Student Internships: When Real World Experience Merges With Global Citizenship

4 minutes read time
The Harry S Truman Building, the headquarters of the U.S. Department of State, is pictured.
The Harry S Truman Building, the headquarters of the U.S. Department of State, is pictured.

Student Internships: When Real World Experience Merges With Global Citizenship

“Press Office, this is Zack, how can I help you?” Zackery Dean, a junior from George Mason University, answers the phone in the State Department’s Bureau of Public Affairs' Office of Press Relations. Dean, a native of King George, Maryland, is on the end of the line answering one of the hundreds of press inquiries that comes into the State Department every day. Interns hail from California to Africa to work in Washington, D.C., and embassies across the globe -- doing everything from answering routine inquiries and assisting their offices in policy review to occasionally becoming a witness to history in the making.

Nicholas Dinardo, an intern in Human Resources Student Programs Division said, “The program is one of the more unique federal agency internships because of the day-to-day work involving foreign policy, and close relationships built with foreign and civil service members.” Dinardo emphasized the level of commitment that State Department employees have in investing in the younger generation, sets the Department in a category of its own. 

The Department's internship program works to match interns with specific offices based on their chosen field of study, in order to create opportunities for interns to develop and grow. For Alexandria Natarajan, a senior at Duke University, that fit was in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs. Merging her education and experience, Natarajan reviews material and memos that come through the bureau's front office for principal approval. She said, “I get to see a wide scope of issues, in addition to working on several high-priority memos, many of which go up to the Secretary.”

Many interns apply because of their aspiration to work in public policy or diplomacy. For Zackery Dean, the internship experience “gave me the desire to pursue a career in Foreign Service, representing the United States in countries around the world.” When he’s not escorting journalists to diplomatic events, compiling research, or assisting with press briefings, Dean reflects on the excitement of his work and how it has helped clarify his hope to enter public service. He said, “Being a press officer -- even though it is stressful at times -- is incredibly rewarding and joining the Foreign Service gives me that chance to serve the country and further our foreign policy efforts around the world.”

Many interns say that being able to directly or indirectly contribute to issues of foreign policy is one of the best elements of the internship. “Sometimes, you’re working on some pretty typical items for your office,” Natarajan said. “But most days, it feels like you’re working on things that really matter to people and policy." While the internship experience can be extensive, it’s not only about the work. In Washington, the Office of Student Program hosts intern brown bag lunches throughout the summer, with this year featuring speakers from the United Kingdom Desk Officer Allyn Brooks-Lafure and China-Mongolian Desk Officer Jason Wang.

Whether you’re a high school student looking for summer employment, or a college or graduate student seeking a substantive internship supporting U.S. foreign policy, there’s no limit as to how far the opportunities can take you. The State Department Student Internship program is offered in the fall, spring, and summer. Begin your journey by finding out which program is right for you, or speaking with a Diplomat in Residence in your area about student programs with the U.S. Department of State.

About the Author: Kensi Wieland served as a summer intern in the Office of Major Events and Conferences at the U.S. Department of State.