UNF students take on DC

Emily Echevarria, Government Reporter

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College is the designated time for students to explore their interests, discover new career paths, and develop their professional skills. Many students come to college with grandiose ideas of changing the world— UNF is helping them do it. 

A hidden gem within UNF is an international relations class called Real World Policy. Its schedule is a bit unorthodox, meeting sporadically on Monday nights from 6 to 8:45 pm. Throughout the semester, the class only meets 6 times, but every meeting has a full schedule and often runs several minutes over. 

As an upper-level class geared towards political science and international studies majors, it focuses on developing writing skills and researching public policy. The class is taught by Ambassador Nancy Soderberg, who served on the National Security Council as the third-ranking official under President Bill Clinton and was an Alternate Representative to the United Nations. Besides being a professor, she also serves as the Director of UNF’s Public Service Leadership Program. 

The class outside of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Photo credit Emily Echevarria.

Soderberg’s background gives the class a unique grounding in the real world of politics. She brings in former students and other speakers who work in DC to speak to her students about future careers and summer internship programs. For example, this semester she brought in UNF’s Diplomat in Residence Stephen Hubler to talk about career paths within the State Department. 

Besides presenting students with career opportunities, the class challenges students to practice writing memos to the president and role-playing National Security Council Principals Committee meetings. Students research various international issues and develop policy solutions that could be implemented in the US. For example, the fall semester’s class discussed topics like the trade war with China, the protests in Hong Kong, and the presidential crisis in Venezuela. 

After researching various topics, the class debates one final topic to develop a collaborative policy paper on. This semester’s group decided to focus on the global water crisis, which involves water availability, hygiene, and sanitation-related issues. Currently, 700 million people suffer from water scarcity globally, which leads to high rates of conflict, disease, and death, according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Students researched the topic and current policies extensively, then recommended changes in four broad categories: making changes within the US bureaucracy, funding research and development projects, using trade to affect the water crisis, and creating new diplomatic initiatives. A few of the recommendations included creating an Ambassador to Water (much like our current Ambassador to the Arctic), developing a bi-annual Global Water Summit to focus on UN sustainable water goals, and re-branding GMO’s to “Safe Agriculture for Everyone” (or SAFE) to encourage sustainable agricultural practices and reduce international stigma. 

After developing the policy paper, the most unique aspect of the class arrives— a 3 day trip to Washington DC. More than just researching solutions, students are then challenged to present their research at meetings with officials from various governmental agencies. Upon arriving on Sunday, students attend a networking event with former UNF students (and students who took the same class) who now work in DC. The sentiment from the alumni is unanimous — the class is life-changing. 

The class during their visit to the Pentagon. Photo credit Emily Echevarria.

Throughout the next two days, students present their findings all across DC. This semester, students met with representatives from the Department of Defense, World Wildlife Fund, Israeli Embassy, International Monetary Fund, National Security Council, CIA, Global Waters 2020, and USAID. 

The majority of the trip is packed with back-to-back meetings, but they manage to squeeze in time for a few tourist staples, like the White House, a couple of monuments, and the Pentagon.

The majority of the trip to DC is funded, but students must purchase their own plane tickets. For students with financial constraints, Soderberg provides additional funds, and students fundraise during the semester by holding a silent auction.

This class is offered every semester and is open to students of all majors. 

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