From July 19 – 23, 2021, APSIA hosted its 5th Annual Diversity Forum for Students and Young Professionals, welcoming over 100 attendees from backgrounds historically excluded from international affairs. Created in 2017, the Diversity Forum seeks to inspire and better equip students and young professionals who are traditionally underrepresented in the field to seek out careers in international affairs.
Full recordings of the week can be found on APSIA’s YouTube page.
Students and young professionals from throughout the U.S. joined six timely and informative sessions. Speakers dispelled myths around ‘what counts’ in developing a unique profile as a student or professional, provided helpful advice on how to enter the field, and explained how to leverage existing resources to become competitive candidates for a variety of opportunities. Participants freely posed questions to the panelists, APSIA alumni, and current APSIA students.
On Monday, July 19, attendees were presented with a snapshot of careers in International Affairs by moderator Natascha F. Saunders, Associate Director Career Services at the Harvard Kennedy School. Panelists Sarah Jackson, Vice President for Strategy and Public Affairs at Dallas Citizens Council, Melanie Kawano-Chiu, Evaluation and Learning Manager at the Disability Rights Fund, and Kezia McKeague, Director for Brazil and the Southern Cone at McLarty Associates, discussed their career paths.
The panelists described the importance of pursuing individual interests and how opportunities follow once talents are honed. Pursue your passion instead of striving to be the ‘perfect candidate,’ they said. When asked what skills the next generation of leaders need in their toolkit, panelists pointed to intangible skills like critical thinking, problems solving, emotional intelligence, and how to lead and work in a team. Panelists also offered suggestions on how to develop these skills in their daily lives, such as communicating with family members or among peers.
On Tuesday, July 20, participants had the opportunity to hear from distinguished APSIA alumni in an open conversation. Panelists described what skills have been the most useful to them throughout their careers and what key experiences they found beneficial to their personal and professional growth.
Alumni Tiffany Chan, Co-Founder at Hillhouse Analytics, Lance Devreaux Jackson, Foreign Affairs Specialist at the East-West Center, Sabiha Khan, Government Relations Associate for Refugees International, and Rachel Macauley, Impact Investing Associate at Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, talked about getting creative to find solutions when resource constrained and how they turned a failure into something positive.
Also on Tuesday, July 20, alumni Kirt Smith, Foreign Affairs Research Assistant at the Congressional Research Service, and Terry Thornton, Vice President, ESG Education at Moody’s, talked about build the confidence to compete for professional and educational opportunities. Moderator Marina Baeza Bruce, Assistant Director of Admissions and Operations for the University of California, San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy, led the conversation.
Panelists emphasized the significance of being “comfortable with discomfort” as a key aspect of personal growth. They also talked about the importance of seeking feedback and constructive criticism. Participants were also encouraged to seek mentors, even in unlikely places, and were reminded of the value of finding opportunities through the networks one already has.
On Wednesday, July 21, Allyson Hill, Associate Dean of Admissions for the University of Southern California Master of Public Diplomacy Program, Ariel Matos, Associate Director of Graduate Admissions at Princeton University School of Public and International Affairs, and José Antonio Lucero, Chair of Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the University of Washington Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, dispelled some of the myths and described the realities surrounding applying to (and thriving in) graduate school.
Panelists tackled the misperception of what someone working in the field of International Affairs looks like. They described the increasing diversity of professionals in the field and emphasized how important it is for participants to explain how their unique perspective contributes to the work. Participants walked away with a greater understanding of what admissions teams are looking for in candidates, as well as a sense of what funding opportunities exist for financing graduate school.
On Thursday, July 22, participants joined APSIA for their Online Graduate School Fair. Then, they had the opportunity to chat informally with current APSIA students attending the American University School of International Service, Hertie School, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and the University of Michigan Ford School of Public Policy. Participants posed specified questions on admissions processes, funding opportunities, study abroad experiences, and tips on developing a community of supporters in a new environment.
Finally, on Friday, July 23, alumni James Chan, Florida State Director for State Innovation Exchange, and Amber Demery, National Security Analyst at the US Government, and moderator Sean Williams, Assistant Director of Career Services at Tufts University Fletcher School, provided insights on how to frame a narrative to be competitive for funding opportunities.
Panelists advised attendees not to shy away from their weaknesses; include them when expressing interest in a work or educational opportunity in order to show how that opportunity can develop those areas. When asked how to better stand out as an applicant, panelists emphasized highlighting leadership experience and showcasing determination and perseverance.
Throughout the week, speakers were candid about the challenges and failures they’ve experienced in their careers, while reminding participants that – by trying new things – they gained new skills. By pursuing their passions and competing for opportunities, young professionals too can reach positions of influence where they can make a difference for themselves and their communities.
The 2021 Diversity Forum is made possible by many generous supporters, including
- American University School of International Service
- Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs
- Robertson Foundation for Government
- Tufts University Fletcher School
- University of California, San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy
- University of Denver Josef Korbel School of International Studies
- University of Michigan Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy
- University of Minnesota Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs
- University of Texas at Austin Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs
- Yale University Jackson Institute for Global Affairs