On May 1, 36 advisors from 14 minority serving institutions gathered at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, CA for a workshop on engaging diverse students in the field of international affairs, as part of its on-going Diversity Forum series.

The day began with a conversation between Sophal Ear, Associate Professor of Diplomacy and World Affairs at Occidental College, and Ernest J. Wilson III, Professor of Public Diplomacy and Former Dean of the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism, moderated by Desa Philadelphia, Communication Strategist for the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Dr. Ear and Dr. Wilson discussed the importance of diverse perspectives in international affairs and decision-making. They explained the breadth of opportunities for students to find “jobs with purpose and satisfaction” in the field. Dr. Wilson encouraged students to seek “portable” skills that can transfer across the public, private, and non-profit sectors. Dr. Ear and Dr. Wilson agreed that strong communication skills, an understanding of economics, and the ability to build bridges were among needed portable skills. Dr. Wilson added that multicultural students often inherently possess some of the tools needed to succeed in today’s marketplace, such as cross-cultural adaptability, resilience, and flexibility.

Dr. Ear and Dr. Wilson both strongly encouraged advisors to learn about programs like the Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) program. Dr. Ear explains its transformative effect on his life – from “being on welfare to working on welfare policy at the World Bank” – and suggested it could do the same for their students.

 

Then, Seyron Foo, Director of Public Policy and Government Relations at the Southern California Grantmakers, moderated a conversation about the many professional opportunities in the field. APSIA alumni Shikha Bhatnagar, Executive Director of the South Asian Network, Eva Maria Chavez, Research Associate at Harder+Company Community Research, Tulani Elisa, Vice President of Social Media at FOX Entertainment, and Karlo Barrios Marcelo, Executive Advisor at Star Insights, shared their range of experiences.

Panelists described their professional journeys so far, which included time in government, non-profits, and the private sector. Their careers had brought them across the US, around the world, and back to Los Angeles. They listed skills students would need to compete: clear and concise writing, knowledge of Excel and PowerPoint, time management, professionalism, self-awareness, cross-cultural communication, and initiative.

As much as possible, students need to gain experiences through internships, volunteering, contract work, and other opportunities, panelists agreed. Challenge students not be afraid to try things, they said. Encourage them to make mistakes. Help them to recognize their value. Teach them negotiate and advocate for themselves.

Several panelists shared stories about explaining international affairs to their families, particularly those who assumed it was only for the privileged. They encouraged advisors to ask students how their families react to their international interests and to help them translate that interest into elements their families can understand and relate to. For example, Ms. Chavez explained her work in monitoring and evaluation to her mother using one of the social programs from which her mother benefits (but knew could still improve).

Whether dealing with parents, classmates, or their own expectations of themselves, panelists wanted advisors to remind their students that they do not have to do anything. They should not feel embarrassed or like they are “too late.” Ms. Elisa spoke about the opportunities across multiple sectors; the path does not have to look like the traditional ones. Mr. Marcelo expressed a similar sentiment. “Put down a new sidewalk,” he said, much as he had done through entrepreneurship. Students can forge their own path and succeed.

 

Over lunch, Josh Diosomito, Senior Homeland Security Analyst at the US Government Accountability Office facilitated a discussion on diversity, equity, and inclusion – where they overlap and how they are different. He helped participants think about the specific actions they could take to create a sense of belonging for their students. When one participant noted that she had previously assumed international affairs was not for students like hers (so they should not even try), Mr. Diosomito challenged all attendees to examine the internal biases they bring into their advising.

 

Finally, Marina Bruce, Assistant Director of Admissions and Operations at the University of California, San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy, Kohyun Choi, Assistant Director of Admissions for the University of Southern California Annenberg School Master of Public Diplomacy Program, and Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, Director of Civic Engagement at The University of Texas at Austin LBJ School of Public Affairs, offered advice on helping students think about graduate school. Moderated by Anjali Sharan, Consultant for the Asia Society Southern California, the conversation offered a look into the graduate school application process. All three speakers agreed that students must follow directions, do their research on what programs make the most sense for them, and proofread their documents before they submit them. They also discussed areas of common weakness in applications, particularly quantitative skills.

 

To close out the day APSIA Executive Director Carmen Mezzera reminded advisors that this workshop is just the beginning of their engagement with APSIA and the field. She offered APSIA’s resources and staff time to help advisors counsel students and listed many activities in which students and advisors can participate to expand their knowledge.

 

During the workshop, resources on several programs aimed at diversifying US federal service were promoted, including the Gilman Scholarship and the Pickering and Rangel Fellowship programs. Resources on the breadth of international affairs careers and the many events APSIA conducts were also shared.

 

In addition to the workshop at USC, APSIA staff visited California State University of Los Angeles, Claremont McKenna College, and Occidental College.

 

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