Workshop for Diverse Students Moves Online

Workshop for Diverse Students Moves Online

From July 20 – 24, 2020, undergraduates and young professionals from across the United States joined APSIA for the Fourth Annual Diversity Forum Workshop for Students and Young Professionals. This year’s events moved online due to the COVID19 pandemic.

Throughout the week, speakers talked about the barriers they had overcome. They shared the pressures they felt from family, colleagues, and themselves. They reassured attendees with their stories and offered advice to inspire young professionals to find meaningful careers in the field

The week kicked off with a conversation between alumnae Nia Hope Bess, Vice President for Global Public Policy at JP Morgan Chase, and Yuri Unno, Director for International Trade Policy, Government, and Industry Affairs for Toyota Motor North America.  They talked about their career paths and the role of mentors in their professional development. Ms. Hope Bess and Ms. Unno also touched on the impacts of COVID19 on careers. The world is not stopping, so there are many opportunities for young people. There is a “pent-up demand for solutions,” they agreed.

Ms. Hope Bess also commented on her experience as a black woman in the public and private sectors. She said “my identify is my secret weapon.” If others make assumptions, she has the upper hand. She knows the truth. “All of you is asset,” she told participants.

The opening day also included the opportunity for students to chat informally with alumni. Sophomore and juniors had the opportunity to hear from Jubail Akut, International Officer at the US Department of Defense, and Tameeka Norton Austin, Project Operations Manager, Governance and Youth Economic Opportunities Division for RTI International. Ileana Valle, Vice President at the Equanimity Foundation, and Lauryn Williams, Policy Analyst with the US Department of Defense, spoke with seniors and young professionals. They offered advice on networking, graduate school, skills to succeed, and ways to have confidence in yourself.


On Tuesday, July 21, Bonnie Jenkins, Executive Director of the Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security and Conflict Transformation, spoke with alumna Karen Attiah, Global Opinions Editor for The Washington Post.

Ms. Attiah encouraged students to “follow curiosities.” Have questions about the world, she said. As you pursue answers, seek to understand contexts different from your own. Travel to get a new perspective. Enhance your language and geography skills. Improve your critical reading skills; ask what assumptions the author brought to a piece. Find a mentor who can help you see your place, even when you want to quit.

That afternoon, attendees again had the chance to talk with alumni in small groups. Alumnae Noémie Hailu, Program Manager for Africa at the Center for Civilians in Conflict, and Mariana Kim, Program Officer for Agricultural Development Policy at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, shared their insights with sophomores and juniors. Meanwhile, alumni Derek Hom, Threat Analyst for South and Central Asia at the US Department of State, and Evania Robles, Program Analyst in the Bureau for Africa at the US Agency for International Development, talked with seniors and young professionals. Students asked about finding a first job after undergrad, selecting the best graduate school, and skills needed for professional success.

Finally, current students from Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and the University of California, San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy guided students through an open networking session. Sabrina Andrews, Myles Davis, Murielle Munyemana , and Daron Woods also answered questions about their own graduate school and life experiences.


On Wednesday, July 22, Allyson Hill, Associate Dean of Admissions at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Ariel Matos, Associate Director of Graduate Admissions for the Princeton University School of Public and International Affairs, and José Antonio Lucero, Associate Director of the University of Washington Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, explored some of the myths and realities of applying to graduate school.

Panelists debunked ideas such as the need for perfect grades and perfect test scores to get into graduate school. They pushed back on the belief that going to graduate school makes sense when you don’t know what else to do. They talked about the many ways to pay for school without loans and numerous other myths.

Then, Fanta Traore, a Graduate Student at Yale University Jackson Institute of Global Affairs, moderated a conversation among Deanna Johnson, also a Graduate Student at Yale University Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, Ify Okpali, Academic Specialist for the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, and Chigozie Okwu, Environmental Officer at US Agency for International Development, on ways to access and afford different experiences.

Panelists listed numerous programs to help students access internships, travel abroad, language study, quantitative skills, and mentors. They explained their time in the Peace Corps Volunteers or in the Boren, Payne, Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA), and other programs. Speakers encouraged attendees to be brave and entrepreneurial. Tap into the resources that exist. When they don’t exist, create them. Learn to advocate for yourself. Ask for help when you need it, they said.

To close out the day, students split into two trainings. Simone Gbolo, Executive Director of PPIA, talked to students about building their personal Board of Directors - a community of people to listen, guide, support, sponsor, and help you stay true to living in your purpose and values. Meanwhile, Sharon Swabb, Career Coach at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, walked seniors and young professionals through a salary negotiation exercise. “Be bold and be brave,” Ms. Swabb said. You only get things if you ask.


Thursday, July 23 featured a Graduate School Fair open to prospective students worldwide. APSIA Executive Director Carmen Mezzera shared best practices in applying to graduate school with participants.

That afternoon, alumni Michael Manansala, Business Development Manager for DT Global, and Tracy Navichoque, Program Manager for the Global Digital Policy Incubator at Stanford University, offered their insights to sophomore and juniors. Alumnae Brionne Dawson, Senior Director of East and Southern Africa with the US Chamber of Commerce, and Michelle DeFreese, Senior Officer at the Global Green Growth Institute, talked with seniors and young professionals. Your ability to succeed is not determined by where you started, they agreed. Don’t be discouraged, but “doggedly pursue” your goals.


On Friday, July 24, alumni Cierra G. Saylor, a US Foreign Service Officer, and Byron L. Williams, Training Specialist with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, talked with participants about navigating their fears, going abroad, what it’s like to be the “only” in the room, imposter syndrome, and more. Build relationships by looking for points of connection with others, they said. Find mentors to help make “your path less rocky.” Do everything in excellence. Believe in yourself more than anyone else. Think about your points of leverage and distinction.

APSIA staff next shared more about the work of the organization and how they can assist students and young professionals in exploring graduate schools and careers in international affairs.

To close out the week, alumnae Majd Baniodeh, Director of Development and Strategic Initiatives for The Vida Agency, and Ana Monzon, Management Analyst with the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, challenged sophomores and juniors to say yes to the opportunities that come. “The journey matters more than perfection,” they agreed. Alumni Michael Pan, Special Advisor with the Open Society Foundations, and Saira Saeed, Senior Advisor at the US Department of State, chatted with seniors and young professionals about the difficulties of embarking on a career in international affairs without the support of family and friends and first generation graduate students. Students could visibly relate especially to Saira’s experiences of working in advocacy and making a career shift into government work in order to make more impactful change.


Participants shared how the workshop helped them grow.

“I had a very narrow list of where I could apply to work in the international affairs field. These workshops helped me realize there's so much more than what I thought initially,” said one.

“Before this, I don't know where to start looking for opportunities and was afraid to reach out,” said another. “After this forum, I learned lots of resources and gained more encouragement to be brave and step out of my comfort zone. I am more confident that everything will work out!”

“I feel alone as one of the few Black and POC students in my IR major so I was looking for people who looked like me,” offered a third. “I needed some guidance in understanding what to do next and this helped a lot.”


A copy of the workshop program can be found here.


The 2020 Diversity Forum was made possible by













University of California San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy