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State Department Internship Filled With Opportunity, Responsibility

David Watkins’ busy summer took him from Egypt to Morocco to Washington, D.C.

Date: 2/2/2012
By: Tom Robinette Photos By: Tom Robinette
At some point in their education, most people have taken part in the time-honored tradition of passing a note. David Watkins is no different. What makes him stand out is that he recently passed a note, of sorts, to the United States Secretary of State.

The fifth-year political science and international affairs student recently completed an internship with the State Department. While working in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Office of the Coordinator of the Foreign Policy Advisor Program, he was tasked with organizing an annual orientation program for foreign policy advisers. Part of that job requires securing guest speakers – the higher profile, the better. Watkins wrote a memo and sent it up the political chain of command, inviting Sec. Hillary Clinton to speak. His internship ended before she responded, but he later found out she accepted.

Not bad for just passing a note.

Watkins was approached by political science professor Richard Harknett about applying for the internship last fall. That kicked off a whirlwind of activity that took Watkins around the globe.
David Watkins poses with his ambassador mentor, Ambassador Stuart Holliday, after Watkins completed the Council of American Ambassadors’ Walter and Leonore Annenberg Fellowship.



After applying for the State Department internship, Watkins turned his attention toward studying abroad. He’s working toward certificates in Arabic Language and Culture and Middle Eastern Studies and had previously visited Israel and the West Bank. This time he set his sights on Egypt. But his stay there was short. Arriving in January 2010, he soon had to evacuate as revolution rocked Cairo, Alexandria and cities across the African nation, leading to the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

In February, Watkins found out he’d been accepted for the State Department internship and began the lengthy process of gaining the required security clearance. While that was in the works, he traveled to Morocco to study and work on another internship with a think tank in Rabat. When he got back stateside in June, it was straight to Washington, D.C., to begin his internship with the State Department.

The Foreign Policy Advisor Program helps coordinate and promote communications between the State and Defense departments. The program also serves as a resource for foreign policy advisors, who – instead of serving at an embassy – travel to military bases and advise the commanders on political and diplomatic issues. While at that office, Watkins worked with Jerry Sullivan, Deputy Director of the Foreign Policy Advisor Program and University of Cincinnati doctoral graduate. He also sent reports on the office’s interactions to the Government Accountability Office and handled many daily issues that were of a classified nature.

The Foreign Policy Advisor Program staff is small. There’s a director, deputy director and a handful of interns. Because of this, Watkins was given some serious responsibilities – especially when neither of the directors was around.

“Some people might say that’s kind of silly for the State Department to rely on 20-somethings to run things, but in the end that’s probably the most amazing part of the internship,” Watkins said. “It’s not just an internship where you get coffee and copy papers. There are real responsibilities and real penalties if you screw up. There’s nothing when you’re walking around the halls of the State Department that screams, ‘I’m an intern.’ Your badge looks like everybody else’s.”

That wasn’t all Watkins had on his plate. On top of his work with the State Department, he also had duties for the Council of American Ambassadors’ Walter and Leonore Annenberg Fellowship. The prestigious summer program chooses six fellows out of hundreds of State Department interns and offers them mentoring from former U.S. ambassadors and practical training.

To top things off, Watkins was able to take two classes – “Comparative Economic Systems” and “U.S. Foreign Policy Process” – at Georgetown University through The Fund for American Studies’ Engalitcheff Institute on Comparative Political and Economic Systems summer program.

“I’d work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and then have class from 6 to 9 every night,” Watkins said. “I was going to bed at 10:30 p.m. all summer.”
David Watkins is a fifth-year political science and international affairs student.



Watkins was ready for the pressure. He credited his UC professors for giving him a balance of theory and real-world practicality in their teaching. The emphasis his professors placed on critical thinking allowed him to feel he was just as prepared as other interns who came from some of the most prestigious universities in the country.

“I felt I was right up there with them in my understanding of international affairs and international politics – but also in my ability to see a problem, absorb information and conceptualize a solution,” Watkins said. “If anything, I thought that I was doing better than other people were.”

Watkins anticipates graduating in spring. He’s considering Harvard, Princeton and a number of other universities for graduate school but will likely wait two to three years first. He’d like to return to Washington where he hopes to apply the global perspective he’s honed over the past year and be a part of making decisions that affect the world.

“I was sitting at a round table and there were students from Yale and Brown universities and Carleton College and ambassadors who graduated Harvard, and I’m sitting at the same table with them,” he said. “All of them had to come away thinking, ‘University of Cincinnati, we’ve never had one from there before.’ Whether it was from the fellowship with the Council of American Ambassadors or at the State Department, it was nice to represent the university.”


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