2019 Diversity Forum Grows in Size and Scope

2019 Diversity Forum Grows in Size and Scope

On Saturday, July 13, 2019, 96 multicultural students and young professionals from across the United States joined APSIA for a workshop to inspire and prepare them to seek out the field of international affairs.

Uzra Zeya, President and CEO of the Alliance for Peacebuilding and Senior Non-Resident Fellow at the Georgetown University Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, opened the day with a keynote address that was moderated by Toni Cross, APSIA’s Diversity and Inclusion Fellow.

To those who say diversity is not important in international affairs, Ms. Zeya had one simple message: “you’re wrong.”

As a first generation American, Ms. Zeya described some of the questions she faced growing up in North Carolina with ‘a name and skin tone’ like hers. Those experiences helped her find a calling building bridges through diplomacy. She mentioned strong writing skills and internship experience as tools that enabled her to get ahead professionally. She described mentors as “a hand that lifts you up and takes a chance on you.” She recommended attendees focus on finding only a few, quality mentors.

Next, Jeffrey Salaiz, Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. Department of State, moderated a panel of APSIA alumnae to explore the range of careers in international affairs. He asked Hila Hanif, Director of Afghanistan Strategy and Policy at the U.S. Department of Defense, Nicole Isaac, Senior Director for North America Policy at LinkedIn, and Maria Rendon, Global Innovation Advisor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, to describe their career path: how they became interested in their profession and what prompted them to say "I want that job!"

Each speaker shared her journey, noting successes and failures along the way. They encouraged students to remain open to new opportunities. Never stop learning, they said; be honest about what you need to be happy professionally – and don’t be afraid to pivot to get it. Set goals, but be flexible. Fake it until you make it – then, pay it forward

Speakers agreed on certain skills needed for success in the public, private, and non-profit sectors: relationship building, the ability to implement an organization’s mission and vision, budget management, and an understanding of the geopolitics.

Nineteen alumni next joined participants for small-group lunch discussions:

  • Jubail Akut, International Officer, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
  • Wardah Amir, Graduate Student, George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs
  • Adrienne Antoine, Program Manager, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Benjamin Baker, Policy Specialist, Open Society Foundations
  • Sara Bautista, Program Associate and Gender Specialist, Development Innovations Group
  • Francisco Bencosme, Asia Pacific Advocacy Manager, Amnesty International
  • Veronica Chiu, Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Graduate Fellow, U.S. Department of State
  • Manal Farah, Associate, Nathan Associates, Inc.
  • Mycal Ford, Senior Threat Finance Analyst, Sayari
  • Frantzie Saint Juste, Senior Project Manager, DAI Global
  • Shilpa Nadhan, Manager, Social Impact and Global Responsibility, Marriott International
  • Isidoro Ramirez, Alumnus, Syracuse University Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs
  • Maria Rendon, Global Innovation Advisor, U.S. Agency for International Development
  • Jeffery Salaiz, Foreign Service Officer, U.S. Department of State
  • Kirt Smith, Asia Section Research Assistant, Congressional Research Service
  • Briana Suarez, International Admissions and Operations Manager, APSIA
  • Jorhena Thomas, Instructor of Homeland Security
  • Katherine Karmen Trujillo, Deputy Director, Libraries without Borders
  • Ali Wyne, Policy Analyst, RAND Corporation

Alumni shared their personal trajectories and answered questions from attendees.

After lunch, participants separated into tracks: one for sophomores and juniors and another for seniors and young professionals.

Sophomores and juniors participated in an exercise on finding mentors and allies, moderated by Francisco Bencosme, Asia Pacific Advocacy Manager at Amnesty International, and Jorhena Thomas, an Instructor of Homeland Security. Finding mentors and allies requires both listening to others and sharing yourself, Ms. Thomas and Mr. Bencosme said. They also discussed the difference between allies and mentors. Mentors may serve as your personal Board of Directors, people you turn to for high-level, strategic guidance. Allies should be a team of knowledgeable people who provide regular support to help you reach your goals.

Sophomores and juniors also gained insights into thinking about – and being competitive for – graduate school from Laura De Olden, Associate Director of Graduate Student Life and Diversity Initiatives at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Yadira Molina, Graduate Admissions Counselor for the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs, and Beth Soboleski, Director of Admissions and Recruiting at the University of Michigan Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. Moderated by Theo Caruthers, Coordinator for Career Services and Alumni Relations at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, the session helped students see the importance of crafting their own distinct narrative now, while they are still early in their academic careers.

Seniors and young professionals listened to best practices in applying to graduate school from Sidney Jackson, Assistant Dean of Global Recruitment and Enrollment at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, Kathryn Meyer, Director of Admissions and Recruitment for the Texas A&M University Bush School of Government and Public Service, and Diane Nguyen, Senior Associate Director of Admissions at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Benjamin Baker, Policy Specialist at the Open Society Foundations, moderated an honest discussion about the nature of graduate admissions, paying for school, career prospects, and other elements that weighed heavily on those present.

Afterwards, Sharon McCoy, a Career Coach with the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs, hosted an exercise on salary negotiation. She challenged students to be confident in their skills (without being haughty). Her presentation outlined the need for research, self-reflection, and preparation. Teams of students practiced identifying leverage points they could use in a negotiation, countering offers, and securing benefits for themselves beyond salary.

To close out the day, Carmen Iezzi Mezzera, APSIA Executive Director, and Briana Suarez, APSIA International Admissions and Operations Manager, thanked attendees, sponsors, and speakers. They encouraged students to think about what's next for them and offered APSIA's assistance in the future.


APSIA’s Diversity Forum programs are made possible by many generous investors. We encourage you to learn more about their work.




Open Society Foundations

Robertson Foundation for Government