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IR’s finest garner impressive summer internships

Mention the word “internship” to undergraduate students, and they might conjure up visions of stuffing envelopes, sorting photocopies and making latte runs to the local Starbucks.

That was hardly the case for international relations major Nora Mattern ’07 of Kingston, Pa. She spent last summer working for Catholic Relief Services in the Philippines, administering microfinance loans to worthy clients.

“I often hear students whose internships consist of performing basic clerical responsibilities and refilling coffee pots,” says Mattern. “But as I reflect on my summer experience, I feel fortunate to have had such a valuable and empowering opportunity. It was exciting to be considered a ‘consultant’ by a professional staff and for my ideas to be treated with such consideration.”

Her experience in the Philippines helped hone her goal of continuing her education in graduate school.

In Lehigh’s international relations department, Mattern was hardly alone in having an exceptional internship experience. Joining her this year are students who have already secured highly coveted, extraordinary internship opportunities around the globe.

“This is the largest number of students we have ever managed to get into the State Department,” says Henri Barkey, professor of international relations who is currently on sabbatical, serving as a member of the Southeast Europe Project Board of Advisors for the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars.

Four students were accepted into State Department internships, and the one student who did decline—Josh Stiefel ’08—did so because he already accepted the outstanding internship opportunity to work with Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) on her foreign policy team.

Christine Hannon, ’09, an IR major from Somers Point, N.J., received two separate State Department offers: one for Political Military Affairs and one for the State Department Bureau of Near East Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Tunis, Tunisia. She chose the latter and will spend this summer in Tunisia primarily working in the Political Economic Section and Public Democracy.

Meredith Aach ’08, an IR/anthropology major from Montville, N.J., will be working for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) in the Western Hemisphere Section. It’s an assignment that will provide Aach, currently studying abroad in Ecuador, ample opportunity to utilize her recently acquired Spanish skills.

“I also have interest in human rights issues and international development, which directly connect to the issues that the bureau works with,” says Aach.

Joseph Guay 09’, an international relations and music major from Norwood, Mass., will be interning on the Iraq Desk in Washington D.C., serving the Bureau of North East Asian Affairs and helping manage U.S. foreign policy toward countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

Agata Strzelec, a senior IR major from Smithtown, N.Y., has a conditional offer pending from the FBI, and is waiting to receive her security clearance check for the internship. Strezlec is currently in London, working at a political consultancy firm called APCO Worldwide. If she doesn’t obtain full FBI clearance, she is considering a transfer to the firm’s office in either D.C. or New York for the summer.

“Ferocious competition for big-league internships"

“This year we have been particularly lucky,” says interim chair of the IR department, Rajan Menon. “Our department has worked hard over the years to ensure that as many of our students as possible can learn about international relations, not just in the classroom but through practical experience. Placing them in top-quality internships is one way to achieve this goal, but it takes considerable effort: there is ferocious competition for big-league internships.”

Although all of the students with exceptional internships have varied experiences, they all share the same sentiment that the opportunities afforded them through Lehigh’s highly acclaimed and respected IR department are rare and much appreciated.

The outstanding superiority of internships students acquired this year “are testaments to the quality of the students at Lehigh,” says Barkey. “I think these are some of the best internships one can have. All of them will have terrific experiences that they will take with them to their future jobs and careers.”

In Mattern’s case, a course with professor Bruce Moon exposed her to the concept of microfinance and the internship in the Philippines. Throughout her classroom experience, she was struck by the value of microfinance as a tool for addressing poverty.

“During my months in the Philippines I was able to travel to microfinance institutions within the country and speak with staff and clients there,” says Mattern. “I was able to perceive the visible impact that small loans have on individual lives in the Philippines. The contact with the clients and dedicated MFI staff members made for a truly wonderful learning experience.”

Hannon echoed Mattern’s grateful sentiment, and confidence that her internship opportunity will afford her a wealth of knowledge and experience that will help her serve the nation in a number of capacities.

Adds Menon: “We try our best to use the contacts our faculty has to obtain these internships for students; but employers won’t take on students unless the students are impressive, and ours have been.”

Menon is quick to credit the dedication of the faculty and in particular Barkey.

“But,” he adds “it is also testimony to how good our students are.”

--Lauren Hoffman

Posted on Tuesday, May 08, 2007

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