About the Author: Janice Clark serves as Deputy Director of Electronic Information in the Bureau of Public Affairs.
What if you could entice high school students to form teams, learn about a foreign policy topic, engage their classmates and community, and then build a website to show what they learned? What if you then made the websites available for all the world to see, teaching millions of others around the globe about these issues? What if you could sweeten the pot with special certificates of achievement and scholarship prizes?
We’ve done it — it’s called Doors to Diplomacy. “Doors” is an online challenge that the Bureau of Public Affairs developed in partnership with Global SchoolNet. Since the contest’s inception in 2003, thousands of Doors to Diplomacy websites have been built by teams of exceptional students who find foreign policy topics interesting and view the challenge as a medium through which to speak out and change the world.
I’ve been involved in the contest since the beginning. Each year, I’m amazed by the efforts these kids expend. Many participants are already among the high achievers — involved in challenging coursework, on extracurricular teams and clubs, working in their communities. But they find the time to do this, too.
While the original goal of the contest was to gin up interest in foreign policy among tomorrow’s leaders, it also provides a forum for showcasing student talents. One year, after the winners were chosen and scholarship money was awarded, we learned that one student, an incredibly talented high school senior of modest means, assumed he would immediately go to work after graduation. The scholarship prize was just the ticket to set him on course toward an advanced degree. He was able to pursue a profession he loved and for which he had natural ability.
Another year, one team had no internet access. Determined to see the project through to completion, the students used outdated computers to write and craft their pages, while their teacher walked to an internet café to send their materials to a U.S. team with whom they collaborated so their hard work could be posted to the Web. Similar hardships challenge many teams, but they don’t let outdated hardware and limited internet access get in their way
Teams often start with modest goals, but then grow excited about the topic. Several teams have used "Doors" as a launchpad for raising money to fight hunger, homelessness, environmental degradation, and the like. While others are sleeping late and vacationing, "Doors" students use precious school breaks to build schools, plant trees, and raise international awareness.
Today, the 2009 Doors to Diplomacy contest winners were announced. Take a few minutes to see what today’s youth are doing in their spare time. I think you’ll be impressed.