From Durham to DC to South Africa: Sanford Undergrads Take On the Policy World

Dan Forti PPS’12 is originally from New York City, but for the past few years, he has focused his policy sights on African issues and politics. His interest in the region grew out of a summer volunteer program in Tanzania and a Sanford class he took on conflict analysis in Africa.

“Those two experiences changed everything for me,” says Forti. The senior public policy major and African and African Studies minor geared the rest of his coursework and research towards African issues and chose to immerse himself on a semester-long study abroad trip to Durban, South Africa, in the fall of 2010. The opportunity ultimately landed him a summer internship with the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD), a group that helps to bring an African perspective to problems of conflict and violence on the continent.

In his internship, Forti participated in a variety of research projects, including working with one of ACCORD’s senior researchers to co-author a book chapter. The project allowed Forti to use his knowledge of African cultural issues and politics to suggest ways to use the youth as stakeholders to help promote safety in urban slums and prevent conflict in Kenya..

Forti’s work was also used heavily in a speech given by the director of ACCORD to the country’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation. Forti felt thrilled to be able to work with such an influential organization that reaches so many sectors of the population, government and civil society.  His summer experiences also are informing his PPS honors thesis on reconceptualizing the concept of state failure and secession movements in Africa, using Somaliland as a counterpoint and model for the rest of the country.

All public policy students are required to complete a summer internship, to apply what they learn in the classroom to a real life environment. While Forti and other students traveled abroad, many of Sanford’s undergraduates  interned in a variety of domestic organizations, including Vice President Joe Biden’s Office at the White House, Amnesty International in New York City, the Exoneration Project in Chicago, Get Smart Schools in Denver and Partnership for a Healthier America in D.C.

For Michelle Lu PPS’12 spent her summer in Washington, D.C. with the United Nations Information Center. The senior public policy and Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Double Major. On why she chose this particular opportunity, she stated that “D.C. is the epicenter for global decision making and I wanted to be a part of such a dynamic environment.”

Lu’s work as an international affairs intern took her to all corners of the city, from her office downtown where she compiled statistics on the UN’s humanitarian efforts in Libya and Haiti, to events at organizations like the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Brookings Institution, to Capitol Hill for Senate and House hearings on the mark-up of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act. The office also supported high-level visitors from headquarters and field offices around the world. Lu got to experience this first hand when she met UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at an intern event.

(Michelle Lu, right, with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, center)

For most undergraduates, the highlight of any internship is being able to immerse themselves in the policy and political world, and appreciate the complexity of trying to solve society’s most critical problems. After graduation, Forti will be heading back to Durban, South Africa to rejoin ACCORD as a full-time research assistant.

“I really believe in the mission of this organization to provide an African context to understanding and solving these problems. I loved working in and learning about that context, and I’m excited to bring my perspective to the exchange of ideas in the future.”

When asked about the highlight of her internship, Lu joked, “General Petraeus said ‘Hi’ to me in the hallway!…it just goes to show you never know what can happen in Washington, D.C.”