEP, a meeting involving the Zonal Coordinators in charge of WANEP national programs throughout the region came to the office in Accra for a briefing on some of their new duties. It was great hearing from their experiences from the field, particularly from the WANEP ZC based in...Banjul, Gambia. I don't have the faintest idea how an independent civil society organization can function in a country that is apparently being ruled by a new Idi Amin Dada, but this guy has apparently made it work, props to him

At the PMC, a keen eye is kept at the approaching elections in Mali and Togo and efforts to keep them on track...

This Friday, I was invited to attend a special session at Ghana's parliament, which was celebrating the National Peace Summit, an event that brought together the youth organizations from all political parties, representatives from the major religions, and the traditional chiefs, who still have an important role especially in Ghanaian local politics. The keynote address was given by none other than former president Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings! He emphasized the need for continued peaceful relations between the political parties, particularly as the Supreme Court case regarding the 2012 presidential election has moved into its closing phase and a time frame for a verdict is awaited, sometime around August 15th. Newspapers, radio and TV stations are all reporting the latest from the courtroom, and I have the impression people are waiting with bated breath...

Again, apologies for the late post, hopefully I'll keep more on track from here on out. Only 2 weeks left here, I'll have to allocate my time wisely!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Sebastien Gasquet's Blog - Post #5

Civil Society-con 2013

Today marks the beginning of a long weekend, as this Monday, July 1st, is Ghana's Republic Day. I also learned a cool Friday tradition in the Ghanaian workplace, as the government has been encouraging office workers to wear traditional garb. As it happened, I decided to wear a traditional shirt today, but it paled in comparison to some of the very elaborate robes and headdresses worn by many colleagues here.

This Monday during WANEP's weekly meeting I was proposed to represent the company at an annual reception of grant partners in a program called STAR-Ghana (Strengthening Transparency, Accountability and Responsiveness in Ghana), funded by USAID, UKAID, DANIDA (the Danish development agency) and the EU. The two-day conference was held at an upscale hotel in downtown Accra, and I got to experience how some important actors in the civil society "industry" in Ghana conducted their business. Among the guest speakers were members of Ghana's parliament testifying about the efforts of CSOs in their constituencies. The 4 major themes discussed revolved around health, education, oil&gas and governance. I was surprised that conflict prevention and resolution was not represented, given the fact that its become such an important component found in CSOs across the West African region. It was an interesting experience however since I got to see how these different policy fields that are so often mentioned in GSPIA unfolded in Ghana. And, of course, it was hard to complain much after a quality 4-star hotel luncheon!
To wrap up the week, I finished updating the Early Warning Network regarding incidents in the Francophone countries and reviewed a policy brief on the upcoming elections in Togo. I can't believe it's already been a month since I stepped off the plane, it still feels really fresh! I think I've gotten the basic geographic notions  and survival skills down, notably how to negotiate a non-outrageous rate with taxi drivers (one of whom had to hotwire his car to get it started instead of using the ignition, much to my concern), although the daily near crashes get my heart rate going...The rolling blackouts can be quite peeving, as I experienced a few times this week again, especially after a long day when all you want is the AC on full blast, but all in all so far so good!