Summer program fuels passions for future policymakers
For most of her young adult life, Lamees Tanveer has actively pursued a better understanding of what it means to live in today's globalized world. Born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan, the Bryn Mawr College political science major has participated in various international conferences and workshops, including the Model United Nations. It wasn't until she spent this summer at Princeton, however, that she was able to deepen her experience and think of a future in policymaking as a distinct goal.
This summer, Tanveer was one of 34 rising seniors and one of six international students from 31 colleges and universities throughout the United States to enroll in the Public Policy and International Affairs Junior Summer Institute (JSI) held annually at Princeton by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. The seven-week program, which ran through July 29, is designed to help prepare students for graduate study and careers in public policy and international affairs.
"JSI is about learning how to transform the spirit of public service into a force that can bring change," Tanveer said. "When I read the description of the kind of applicant they were looking for, I had to apply."
For three decades, the program has invited students from around the world to participate in a wide array of coursework, field research and policy analysis with prominent leaders from public policy, government and nonprofit sectors. Students are chosen based on a demonstrated interest and commitment to cross-cultural and social issues, as well as a commitment to public service.
For Tanveer, this summer's international relations workshop -- led by former U.S. ambassador to Iceland and visiting Princeton lecturer James Gadsden -- was most exciting.
"I think that workshop best exemplifies the aims of JSI for me," Tanveer said. "The program is about two simple things: will and capacity. All of us came here with the will to change the worlds we come from. What we will take from here is the capacity to bring about that change."
The workshop culminated in two days of presentations by the students before a panel of U.S. diplomats and policy analysts, including George Bustin, a visiting lecturer at the Wilson School and senior counsel at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP; Lisa Kierans, a deputy political counselor for the U.S. Embassy in The Hague; and Michael Gallagher, a retired senior Foreign Service officer and former chargé d'affaires for the U.S. Embassy in The Hague.
"We wanted to give these students a policy workshop, which is a hands-on experience working on a real policy issue for a real client," said Melissa Lyles, the director of the graduate program office of the Wilson School who oversees the institute. "Also, they have something tangible to walk away with at the end of the summer."
Tanveer's group presented its report on U.S. and European Union cooperation against threats from failed and failing states, offering strategic policy suggestions to the panel while also receiving feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the group's approach.
"Policy workshops require writing skills, presentation skills, statistical skills -- a culmination of what they've all learned in just seven weeks," Lyles said.
Vanessa Chavez, a student from the University of California-Irvine who is majoring in international studies, said Princeton's Junior Summer Institute had been on her radar since her freshman year of college. She said she relished the chance to attend this summer in order to spend two months with students who "shared a common desire to make a profound impact on society."
In addition to the international relations workshop, Chavez also was inspired by the intercultural dimensions workshop, which included an intense breakout session called "World Café" where students were encouraged to talk frankly in a nonthreatening environment about complex issues pertaining to topics like race, privilege and international stereotypes.
"Through that workshop I was able to connect more deeply with the other fellows, and I had the chance to listen to their stories and share mine," Chavez said. "Although we didn't always share the same perspectives, I learned to listen carefully and be open to hearing points of views that were different from mine.
"I think this is an important skill in policymaking," she continued, "because it is not about who is wrong or right but about coming together and implementing policy that will impact the greater society."
Gregory Rockson, a political science major from Westminster College in Missouri, who is a native of Ghana, said he came to the Princeton program not knowing if he would attend law school after graduation or pursue a career in public policy. He now knows it's the latter.
"While all the workshops were great, I particularly enjoyed the intercultural dimensions workshop," Rockson said. "It was amazing because it gave us an opportunity to discuss some of the challenges facing minorities and what we can do to solve these problems."
For Laurence Hull, an international studies and history major from London who is attending Morehouse College, the program enabled him to focus his goals for the future and to deepen his understanding of the importance of being open to other perspectives.
"Even though I come from a truly global city and grew up in an incredibly diverse neighborhood, there are always new cultural backgrounds and experiences to learn about that inform your own perspective," he said.
Students collaborated with one another through various new media, sharing documentaries, news articles and individual reports to bring forth fresh viewpoints to their discussions. Conversations continued in less formal settings as well, Hull noted, such as in the dorms and graduate lounge.
"Because of these interactions, I have a better understanding of how psychology and public policy interact," Hull said. "It was really interesting to see how our intuition is often not the best indicator of how effective a policy is because people are truly biased toward their personal experiences and views rather than the actual facts on the ground."
Another workshop the students participated in, titled "Race, Difference and Public Policy," included a trip to Washington, D.C., with visits to the White House, the U.S. State Department and a meeting with Joshua DuBois, a member of the class of 2005, who is executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
The Princeton summer institute is part of the Public Policy and International Affairs Fellowship Program (PPIA), a national consortium of top public policy and international affairs graduate programs that prepare college students for advanced degrees and public service careers. In addition to Princeton's PPIA Junior Summer Institute, four other schools host a PPIA Summer Institute: the University of California-Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Maryland and the University of Michigan. Each student enrolled in the program is fully funded and receives financial support for all program expenses.
"My views about a career in public service have been reinforced throughout this summer," Tanveer said. "After meeting actual practitioners, from ambassadors to analysts, I know that you have to be extremely driven and self-motivated to survive in this field. At the same time, it's not often that you find people who look back at their career and say, 'I lived my dream.'"