The Foreign Service Journal - September 2017
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the drafting of shorter papers, akin to “action memos” in the State

Department. Concise and succinct drafting with well-focused

options and recommendations is a particularly valuable skill in

government, as well as in the private sector.

Group Exercises and Scenarios

Group exercises develop interpersonal skills and the abil-

ity to work in a group setting. Success requires leadership and

an ability to evaluate other views. It also requires discipline. In

one of my classes, I divide students into eight working groups.

Each group must prepare a presentation for the class on one

country in the Persian Gulf. The groups have a finite amount of

time during which they are to cover all aspects of that country’s

domestic and foreign policy, as well as its relationship with the

United States. It is a challenge and forces the group to be well-

organized, disciplined with their time and succinct.

Individual class presentations, if properly structured,

enhance briefing skills—another important attribute that

employers often find to be weak in applicants. Time-limited pre-

sentations on complex topics replicate the reality of the Foreign

Service workplace. The ultimate accomplishment is enhanced

student confidence in his or her ability to brief and to speak


Another important technique is the use of scenarios or crisis

exercises. In my course on the role of an embassy in the con-

duct of foreign policy, I assign each student to a position on my

country team. In the crisis scenario I feed the students data,

which they report to the country team. As in real life, some of

the information they receive is at variance with that from other

sources. In some cases the source itself is questionable. The team

must then analyze what they know and make assessments as to

what they believe are the facts.

They then have to determine what recommendations they

will make to Washington, and why. Inevitably there is much

debate and, often, dispute—exactly as in real life. In this course,

each student is paired with a Foreign Service officer who has

served in the same capacity as the student’s role on my country

team. The value of this additional ingredient is obvious. The

students gain a practical understanding of their responsibilities

and role in a crisis and, importantly, they develop a relationship

with a real practitioner.

While this idea may seem a luxury available only at universi-

ties located in the Washington, D.C., area, there are, in fact, FS

retirees around the country, as well as active-duty officers in

Washington, who are able and willing to engage with students by

phone or email, if not in person.