What would you say to a White House and Russia Bureau Chief CNN correspondent about the dilemma news stations face in gaining trust from the public in the new digital age of misinformation? What policy recommendations would you share with a three-star U.S. Army general in a two hour conversation on avoiding a nuclear war with North Korea? Or the value of hemp as a sustainable agricultural commodity to a former U.S. Vice Presidential candidate and national and global Native American leader?
On Friday, March 9, this became a reality for 135 Jackson School international studies seniors and a few Departmental Honors students in their junior year. Called Task Force Day, the students in groups of 10 make the case for their foreign policy recommendations on a pressing global issue to high-level officials. This year evaluators included ambassadors, a global NGO Native American activist, a senior-level CNN commentator, a think tank director of publications, the head of cybersecurity policy at Microsoft, and even a deputy assistant secretary general of NATO and a UK parliamentarian.
These are formal presentations, with a research report, Task Force summary posters and workshops in public speaking done in preparation for briefing the external evaluators, who travel to Task Force Day from the region, across the country and abroad.
For Danica Person, who is planning on entering the Peace Corps following graduation, the experience deepened her commitment to human rights and development field: “We were all nervous on the day [of Task Force presentations]. But having Ambassador James Kunder here and his enthusiasm and input into all of this work we put weeks into was an important factor of giving the presentation because it was a way for someone outside of our work that we would want to have.”
Task Force Topics in 2018:
- North Korean Nuclear Crisis: Understanding the Threat, Avoiding War, Crafting Future Options
- The Global Implications of Populism on Democracy
- Positioning Washington state in the NewSpace Race
- Hemp as a Sustainable Agricultural Commodity: Tools and Recommendations for Hemp Farming and Sovereign Native American Tribes
- Germany and the Baltic Sea Region: Proposals for the New Federal Government
- The Future of U.S. Immigration Policy: Addressing and Improving the Current System
- The New State of the News: Confronting Misinformation in the Digital Age
- The Future of U.S. Foreign Aid: Comparisons and Recommendations
- NATO and Russia: Strengthening the Alliance and Improving Resilience (Task Force in Rome)
- Brexit: How to Shape Britain’s New Relationship with the European Union (Task Force in Rome)
One group of Task Force students and their instructor, Jackson School and UW Marine Sciences Professor Patrick Christie, took their research on hemp as a sustainable agriculture commodity for sovereign Native American tribes, into the community.
“Our Task Force was slightly different: our evaluator, [Indigenous scholar and environmental leader] Winona LaDuke, challenged myself and my 10 amazing classmates to examine how the use of hemp can help support the creation of post-petroleum economies,” said Cassie Lynch to an audience of over 300 media, UW community, advocacy groups and the public on Saturday, March 10.
The event, organized by the Task Force students in partnership with Jackson School Title VI Centers for Global Studies and Canadian Studies, the UW College of the Environment, and the Nippon Foundation/Nereus Program, was held at UW wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ Intellectual House and featured a keynote address by Winona LaDuke who spoke on environmental protection in Native American sovereign lands.
“We responded by creating several tools Ms. LaDuke can use for her hemp heritage farm in Minnesota: an in-depth academic research report with examples and interviews from hemp farms and entrepreneurs; an education curriculum for communities and farmers alike; and, an annotated bibliography that can used for further inquires on hemp and its applications on sustainable agriculture.”
In concluding, Lynch said: “Our Task Force created real and important work. More importantly, we were able to assemble a product to help support the mission of an outstanding activist role model, Winona LaDuke.”
Making professional connections
“Our Task Force on populism was really heavily based on a client relationship with a non-governmental organization,” said Isabella Brown, who graduates at the end of winter 2018, following her evaluation by a senior-level director at Freedom House, a think tank NGO based in D.C., New York and abroad. “We learned a business professional relationship with a client and how to model our research and work based on the needs and expectations of an outside source. This was a really great way to gain professional experience.”
Her evaluator, New York-based Freedom House Head of Global Publications Sarah Repucci, agreed. “I was really impressed with caliber of the students and their ability to answer questions in a thoughtful and professional way. For undergraduates, the level was really impressive; that’s great on our end because it means we’re getting entry-level people with relevant skill sets.
Task Force 2018 External Evaluators:
- Jill Dougherty, former White House Correspondent and Moscow Bureau Chief, CNN
- Elizabeth Ferris, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution
- Doug King, former President, Museum of Flight
- James Kunder, former Deputy Administrator, USAIS
- Winona LaDuke, Executive Director of Honor the Earth
- Joe Landon, Chairman of the Board, Space Angels
- Lieutenant General Stephen R. Lanza (ret.)
- John Manza, Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Operations, NATO
- Thomas Mattusek, former Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations
- Gus Miller, Supplier Management, Blue Origin
- Jan Neutze, Director of Cybersecurity Policy, Microsoft Trustworthy Computing
- James Plaskitt, former Labour MP and Minister in the Governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown
- Sarah Repucci, Senior Director of Global Publications, Freedom House
- Jason Thibedeau, Manager for Puget Sound Regional Council, Principal Economic Development
Former acting deputy director of USAID James Kunder, who evaluated Task Force: The Future of U.S. Foreign Aid, gives his impressions on the skill sets students learn in Task Force: “Doing good research on complex topics. And the importance of melding high level policy with the operational aspects of implementing a program with real people in real places in the field. I thought the students came up with very useful concrete recommendations that mesh with reality.”
“I think it’s always valuable to get outside the New York-Washington D.C. corridor,” said Repucci on getting another perspective in the Pacific Northwest. “We hear each other say the same things, and think that must be an indication that we’re right. It’s good to get another perspective. I think it’s great the Jackson School is doing this kind work.”
This year the School launched 11 Task Forces, the largest number in the history of the program, including two hosted at the University of Washington Rome Center in Italy. Task Force 2018 also marked another milestone: a transformative gift that will ensure Task Force will grow in perpetuity. Renamed as the Donald C. Hellmann Task Force Program, in honor of Professor Hellman who founded Task Force at the Jackson School, the gift in Professor Hellmann’s name was also made to inspire others to join in developing future generations of critical thinkers who are committed to making a difference in the world.
Watch our Task Force video: “Putting Policy into the Hands of the Next Generation“
Visit our Task Force website by clicking here.