From grounded to global

May 3, 2023

"One positive international experience can flip a switch, change a student's academic and professional trajectory. You never know what that experience might be," says Dan Ellis, assistant director of the International Policy Center (IPC). He and Zuzana Wiseley, assistant program manager of the Weiser Diplomacy Center (WDC), are the staff leads for international education at the Ford School, charged with broadening students' worldviews and helping them develop practical skills needed for international policy careers.

"We had great momentum from WDC's fall launch events in 2019," Wiseley says. "The following semester, the pandemic hit, and everything just stopped. We couldn't send students abroad for travel courses or internships, and policy leaders were not coming to campus for events. Just as we try to teach our students, we had to adapt and think critically about what to do next."

Ellis, Wiseley, and the school's international faculty rose to the challenge.

WDC scaled up alumni events, bringing in early- to mid-career alumni who provided valuable guidance to students on how to land that first job. Since 2019, the centers have hosted nearly 200 events with high-profile leaders, alumni, and diplomats. New partnerships—with the U.S. State Department, U.S.Army War College, European Union, American Academy of Diplomacy, and others—led to simulations and workshops that allowed students to practice strategic problem-solving on current issues.

Research projects that could be done remotely grew in number. In addition to student-initiated projects and Diplomacy Lab, IPC developed new remote, part-time externships and semester-long extended research projects that pair students with policy organizations. Students partnered with NASA on space policy, the Austrian government on science diplomacy, and leading NGOs on topics such as illicit mining in Colombia.

"Students can tailor their experiences to build the skills and knowledge needed for future career success," Ellis explains.

Faculty guidance and connections often deepen the student experience. WDC and Rangel Fellow Radhika Arora (MPP '23) took counsel from former Ambassador Daniel Shields and former Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, both now visiting faculty at the Ford School. Arora interacted with high-level American officials, including President Biden, during her internship with the U.S. Embassy in South Korea.

By 2022, travel had gradually resumed, but global disruptions continue. Supported by the University's Global Engagement Team, Ellis and Wiseley mitigate health and safety risks by researching countries' COVID protocols, planning for contingencies in painstaking detail, and assessing geopolitical safety.

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Despite challenges, the duo's intentional focus has led to stunning growth in the number of students engaging in internationally-focused learning outside of the classroom; it's up by around 50% since 2019.

"Our programs have evolved and grown from the disruptions in the world, and in a lot of ways have come out stronger," Wiseley says. "I love being able to help our students fulfill their goals and to help them succeed."

View photos from travel courses, research, and more.


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