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Research, write, present: A Task Force winter capstone on pressing global issues

March 21, 2024

While the first week of March signals the near end of winter quarter, to 50 undergrads in the Jackson School’s Donald C. Hellmann Task Force Program this year it meant the beginning of their global policymaking solutions being heard, questioned and analyzed by former U.S. Ambassadors, a UNICEF expert on global disabilities, an award-winning Canadian author who served as the first chairman of the Canadian Polar Commission and as the executive director of the national Inuit organization.

It was all part of Task Force, founded in 1983 by Jackson School Professor Emeritus Donald C. Hellmann, a student-led experiential learning experience guided by faculty that engages students in research, writing, teamwork, and presentation skills under pressure. Held in winter and spring quarters, the eight weeks of research and writing on a global pressing topic culminates in a presentation to external evaluators who are foreign policy and subject matter experts.

This year, over four days between March 1 and 8, 2024, the students, the majority of whom are international studies and global and regional studies seniors, as well as several juniors and two other Arts & Sciences majors, presented on topics ranging from the impact of climate change in the Arctic and Arctic international policy on Indigenous communities to the need for more research and action points on climate issues affecting young people with disabilities to global perspectives on U.S. relations with the Indo-Pacific region to the sensitive relationship among Taiwan, the U.S. and China.

Task Force Winter 2024 Topics:

Task Force Winter 2024 Evaluators:

  • Whit Fraser, Viceregal Consort of Canada
  • Bonnie Glaser, Managing Director, Indo-Pacific Program, German Marshall Fund
  • Kirstin Lange, Programme Specialist (Disability Inclusive Humanitarian Action), UNICEF
  • Scot Marciel, Oksenberg-Rohlen Fellow, Freeman Spogli Institute, Stanford University and former U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia and to Myanmar and a Senior Career Foreign Service Officer

The external evaluators, who joined via Zoom or in-person from across North America and Europe, provided feedback to their Task Force group, which had 10-14 students per topic, on their oral and written presentations in format and content, probing the students about their research methodologies and conclusions, and sharing real-life scenarios and considerations that go into policy decision-making whether as a diplomat or as a humanitarian organization.

“My favorite Task Force experience by far has been having the opportunity to present eight weeks of our hard work to an expert in our topic,” said Jack Grenda, a global and regional studies major in the Task Force on global perspectives of U.S. policy toward the Indo-Pacific. “We had the amazing opportunity to deliver a two-hour long presentation and subsequent question and answer session to former U.S. Ambassador Scot Marciel, who had served as Ambassador to some of the same nations that we covered in our Task Force report and its policy recommendations.”

Learning lifelong skills
“What I took away from the program was the ability to work with a team, have better time management, take initiative, take critiques in the process, and educate myself in various areas of topic in such a short amount of time,” said Jennifer Swisher, a senior majoring in Global and Regional Studies with a minor in Japanese in the Task Force that produced a report titled “WE ARE NOT INVISIBLE: The Impacts of Climate Change on Young Persons with Disabilities.”

“With these skills gained, I can see myself feeling more confident when entering future workplaces as I can now say I have been through a challenging and fast-paced environment,” she added.

For Grace Ginther, a global and regional studies major graduating this spring, her Task Force on Taiwan and U.S.-China Relations report project taught her how to be patient to achieve a long-term goal as “it took a lot of revising and editing which was so worth it in the end.”

“I think that Task Force has given me better skills of collaboration, research, and writing,” she said. “I especially think the skill of collaboration has been very important and my group did an excellent job of dividing up work and peer editing each other’s writing.”

Rhosie Hipolito, a junior in global and regional studies in the Task Force on Taiwan and U.S.-China Relations, reflected that due to the time constraints of the Task Force program, she learned the importance and the utilization of time management. “Every week, you must get your draft which contains roughly 5-10 pages of information. The first week of writing is especially daunting because you need to get a basic understanding of the whole topic while becoming more knowledgeable in your specific subsection.”

An immersive study abroad week in Ottawa 
For 14 students, their Task Force Indigenous and International Relations in a Warming Arctic included a one-week research trip to Canada’s capital, Ottawa, to deepen experience and engagement in Arctic policy. While experiencing Ottawa, they received an Indigenous tour of the city and met with Arctic Embassy officials, Inuit organizations, federal departments, and leaders in Arctic studies.

“I am so grateful for the professional opportunities that I had on the Ottawa trip, I got to network with people in my future career field and got some real-world experience along the way,” said Olivia Myhre, a double-major in Law, Societies, Justice and English with minors in Human Rights and International Studies. “Not only that, the people whom we interviewed helped shape the framing of my chapter significantly and increased my confidence in my subject matter. Because of this, I felt much more confident about my abilities in a professional setting. I will definitely cherish my time in Ottawa.”

For Nicolas Meljac, a global and regional studies major with a minor in geography who also participated in the Task Force that included the study tour in Ottawa, it was being able to meet groups related to the Task Force report helped connect the topic and research more effectively to the final paper.

“It also helped create cohesion within the team, as it was a really good bonding experience, and I definitely feel like I know my group members better now, which makes it easier to make a cohesive group report,” he said.

A course for career impact
“The Task Force program has given me more interest in learning about the East-Asian and Pacific region as these issues are not easy to solve,” said Hipolito, who is interested in pursuing the Foreign Service and possibly participating in research pertaining to U.S. international relations. “They [the issues] make you think of creative, practical solutions to these issues.”

Following the Task Force experience, Swisher says she is intrigued with public sector work and intends to go to graduate school for public administration or public relations. She hopes to be in a role where she “will be part of policy/decision making for the bettering of communities locally, nationwide, or globally.”

Ginther’s advice to prospective students interested in majoring in international studies at the Jackson School? “I have learned so much during my time as an international studies major,” she said. “There are many niche subjects within international studies and by taking a diverse range of classes you can figure out what you are passionate about. This will also help when choosing a Task Force project because the Jackson School offers a range of different options to choose from.”

Grenda hopes to work in federal law enforcement, the intelligence community, or another related government agency or private firm. “The Global and Regional Studies program has aligned in the perfect way with my career ambitions, and the opportunities to take exciting and diverse coursework, such as Task Force, are ways that I know will make my resume stick out when it is time to apply for work post-grad. The Task Force program has been an extremely rewarding program to me and my peers, and I really could not recommend it enough.”