“Be good to your interns.” Condoleezza Rice, 66th Secretary of State, who started as an intern in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
This year’s National Intern Day falls right after the 232nd anniversary of the State Department. Interns are an integral part of the Department, and, as an intern, it is incredibly rewarding to be a part of an organization with a noble goal and prestigious history.
In 1789, Congress founded the Department of Foreign Affairs, later renamed to the U.S. Department of State, to lead the United States in foreign policy through diplomacy and advocacy. Today, the State Department has hundreds of interns and thousands of employees at over 270 diplomatic missions worldwide. Originally, “State Department” consisted only of the Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, his small staff of four clerks, a translator, one messenger, and 12 posts abroad.
It is difficult to imagine how everything got done with such a small staff- with no interns at all, the State Department’s initial role was more limited, negotiating treaties, conducting international trade, and maintaining diplomatic relations abroad. Many of the Department’s initial responsibilities were domestic, such as preserving the laws and records, control of copyright, and management of the U.S. Mints.
As time went on, the State Department broadened its mission and diverted many of its domestic responsibilities to other agencies. WWI and WWII created international world orders that emphasized the need for an active U.S. role in diplomacy. The State Department had to take on new responsibilities, including cooperating with newly independent states and developing the global economy.
With the new responsibilities abroad, the State Department grew in its number of employees and bureaus. This included the development of an extensive internship program for missions at home and abroad.
While today’s incoming interns come from a diverse background, this would not have been possible without the groundbreaking individuals of the past. Dr. Ralph J. Bunche, the first African American Desk Officer, is now recognized as a “Hero of U.S. Diplomacy” for his incredible work as a U.S. representative during the founding and drafting of the U.N. Charter, one of the most crucial documents in international diplomacy today.
Another “Hero of U.S. Diplomacy” Patricia “Patti” Morton, made incredible strides for females in the Foreign Service. As the first female Regional Security Officer (RSO), she helped develop the Saigon evacuation plan at the end of the Vietnam War.
Current State Department employees inspire interns across the State Department to begin and continue careers in the foreign service. For example, U.S. Embassy Monrovia’s Jenkins Vangehn worked to negotiate a unilateral ceasefire and withdrawal statement for Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel forces during the second Liberian civil war, leading to their departure from Monrovia.
In 2005, Associate Regional Director for Client Services in the Office of Foreign Missions Robert “Bob” Hopkins led the rescue efforts at several foreign consulates in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, sleeping in his government-issued vehicle and even taking a boat into the floodwaters to rescue diplomats during the crisis.
Today, we celebrate the incredible interns across the U.S. State Department, and reflect upon the institution in which we are serving. My fellow interns help advance U.S. foreign policy priorities on behalf of the American people and promote peace on behalf of people around the world everyday. For many interns, this is just the beginning of a lifelong career in diplomacy, and, who knows, maybe one of our current interns will eventually become the Secretary of State.
Many individuals mentioned in this article are part of the U.S. Department of State’s Heroes of U.S. Diplomacy Initiative, which seeks to recognize the sound policy judgment and intellectual, moral, and physical courage exhibited by State Department officials while advancing U.S. foreign policy goals.To learn more about past and present State Department heroes, visit the Heroes of U.S. Diplomacy Initiative.
To apply for a State Department internship or fellowship, visit careers.state.gov.
About the Author: Sara Spieth is a summer intern in the Bureau of Global Public Affairs’ Office of Global Social Media at the U.S. Department of State.