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                             Content Overview:                          

         An Interview with Manisha Paudel                                        Faculty Spotlight: David Skidmore                 IR Department Upcoming Events                                          Student Spotlight: Lauren Goetze

An Interview with Manisha Paudel: Equity Coordinator

                                                          Manisha Paudel is Des Moines' Equity Coordinator, a new position that operates under the city's Civil and Human Rights Commission. A Drake Alumni and native of Nepal, Paudel speaks with us here about her experiences in public office, reflects on her time living and volunteering abroad, and offers advice to current students. 

Let's begin with your position with the city government. Could you tell us about your responsibilities and duties?
This is a new position in Des Moines, and with any new position in a city government, one of the things that you need to focus on is the possibilities of what role it could be, based on other jurisdictions around the country.
An equity coordinator works with community organizations and members to identify why there are certain groups who are not receiving equitable services- that is, services that they actually need- in order to thrive. Identifying lack of access to resources and opportunities, bringing that information back to the state government, and then making recommendations for changes in our policies, is my job. To give you an example, in Des Moines, we have quite a few refugee groups who have more of a need for soccer fields than for baseball diamonds. Historically, Des Moines’ Parks and Recreation Department has created more opportunities for baseball diamonds and generally maintained more recreational opportunities for middle class, white Americans and US-born natives. It’s not because they don’t want to serve everybody, it’s just because that's been the norm. A role like mine would work with the Parks and Recreation Department to make recommendations regarding the needs of the changing demographics in our community. I would suggest to them that if we’re creating three new recreational facilities, we should dedicate one to fit the needs of the refugee population. 

That’s just one example of the work I do. My role is basically working with community organizations and dialoguing with community members to discuss what barriers they face for them to access city services. There are people in our community who don’t know who to call when the street lights are out, when there are potholes, when they need their playground maintained or repainted because it’s been overutilized, or who to call if there are police complaints. I also work with different departments to ensure that we’re having conversations about equity, making sure we’re not using the traditional lens of ‘we’ve always done it this way’. For example, people may think, ‘bicycles are only used for recreational purposes’. Well, no, there are people who need bicycles to get to the grocery store or to get to work. That’s the overall concept of my role. 

In what ways is this role meaningful for you?

It’s one of those things where, as human beings, we all want to help others. If there’s an apple tree out there, we all deserve an apple from the tree. We all pay taxes and contribute to the benefit of larger society just by living in Des Moines. There are individuals and groups that are not receiving the fruit of that. They’ve contributed in growing this tree, but only a few individuals get the fruit from this tree. It’s meaningful to me to be able to work on behalf of individuals and groups that have not received the benefit of their contributions, and don’t realize that there are benefits available to them. Selfishly, it’s very rewarding to be able to impact people on a large scale. 

What was one of your favorite or most meaningful experiences from your time as a Drake student?

As I was transferring into Drake, I knew I wanted to lead some sort of student organization. At the time I was all about human rights, so I wanted to start an Amnesty International student group. There was one Amnesty group at Drake that had been inactive for seven or eight years but had been sort of dismantled. Back in 2007, when I wanted to start up this group again, I posted on the International Relations Facebook page. School hadn’t started, I didn’t know anyone there, I just asked people to show up. 48 attended our first Amnesty International meeting. I think that’s still my favorite, most rewarding moment at Drake; it was the power of people, the power of social media, and the power of throwing your idea out there and people supporting it… all of that combined to create a very powerful moment for me as a student. 

What was one meaningful experience you’ve had since graduating from Drake?

I did International Relations because I wanted to be a diplomat, which I feel is the dream of a lot of folks who do IR. In order to get into the UN system, I interned with UNESCF and then did contracted work with them. Post-graduation, I was in grad school right away because I felt like I wanted to learn more and receive further education to better understand the world. Then I went on to Eritrea with UNESCF. Eritrea was a war-torn country, a UN mission had just left, they had no ties to any other country, and Americans weren’t even allowed to go there on UN missions… to be in that country and work in a UNESCF office, to develop my understanding of how politics worked outside the US, was a very important experience for me. That’s not a common thing for post-graduates to experience. 

Do you have any advice for Drake IR students looking to develop their multicultural understanding?

For Drake students, you have lots of opportunities to have an international experience in-house. My big advice is, my big request is, for students to engage with organizations that are meaningful to both the refugee/immigrant individual and the Drake student. You’re not only learning about other cultures, but you’re honing cultural communication skills that you will need. In my job, I interact with people who require translators at all times. Interact with the international folks here. Build skills for inter-cultural communications here. If you want to support multicultural organizations, look up their events and show up; attend festivals, go to people’s businesses, support what they do: that’s what volunteering and supporting means. 

To have experience outside of the country, find internship opportunities that develop skills which you can use outside of the country. Don’t just volunteer to bring supplies and food- I see it as a problematic situation where volunteers go to refugee camps in poorer parts of the world and are there for a week, help people, do whatever, and just leave. Use what you have: if you’re a good dancer, go somewhere where you can teach dance to children, as opposed to doing the same old volunteer work where you’re carrying water around for a week. 

I feel like sometimes international volunteering organizations are not there to build up equity and serve individuals, but to make people more dependent on them. If you’re interested in traveling internationally, look for local organizations that are doing whatever you’re interested in doing. In today’s day and age, it’s very easy. Support these organizations in whatever way you can- fly out there and work with whoever is local to that country instead of focusing on international, name-brand organizations. Find people from wherever you want to go, you know? There’s a lot of international students at Drake. Connect with someone and see if they can recommend organizations in their home country. Be equitable in your volunteering work.

How did that IR department prepare you for your experiences after graduation?

Drake’s IR department gave me this global perspective of how the world worked. I focused on East Asian politics at Drake and left with a very good theoretical understanding of the world. I learned specific things about specific countries and could use them as reference points to compare different regions. How many books about the world are we actually going to read on our free time, right? I definitely felt, in one word, an awareness that I would not have received on my own. It prepared me to travel outside the country and work, but also to come back and use that cross-cultural understanding as a relationship-builder. People appreciate that - I’ve experienced it several times where I’ll mention a little bit of knowledge of a person’s home region or country or town, and it changes the whole atmosphere of the conversation for the better.

Any closing thoughts?

I want to reiterate- the world is here, in Des Moines, Iowa. There’s a lot of need. To really have that International Relations experience, you’ve got to build relationships and become accustomed to a culture of diplomacy before setting out into the wider world. There’s a lot of opportunity to find that mindset, to develop those skills, right in our own little Des Moines, Iowa.
                                                                Interview by Grace Kaetterhenry

Faculty Spotlight: David Skidmore

Professor David Skidmore, IR Department faculty member,spent the 2017-18 academic year on sabbatical and returned to teaching this fall. Here, he reflects on his year away from Drake.

The main purpose of any sabbatical should be to read widely and recharge one’s intellectual batteries. I therefore spent a good deal of time whittling away at my must-read book list. I also spent ten weeks traveling, teaching, lecturing, meeting with scholars and attending conferences in China. This included a 17-day travel seminar I led for a group of retired Iowans. My major research project was a co-authored paper on the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which is currently under submission. I got a good start on a related project on China’s Belt and Road Initiative. I published a half dozen op-ed pieces on international topics and worked on the syllabi for two new courses I will teach this coming year - one on international security and the other a J-term simulation of crisis decision-making in the National Security Council. Finally, I spent time getting acquainted with our two new grandchildren - twin boys! I look forward to stepping back into the classroom this fall with renewed energy and a few new ideas.

-David Skidmore
To learn more about Professor Skidmore's travels and experiences, be sure to check out his blog.

IR Upcoming Events

China and the World  Tuesday, Nov 27, 5-7pm

Beyond the Headlines: The Political and Economic Realities of Global Trade Policy Wednesday, Dec 5, 6-9pm
For more events, please visit Fall 2018 activities.

 Student Spotlight: Lauren Goetze

Lauren Goetze, a senior International Relations and Economics double major, reflects on her summer internship with Peace Corps

This summer I had the opportunity to intern at Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C., thanks to the very generous Harkin Institute D.C. Experience Scholarship. It was an incredible three months that allowed me to learn about working for the federal government, as well as meet professionals from across the agency that specialize in a variety of sectors and regions. Additionally, I networked with and learned from some of the most prominent professionals in the international relations and international development fields, including heads of state, prominent members of Congress, and directors of federal agencies. I’m excited to spend the next three months staying in the city to intern with the United States Department of State’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, focusing on inclusive international business policies. I have been incredibly fortunate to learn from the experienced professionals here, and am looking forward to continuing my professional and academic growth over the next few months. 

                   -Lauren Goetze
For more information about internships and other opportunities, please consult our website.

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This newsletter made possible through the financial support of the Nelson Institute

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