In this Q&A, Zoe Schenk, an international studies major graduating in summer 2021, shares her thoughts about the annual winter quarter Donald C. Hellmann Task Force Program, which she completed in March 2021. A capstone project, Task Force is required of all Jackson School international studies majors. It engages students in research, writing, teamwork and presentation skills under pressure on a pressing global issue that needs solutions.
Schenk served as the student co-editor for a Task Force titled Misinformation in Global Media: Causes, Consequences, and Accountability, which was one of the nine Task Forces this year. Each Task Force topic is tackled in teams comprised of approximately 10 to 15 students and a faculty adviser. It culminates at the end of winter quarter with Task Force Evaluation Day, when the students present their research and policy recommendations to a high-level external expert on that topic.
What has been your favorite Task Force experience? Did anything surprise you from when you first heard of the Task Force program?
Zoe Schenk: My favorite Task Force experience was getting to work with such a small group of passionate students. As a class, we had a lot of discussions about how to tackle the issue of misinformation, and I learned a lot from the other students in my class about the topics they had researched about. The experience was more work than I expected it to be, but I also think one of the most surprising aspects of the Task Force is how student-led it is. While we had an overall starting idea, Professor [Scott] Radnitz, the faculty adviser, allowed us to make this report what we wanted it to be, and so we were all able to be proud of the final product, because it felt like there was a piece of each of us in the final product.
What key skill do you think the Task Force program gives you?
Z.S.: Task Force reminded me how much I love researching and synthesizing information. As co-editor, it was my responsibility to make sure the chapters all formed a cohesive report, and so I was able to use a lot of the skills I’ve learned in my other Jackson School classes to find common threads and organize the paper into one document that made sense and represented the work all of the other students put in. One skill honed by this Task Force is the ability to take a large, seemingly overwhelming issue, and narrow it down into something manageable.
For most students, their Task Force topic is not something they are familiar with. What did you learn about misinformation?
Z.S.: Misinformation can cause so much damage to communities and individuals, and I don’t think I understood the extent to which information and how its’ spread plays a role in everyday life. Whether it be spreading pertinent information about health crises, the results of elections, climate change data, or cultural events, accurate information and a free and fair media is important to protect everyone’s human rights.
What is your advice to students interested in becoming an International Studies major at the Jackson School? In your own words, how would you promote the Task Force program?
Z.S.: This major has so many tracks, and this allows you to make it your own. If you don’t want to take a specific class, a lot of times, there are alternatives. For me, that allowed me to focus on human rights and Latin America. Task Force is another opportunity to choose your own interests, and hone your research and writing skills, while also getting to know other passionate Jackson School students at the same time.
What career are you interested in pursuing after graduation?
Z.S.: I’m hoping to go graduate school after graduation, and then looking for a career in the human rights field. I’m particularly interested in working in refugee studies and sustainable women’s development.
Anything else you would like to add about your experience in Task Force?
Z.S.: Even though this Task Force was online, I really enjoyed the experience. It wasn’t like any other class I’d been in, and it allowed me to dive deep into a really interesting topic and discuss it with a group of very smart Jackson School students.
Learn more about what happened on Task Force 2021 Evaluation Day, this year held online over several days the last week of winter quarter classes due to the pandemic.