Leading the State Department’s “Virtual Student Foreign Service” internship program


(Photo: Scott Gustas)
July 15, 2014

For the past four years, 32 year-old Bridget Roddy has been the mastermind behind a Department of State internship program that enables students to work virtually on projects in countries as far flung as Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Botswana, Cambodia and Egypt.

Launched by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Virtual Student Foreign Service is an eInternship program that enables college and graduate students to engage with the department’s ongoing diplomatic efforts. Since the program’s inception, more than 1,200 eInterns have made vital contributions to the mission and work of the State Department.

“The Virtual Student Foreign Service is a key tool to drive innovation, support new initiatives and bring in fresh ideas and perspectives to government by tapping in to an immense resource pool of talented volunteers – U.S. students,” said Roddy.

Students work remotely an average of 10 hours per week on their eInternship projects, which last the duration of the academic year running from fall through spring semesters. Roddy said the flexibility of the program enables students to continue with their classes, work and other commitments.

The scope of work can range from research and analysis, redesigning websites, building a mobile app or contributing to reports on a wide-range of issues such as human rights, economics and the environment.

Past projects include researching and drafting public health information to communicate about emerging diseases to the Vietnamese people, identifying strategies to improve scientific collaboration between the United States and Mongolia, facilitating weekly, virtual meet-ups to identify and discuss journalism trends with Egyptian youth, and digitally mapping the dangerous effects of air pollution in south China mainland.

Projects for the upcoming academic year range from creating a database of Bahrain’s publicly available economic data and covering Botswana’s general elections to conducting research and analysis related to Cambodia’s migrant labor force.

“The Virtual Student Foreign Service has opened up a pool of students to us who may not have the financial means to participate in a full-time internship in D.C,” said Dan Sheerin, who heads the State Department’s diplomatic innovation division. “These students are bringing in new perspectives, ideas and skills and are helping the department do some significant initiatives that we wouldn’t have the capacity to do without them.”

Applications are currently open on USAJOBS.gov for the 2014-2015 academic year, and there are 323 projects available, which Roddy said is 50 more than last year.

Roddy also noted that applications have almost doubled every year since the program’s launch.

“The program started with one sentence and now has grown to be the largest virtual internship program at State,” she said.

“This program had a very limited start, and Bridget has been instrumental in making it much larger and much more successful. She did that through hard work, some creative thinking, collaboration and innovation,” said Sheerin.

Sheerin said one reason for this growth is due to Roddy’s idea to expand the program to 11 agencies that have overseas activities, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, Environmental Protection Agency, Smithsonian Institution and National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

“People want to be part of this because they understand the opportunity it provides to bring students in to help further the diplomatic efforts of our colleagues working on the ground around the world,” said Sheerin.

Roddy, whose father was in the Foreign Service, has always wanted to find new ways of supporting and contributing to the important work of the State Department. Roddy strongly believes her work leading the Virtual Student Foreign Service is allowing her to do this.

“Through this program, young people with diverse backgrounds are introduced to the work of the State Department and the broad career opportunities. The program also encourages participation by civil society. It is one more way students can participate in government and we can all benefit greatly by their participation.”

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to the Fed Page of The Washington Post to read about other federal workers who are making a difference. To recommend a Federal Player of the Week, contact us at fedplayers@ourpublicservice.org.

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