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
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.”