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Making foreign policy one day at a time

April 1, 2019

Students presenting at Task Force Day 2019
Jackson School international studies majors present their recommendations for resetting U.S.-Turkey relations as part of Task Force Day, March 15, 2019.

From 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. on Friday, March 15, 142 Jackson School international studies seniors and a few Departmental Honors juniors tackled and presented their research to evaluators external to the UW on topics like the pros and cons of humanitarian aid in places like Venezuela and Syria to nonpartisan polices for the next U.S. president on energy and climate change to making trans-Atlantic relations work for Europeans and more. But this was not a Model UN conference or a day long student discussion.

It was Task Force Day. A capstone winter quarter course required of all Jackson School international studies majors, the Donald C. Hellmann Task Force Program engages students in research, writing, teamwork and presentation skills under pressure on a pressing global issue that needs solutions.

“It was definitely a learning experience. I’ve never done research that was so investigative before,” says Grace Stevenson, who would like to like to go into humanitarian work that focuses on policy and global health. “It was a lot of unexpected twists and turns. “[A challenge] was starting completely from scratch because no one had done research like this before [on how people are transported out of the U.S. by Immigration and Customs Enforcement].”

Read about Task Force topics in 2019 by visiting this link.

In Task Force, students simulate the process of policymaking by briefing their eight weeks of research and possible solutions to high-ranking experts, who this year ranged from the likes of a former Assistant U.S. Trade Representative to the Director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Europe to a former U.S. Special Envoy to Syria to a lieutenant-general and well-known community activists and policy influencers.

Of the experience presenting to experienced high-level foreign policymakers, Binh Truong, who served as the coordinator for her Task Force on the pros and cons of global humanitarian aid, said: “We’re glad that we are learning how people are actually doing what we aspire to do in the field.”

External Evaluators for Task Force 2019:

  • Mikkal Herberg, Research Director, Asian Energy Security, National Bureau of Asian Research
  • John Manza, Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Operations, NATO
  • Joseph Massey, Chairman of Global Reach KK; former Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Japan and China; Founding Director, Center for International Business at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business
  • Bruce McConnell, Executive Vice President, EastWest Institute; former Deputy Under Secretary for Cybersecurity, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • Yascha Mounk, Lecturer, Harvard University; Executive Director at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change; Senior Fellow, Political Reform Program at New America
  • Lt. General Stephen Lanza, former Commanding General, I Corps, Joint Base Lewis McChord
  • Nikkita Oliver, Support & Advocacy Manager, Creative Justice
  • Michael Ratney, Senior U.S. Foreign Service Officer; former U.S. Special Envoy for Syria
  • Amanda Sloat, Robert Bosch Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution
  • Jan Techau, Director, German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF Europe)
  • Colin Thomas-Jensen, Senior Adviser, WestExec Advisors

“I was really pleasantly surprised by our presentation [to Lieutenant General Stephen Lanza], who made it into a panel discussion” says Jackson School student Conor Stolfa, in reflecting upon his two-hour session with his Task Force group on opportunities and challenges in U.S. foreign policy in South Asia. “What I took away is that no matter how much you know, there’s always more you can take away from events and the people around you.”

One of the external evaluators, Bruce McConnell, Executive Vice President of the EastWest Institute and a former Deputy Under Secretary for Cybersecurity in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, noted: “The opportunity to brief a senior policymaker, whether inside or outside of government and delivering recommendations and having to defend them, that’s more real world than producing a long academic paper.”

Work-preparedness skills
“In my freshman year when I heard about Task Force I was thinking that it’s this very hypothetical situation of looking into a specific country and its government relations,” says Julianne Werner, who hopes to be an immigration lawyer or do something in data science with human rights groups. “Our Task Force [on how people are transported out of the U.S. by Immigration and Customs Enforcement] was so different, I could see the real world implications and this is affecting people every day. We learned really invaluable data skills and how to access public information which you can use really anywhere.”

Joseph Massey, a former Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Japan and China who evaluated a Task Force on U.S. trade relations in the Asia-Pacific region, was impressed with the student presentations. “I could imagine a couple of the students making a presentation in the Executive Office of the President,” he said. “We were looking at quite high-level policy, country to country negotiations and getting an understanding of what a policymaker needs to consider.”

Dylan Curran, an international studies student who researched U.S. policy toward South Asia, summed up his Task Force experience: “[With Task Force] I think you were really able to see the type of education that all of us receive at the Jackson School, and the culmination of perspectives we get as students of international studies.”

To Rome and back with Task Force
Two Task Force groups, led by Jackson School faculty Rick Lorenz and Ambassador John Koenig, also an instructor for the M.A. in Applied International Studies program, spent winter 2019 at the UW Center in Rome dealing with the trans-Atlantic alliance. One Task Force on “Global Atlantic Alliance in Crisis” had a first-hand look at the challenges facing U.S. and European policy makers, which included hearing from practitioners like U.S. Ambassador to Serbia Kyle Scott and others who have extensive experience in U.S.-EU relations.

The other Task Force, which focused on NATO-Russia challenges, examined the security aspects of a transatlantic alliance. Students journeyed to the NATO Defense College, where they engaged NATO staff and had the chance to represent stakeholder countries in a simulated meeting on the NATO North Atlantic Council dealing with an escalating security threat in Estonia with U.S. military officers at the NATO Defense College.

Visit our Task Force website by clicking here.

Interested in making a gift to Task Force? Learn more and join in the transformative gift of the Donald C. Hellmann Task Force Program to develop future generations of critical thinkers who are committed to making a difference in the world.