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30

SEPTEMBER 2017

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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

Special Skill Courses and Other Avenues

Another effective way to enhance the development of these

skills is through the design of special “skill” courses (one to three

credit hours). These courses are tailored to give students practical

exposure to specific skills demanded in their field and by the job

market. Examples of such courses include public speaking, brief-

ing techniques and dealing with the press and media. Skill courses

can also focus on topics such as the role of the International

Monetary Fund, development challenges in Africa, the politics of

global oil, etc.

Such courses stress case management, long-term forecasting

and financial analysis, among other things. The advantage of these

courses is that they can be added to or deleted from the curricu-

lum as events and interests change. They also enable students to

seek training or experience in an area they assess as a personal

weakness.

As the task force examined how students develop skills for

their post-graduate occupations, it was evident that many of the

skills that we had identified were, in fact, acquired outside the

classroom. Specifically, engagement in student organizations gave

students valuable experience in leadership roles, in developing

andmanaging programs and in developing interpersonal skills.

Internships are invaluable in exposing students to the workplace

environment, giving them concrete experience working with others

and establishing a work ethic of reliability, integrity andmaturity.

Volunteerism also proves highly valuable in developing key

skill sets such as understanding different cultures and navigating

environments unlike the ones with which students are famil-

iar. Civic engagement develops new perspectives and requires

patience and understanding. Study abroad is yet another experi-

ence that proves significant in developing attributes valuable to

the international field. Understanding other cultures, speaking

foreign languages and coping with the unexpected are skills

emphasized in the study abroad experience. Students today are

arguably far more engaged in both volunteer work and study

abroad than 15 to 20 years ago.

Faculty members play a key role in developing the skill sets

students need to find employment in the international workplace.

Professors who approach their jobs as academics contribute

vitally to their students’ knowledge base, which students will use

to make decisions and evaluate situations. When the United States

agreed to reflag Kuwaiti tankers, I was one of the few civilians at

the Department of Defense who understood the legal implica-

tions. My knowledge came from a grueling course in interna-

tional law. Similarly, a course in international organizations

gave me insight into the workings of the United Nations, which

proved invaluable when I served in the U.S. Mission to the United

Nations. The contributions made by the academic faculty remain

incalculable and are in no way diminished as universities move to

incorporate skill development into their curriculum.

Significantly, schools of international affairs now complement

their faculty with professionals who have practical experience in

their fields. Their role is even more important today, as schools

focus on the practical skills needed in the foreign affairs profes-

sion. At GW today, for example, there are more practitioners on

the faculty than in the past; but, more importantly, the traditional

faculty today has a much better appreciation and acceptance of

their importance and value.

These practitioners bring their real-life experiences—and an

ability to relate theoretical analysis to reality—into the classroom.

They place theory as well as historical facts into context, acknowl-

edging the impact of individuals and personalities, domestic

politics and competing national interests, etc. Yes, practitioners

have stories to tell, but the stories are illustrative, in a demonstra-

ble way, of the realities of the world in which we, as foreign affairs

professionals, operate. Students remember stories and the critical

lessons learned from those encounters.

How Well Is Academia Doing?

When we speak of teaching diplomacy, we must give due

attention to developing the skill sets that make a diplomat effec-

tive. Universities are more attentive than in the past to the need to

ensure that their graduates are prepared for the workplace—that

when they strike out into the profession they have chosen, they

have the skills that employers need.

While the “Practice Task Force” documented that faculty

already incorporate in their syllabi many of the skills identified

as vital to students interested in a diplomatic career; the task

force noted that more needs to be done. It urged faculty be more

focused on developing these skills. More specifically, the task

force called for a requirement in the undergraduate curriculum

that students take a set number of skill courses that target the skills

that the task force had identified. That leadership in schools of

international affairs is now focused on this core need is notewor-

thy. Re-engineering curriculum requirements and traditional

faculty approaches in the classroom are challenges. Change is

always a challenge.

So when students ask whether they should pursue a career in

international affairs, we don’t just respond: “Yes, there has never

been a time when it was more important for you to pursue your

dream to join the Foreign Service.” We also say: “And we will give

you the skills you need to serve America well.”

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