Action-Oriented Internship Prepares Student for Real-World Situations

Hatton Sumners Scholarship recipient, Hunter Kolon, describes her time interning at the US Department of State in Washington, D.C. The scholarship supports students with interests in diplomacy and international affairs, which Hunter applied to her summer internship. As a senior pursuing a degree in Human Rights and Political Science on the Pre-Law track with minors in Public Policy & International Affairs, and Spanish, this internship provided unparalleled exposure to real-world situations.

This summer, I had the privilege of interning at the US Department of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL). DRL’s mission is to promote democracy and respect for human rights, based on international standards and universal aspirations, often acting as the “conscience of the Department.” I served in the Office of Global Programming (GP), which administers hundreds of millions of dollars of program assistance annually that support civil society organizations around the world that seek to strengthen democratic institutions and advance human rights.

During my internship, I helped with the internal review process of federal grant applications for global projects. This process included evaluating the quality of many project proposals and their relevance to US policy priorities. After proposals went through the internal vetting process, I was responsible for initiating budget negotiations with our chosen partner organizations. The last step of this process included corresponding with offices and bureaus throughout the Department to solicit feedback, compile edits, and obtain clearances on several Congressional funding notifications and a report to Congress.

Working with GP is different from working in any other office in the Department because of its purely programmatic focus. I loved how action-oriented the work was and how the impact of that work is tangible and measurable. Since GP’s funding is mandated by Congress, the projects and programs transcend changes in administration, allowing the work to be consistent and the impact to be long-lasting.

The work was always interesting and my role changed every day. Each week, I represented the office in meetings and prepared readouts on issues relevant to programming goals, exposing me to issues in regions I had never worked on or studied before. I also had the opportunity to explore my interest in transitional justice and to learn much about how international actors like the US State Department can empower local stakeholders to pursue truth, justice, and reparation measures in their communities.

Interning with GP gave me a deeper understanding of the Department’s human rights empowerment and its support of locally-owned programs around the world. My time at DRL increased my interest in and knowledge of transitional justice issues and gave me the confidence to pursue working in the field. Finally, the most impactful part of my summer were the mentors and friends I made at the State Department. I was so inspired by my colleagues’ commitment to serving our country and their willingness to take time out of their day to help guide me. A State Department Internship allowed me to build my network as a young professional and provided me the responsibility, skills, and experience to jump start my pursuit of post-graduate options.

If you would like an opportunity to study abroad, go here to learn more about scholarships and fellowships available to SMU students.