7th Annual Diversity Forum Inspires Students and Young Professionals

7th Annual Diversity Forum Inspires Students and Young Professionals

On July 15, 2023, APSIA welcomed 54 undergraduates and young professionals from varying backgrounds historically excluded from international affairs to the Seventh Annual Diversity Forum.

Carmen Iezzi Mezzera, APSIA’s Executive Director, kicked off the day with a brief welcome and overview of the workshop.

After taking a group photo, alumnae Asha Castleberry-Hernandez, US National Security Expert and co-founder of the Diversity in National Security Network (Columbia SIPA Alumna), Elizabeth Phu, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict (UCSD GPS Alumna), and Elizabeth Vasquez, President and Co-Founder of WEConnect International (Tufts Fletcher Alumna) sat with moderator Kristina Biyad, Outreach Director at ForeignPolicy for America (AU SIS Alumna) for a panel to explore their careers in international affairs.

Panelists talked about the “gratification” that comes from the work they do, especially when it combines their professional expertise and personal backgrounds. They encouraged attendees to be open to new opportunities and to challenge those who hold low expectations of them because of their race or gender. Be confident in who you are and then find sponsors who validate your expertise, they said.

The next session connected seventeen alumni with attendees for small, informal chats. Broken up among ten tables, attendees got a chance to talk through the vast career paths speakers have taken and discuss the challenges and opportunities they faced along the way. Alumni shared key insights on mentorship, ways to get ahead, the intersections of local-global issues, how diversity can be an asset, and how to succeed at their organizations.

APSIA closed out the day with a Round Robins session during which groups of attendees rotated among five topics:

  • Andrea Chang, Graduate Admissions Officer at George Washington Elliott School of International Affairs (GWU Elliott Alumna), Sidney Jackson, Assistant Dean of Global Enrollment and Recruitment at Johns Hopkins University SAIS, Melissa McGinnis, Assistant Director of Admissions at the Yale Jackson School of Global Affairs, and Michael Massad, Director of Admissions at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School, discussed factors an individual should weigh when contemplating whether to attend graduate school.
  • Lalitha Adury, Chief of Staff and Policy Planning Staff at the US Department of State (Tufts Fletcher Alumna), Dineo Brinson, Academic Exchange Specialist for Fulbright with the US Department of State (Georgetown SFS Alumna), and Rene Rosas Escalona, Foreign Service Officer with the US Agency for International Development (Michigan Ford School Alumnus) shared tips for getting international experience through jobs, internships, and fellowships abroad, locally, and online.
  • Bunmi Akinnusotu, Director of City Innovation at the Aspen Institute (Columbia SIPA Alumna), Hadeil Ali, Director of the Diversity and Leadership in International Affairs Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (Georgetown SFS Alumna), and Hardeep Chowdharry, Career Services and Alumni Relations Coordinator at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, discussed how attendees can channel their interests into a career.
  • Jesús Alejandre Fernández, Associate Director of Global Events at the Atlantic Council (USC Master of Public Diplomacy Alumnus), Danica R. Starks, Head of the Multilateral Development Bank Group at the US Department of Commerce (Johns Hopkins SAIS Alumna) and Simone Williams, Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs (AU SIS Alumna) offered tips and advice on how to navigate workplaces authentically.
  • Dana Banks, Senior Advisor to the US-Africa Business Center at the US Chamber of Commerce (Syracuse Maxwell Alumna), Francisco Bencosme, Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau at the US Department of State (Georgetown SFS Alumnus), Barbara Hampton, Director of the Graduate Career Development at Princeton University's School of Public and International Affairs, and Sahil Jain, Special Assistant at The White House (GWU ESIA Alumnus) provided tips and tricks for effective networking.

Attendees had great things to say about the day. “I feel more confident in my pursuit towards a career in public service,” said one student from Minnesota. One young professional noted “I learned a lot and I'm grateful for the connections made.“ A student from the University of North Georgia agreed “This was one my first times going to an event like this, so thank you for the opportunity to connect with like minded individuals!”

Alumni enjoyed the experience, too. “It was so incredible to see how driven and accomplished these students and young professionals [were]…The future of international affairs spaces/leadership will include more historically underrepresented individuals and the attendees of the forum reassured me that,” wrote Jesús Alejandre Fernández.


The 2023 Diversity Forum is made possible by many generous supporters:






















  • Global Access Pipeline – www. globalaccesspipeline.org
  • Syracuse University Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs - www.maxwell.syr.edu
  • University of Texas at Austin Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs- lbj.utexas.edu
  • The Volcker Alliance - www.volckeralliance.org
  • Women in International Trade - www.wiit.org



  • Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Foreign Policy for America