Global Impact: Batten Students Bring Leadership and Policy Skills to Life in the Field

By Molly Hannon

No matter the policy field or employment sector, field-based internships challenge students to put what they’ve learned in the classroom into action, broadening perspectives and building real-life experiences along the way. This past summer, Batten undergraduate and graduate students had opportunities to put their leadership and policy knowledge to work through hands-on internships in almost every corner of the globe. Internship responsibilities ranged from learning the intricacies of a foreign press office to learning how to communicate the urgency of a humanitarian crisis to managing social media platforms for the United Nations Secretariat and more. Undaunted, Batten students navigated new languages and cultures while others enhanced their understanding of national security challenges facing the U.S., and the individual role they each have to play in confronting those challenges.

Gabby Posner (BA ‘21) and Grace Wood (BA ‘20) spent their summer in Senegal, where they conducted a research-based study on the correlation between poverty and female-headed households. Both Posner and Wood became interested in issues related to development in Africa during Batten Professor Jeannine Braithwaite’s Global Development Policy course.

Posner and Wood credit Braithwaite with helping them prepare for their summer project and Batten Professors Brian Williams and Lucy Bassett with additional guidance on how to handle sensitive field work.

“During our time at Batten we’ve learned to view each policy issue through many perspectives, which proved essential in our field work and analysis,” said Posner. “The Batten curriculum trained us to have flexible mindsets and perspectives. Without this training, we would have [probably] asserted our American perspectives on a vastly different culture and life, which would have [ultimately] compromised our data. Batten teaches us how to be a leader and at the same time, work together as a team.”

Early in their internship, both Posner and Wood often heard statements and stories that would surprise and confuse them during qualitative interviews with Senegalese sources.

“We would record our interviews, but in the beginning would often overlook certain statements or stories that would prove useful upon later review of the recordings,” said Wood.

Having become familiar with the local culture toward the end of their internship, Posner and Wood were able to more accurately decipher the responses they received during their field interviews. With its emphasis on hands-on applied work, the Batten curriculum helped Posner and Wood tackle the more difficult aspects of their projects, allowing them to connect the tools learned in the classroom with the challenges posed in the field.

This fall, Posner and Wood will continue to work with professor Braithwaite and will also have Batten Professor Bala Mulloth as a secondary advisor. They’ll present their research findings on Senegal at the Southern Economic Association Conference in Fort Lauderdale this November.

“We hope to publish our paper [Gender and Poverty in Senegal: A Quantitative & Qualitative Study] in a journal following the conference,” said Posner “Ultimately, we hope our work can be used in future development efforts for institutions like the World Bank that focus on development in Senegal.”

Approximately 12,000 miles east of Senegal, another Batten student was leveraging his own skills and knowledge gleaned in the classroom. Zach Diamond (MPP ‘20) has long had an interest in the foreign service, with a particular interest in East Asia and China, and had an opportunity to work in the press office at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

“I knew when I started the program at Batten that one of my goals was to work with the American Embassy based in China,” said Diamond.

So, when the internship opportunity arose, Diamond didn’t hesitate to apply.

“Despite my lack of experience working with the press, I became quickly fascinated by China’s own media landscape,” said Diamond. “I did have a moment a month into my internship when I realized the unique challenges the U.S. faces in conveying its messages here [China] compared to other countries. It was certainly an eye-opening experience and revealed to me the power of communication, especially in the Beijing press office.”

Diamond credits his Batten courses for preparing him to tackle the numerous writing tasks he was assigned during his internship.

“Writing skills are highly desired within the foreign service,” said Diamond, “As part of my internship, I was tasked with writing several social media campaigns and often had to edit external-facing content, all of which required writing that was short, succinct and to the point.”

Diamond, who graduated from UVA in 2017 with a bachelor’s in foreign affairs and East Asian studies, started studying Mandarin Chinese during his second year at UVA. He hopes these interests and foreign language skills will help to land him a position in China or East Asia following graduation.

“Living and working in such a different environment certainly helped widen my perspective and prepare me for challenging security issues that I’ll face in my future career,” said Diamond. “Overall, I loved my experience this summer, and could definitely see myself having a career in the foreign service — should the opportunity arise.”

Batten student Mairin Shea (BA ’20) also experienced the fast-paced work environment of a U.S. Embassy this past summer. Shea completed an eleven-week internship at the U.S. Embassy in Dublin, where she worked for the U.S. Commercial Service, the promotional arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration. Thanks to the generous support of the Frederic S. Bocock fellowship, a fund that provides financial assistance to undergraduate and graduate students interested in working for the federal government, Shea was able to accept the internship.

Shea’s internship primarily involved supporting the goals of the office to promote exports of U.S. goods and services into the Irish market and inward investment into the U.S.

“I learned about the significance of the U.S.-Ireland trade relationship, and how the Department of Commerce plays an important role in facilitating international trade,” said Shea. “I enjoyed the opportunity to work closely with dedicated professionals at the U.S. Commercial Service, and promote their mission and work through research.”

Shea’s internship was nothing short of exciting. During her 11 weeks in Dublin, she learned firsthand about the complex nature of cybersecurity policy from the assistant director for cybersecurity at the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, attended meetings about energy policy with Irish business leaders and the U.S. undersecretary of energy, and learned about the day-to-day functions of the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Commercial Service.

“It was an incredibly exciting and rewarding summer,” said Shea. “I was present for both the presidential visit, and the arrival of our new ambassador, and even had the chance to meet the Taoiseach — the Irish Prime Minister — at the Embassy’s Fourth of July event.”

Back in the U.S., Batten students Anna Haritos (MPP ‘20) and Hannah Gavin (MPP ‘20) interned at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York City.

Haritos, who is the Editor-in-Chief of the Virginia Policy Review, worked with the Secretariat in the Department of Global Communications for UN Web TV, where she was able to leverage her background in journalism and social media management.

“Over the summer I helped to oversee, monitor and publish all the meetings in the Secretariat,” said Haritos. “I also assisted in the curation of the United Nations YouTube channel and Twitter, and aided in social media upkeep and live-streaming in addition to attending editorial meetings with the news staff. There was also plenty of room to grow as a leader, and connect with lots of passionate and interesting people.”

This fall, Haritos will return to New York City to work for UN WebTV during the UN’s General Debate taking place Sept. 17-24.

Gavin, who is also a member of the UVA Humanitarian Collaborative, worked in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), to promote advocacy campaigns.

“From the bombing of civilians in Syria to severe food shortages in Somalia, my team developed innovative, impactful communications strategies to mobilize the international community to take action in some of the most pressing and neglected crises in the world today,” said Gavin.

Students affiliated with Batten’s National Security Policy Center (NSPC) also had opportunities to gain valuable experience and skills through a range of field-based internships. As part of the NSPC’s ongoing efforts to prepare students for careers in national security, the Center was also able to provide financial support to eight interns through a partnership with the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN), a program office within the Department of Defense (DoD).

NSIN matched students with defense innovation projects in Washington D.C. and Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Six students spent the summer as applied policy fellows, assigned to projects sponsored by the National Security Agency and the U.S. Marine Corps. The students produced policy recommendations and briefings on the future of artificial intelligence standards and cybersecurity training. They also had the opportunity to attend meetings and engage with high-level DoD personnel.

In addition to the six applied policy fellows, Batten student Megan Dombrowski (BA ’20), worked as an executive assistant at NSIN’s headquarters in Crystal City, Virginia.

“This summer internship provided me the unique opportunity to gain national security and DoD work experience,” said Dombrowski. “I am very excited to bring my new knowledge and experience back to UVA.”

Nick Flanagan (MPP ‘21), who was embedded with the U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, had a chance to apply his knowledge of data management to create a new database for his sponsor.

“Internships are a crucial way for students to begin the process of translating the classroom knowledge they build with us in Charlottesville into real-word experience,” said Philip Potter, Batten associate professor of politics and public policy and director of the NSPC. “It’s especially important in areas like international affairs where successfully launching a career requires both knowledge and experience. We think it’s crucial to support students as they go out and get that experience through the internship process.”