Student Champions Brief State Department Experts on Competition-Winning Minsk Agreement Proposals

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2019 Schuman Challenge teams and judges pose for a group photo.
2019 Schuman Challenge teams, EU Delegation Officials, and DAS Fisher pose for a group photo.

Student Champions Brief State Department Experts on Competition-Winning Minsk Agreement Proposals

Each year, the European Union Delegation to the United States in Washington hosts the Schuman Challenge, an academic competition for undergraduate students from DC-area colleges and universities to prescribe a set of recommendations on an issue vital to Transatlantic security. In February 2019, 17 teams presented their well-researched proposals for the 2019 prompt: “Supplementing the Minsk agreements: Taking additional steps in support of Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.” 

Working in teams of two to three, the students developed and defended concrete recommendations to improve efforts to advance implementation of the Minsk agreements. An initial panel of judges whittled the 17 teams down to a final two: the 2018 reigning champions West Virginia University and the College of William and Mary. In the final round, a second panel of expert judges, including the former EU Ambassador to the United States David O’Sullivan and the Swedish Ambassador to the United States Karin Olofsdotter, crowned the College of William and Mary the champions. 

I was honored to join the final round of judges for this year’s challenge. It was clear each team put in weeks of preparation to craft creative and useful solutions to recommendations to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine by advancing implementation of the Minsk peace agreements. Both finalist teams impressed the judges with their innovative approaches and diplomatic demeanor. Their prescriptions to leverage a united Transatlantic front to push for Minsk implementation were spot-on and provided a fresh take on existing U.S. policy. The students’ abilities to draft, brief, and provide persuasive and thoughtful proposals mirrored some of our own officers’ best work on equally thorny issues.   

We invited the two finalist teams to the State Department to brief colleagues in the Office of Russian Affairs and the Office of Eastern European Affairs. My colleagues, policy experts steeped in years of hands-on diplomacy, were equally impressed with the teams’ projects. 

An immense thank you to the European Union Delegation for hosting the Challenge. The future looks bright for these students, and congratulations to all those who competed! We hope that more of you will participate next year, and we look forward to seeing what proposals you come up with.

About the Author: Julie Fisher serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.