Bridging undergraduate and graduate research with international organizations and study abroad opportunities, the Institute for the Theory & Practice of International Relations Summer Fellows Program sent 21 students to 11 countries this past summer in its second year as a program through the College of William and Mary.
“The biggest difference was our expansion to 21 students in 11 countries, up from four students in 2017,” Assistant Director of Programs for ITPIR Rebecca Halleran Latourell said in an email. “The Robert and Susan Trice International Fellowship Endowment provides the core funding for our program and in summer 2018, the Trice’s investment in our program catalyzed additional support from W&M researchers, the Charles Center and academic departments including Government, Public Policy and International Relations. This support enabled us to significantly increase the number of Fellowships we offered.”
The program aims to provide students with a unique opportunity to devote their efforts toward solving real world problems while implementing research in the field.
“The Institute empowers teams of students and faculty to make a difference in the world,” Halleran Latourell said in an email. “We are a multidisciplinary hub that brings academic and policy experts together with students to apply scholarly research to real world problems. … The Summer Fellows Program affords globally-minded students who want real-world impact the opportunity to go beyond the classroom and participate in transformative skill-building opportunities, research experiences and research partnerships.”
This summer, the program saw a wide variety of project types, placing students on regional-specific projects all over the globe.
“Our Fellows worked on a wide range of projects this summer, a reflection of the increased cohort size and the diversity of placements,” Halleran Latourell said in an email. “In 2018, projects included a dataset on Indonesian electoral outcomes, an evaluation of the Monrovia Football Academy, a white paper on applications of blockchain technology for Korean reunification through reforestation, a set of data governance policies for a new geospatial platform within a UN agency and a randomized controlled trial on community policing and public trust in Colombia.”
John Napoli’s ’20 fellowship took him to Singapore this summer. Napoli served as a business analyst intern at Cummins Inc. With a team of other interns from various universities, he worked on a variety of assignments, including overseeing corporate responsibility projects and working to plan events and workshops with local schools and company members.
“It was a cool cultural immersion into a business that was situated in Singapore,” Napoli said. “I did research on competitors’ products, I also looked at and presented on perhaps introducing a new product into Malaysian markets for remanufactured engines. … And then I also came up with criteria and a list of potentially dormant customers within Singapore that we could target and reactive for engine sales.”
Lauren Hobbs ’19 traveled to Italy over the summer to work for United Nations’ International Fund for Agricultural Development as a part of their Information and Communications Technology Geospatial Solutions team. Hobbs said she was able to contribute to the project in substantial ways, and that she is grateful that the hands-on experience has prepared her for the workforce.
“This program was very helpful to me because it connected me with a United Nations agency which allowed me to use my skillset for the greater good,” Hobbs said in an email. “I am very appreciative that the Geospatial Solutions team allowed me to operate in a large role this summer. The other fellow and I did not do traditional intern tasks. We did not make copies or get coffee for people, but we conducted geospatial analyses, consulted with the Research and Impact Assessment division, provided our opinions during divisional meeting and presented our findings to department heads. From this program I became more eager to learn, gained great technical and professional skills and gained more insight as to what I would like to do post-graduation.”
As a summer fellow, Suzie Bae ’21 worked at Village Focus International, a development organization based in Vientiane, Laos.
“I worked on a variety of things, but my main project was on VFI’s data platform, Open Development Laos,” Bae said in an email. “Because the platform had only launched two weeks prior to my arrival, it was fairly bare bones during my first few days there. To boost audience engagement, I conducted research on the state of sustainable development goals and other relevant development issues in the country, producing a weekly content piece and data visualizations.”
Bae believes the Summer Fellows Program is unlike other opportunities because it fosters cultural immersion.
“There are few programs that give students the chance to tackle real-world issues in a tangible and contextually fitting way, especially while providing generous financial support,” Bae said in an email. “The program differs from most study abroad and travel excursions because when you arrive in your assigned country, you’re not seen as a tourist or guest — you work, eat and play with locals and dive head-first into the country’s culture.”
Bae was abroad for two and a half months and said that she found the fellowship informative on both a personal and professional level.
“The summer program was valuable in so many ways — from both a personal and work-related standpoint,” Bae said in an email. “It gave me the chance to work and become friends with some of the most brilliant people Vientiane has to offer. It pushed me to reflect on the type of work setting I thrive in and the type of work that drives me as a person. It also gave me the opportunity to travel to two other countries outside of Laos and gain a better understanding of the state of development in Southeast Asia — not just the Western perception of what countries like Laos need to survive and better themselves. … The program makes you realize that regardless of where people are in the world, they all genuinely want the same things — clean water, good education and stable infrastructure, just to name a few.”
When it comes to the future of the Summer Fellows Program, Halleran Latourell said she is hopeful in continuing to provide a wide range of fellowship placements that appeal to students from diverse backgrounds, with diverse interests and skillsets. However, Halleran Latourell also said that the program needs to flesh out their pre-fellowship training in cross-cultural communication before the students head overseas.
“… Based on feedback we received from Fellows, I’d like to work with other units on campus to build out a pre-Fellowship training in cross-cultural communication,” Halleran Latourell said in an email. “And we’re fine-tuning our application process to ensure Fellows arrive in-country with strong, relevant scopes of work. The placements are dynamic, which means we need to be nimble and flexible so that both sides gain the maximum possible benefit.”