MHR student Kelly State Dept internship

Q&A with Marina Kelly, Master of Human Rights, 2018

Summer Internship: U.S. State Department's Office of Western Hemisphere Affairs; Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

I participated through the Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship, which promotes diversity in the Foreign Service by bringing more women and minorities to the State Department. The fellowship lasted from late May to early August. (Pictured at right, Marina met Ambassador Tom Pickering, for whom the fellowship is named, at the Humphrey School's Public Leadership Awards in June.)

I attended events around Washington and at the State Department, and wrote readouts—basically notes that summarized what was discussed. The readouts were primarily for internal distribution in my department. Since I speak Spanish, I also did some translation work for events and consultations that were conducted in Spanish.

It was very formative and fun the whole way through. I’ll be working in the Foreign Service for at least five years, and wanted to see for myself if this was truly an environment that I would be comfortable in. My fellowship solidified for me that this is really what I want to do. The State Department has so many advocates for human rights who are very committed and they don’t get the recognition they should.

I was given some very cool assignments. One of them was to draft a document on human rights and civil society in Guatemala for a senior level official. I was chosen for the assignment because I’m half Guatemalan, and I interned at the Guatemala Human Rights Commission a few years ago. The person in my office who had the Guatemala portfolio trusted me enough to take that on.

I also was assigned to work two days a week on a portfolio, to fill in for a person who was gone. One of the countries in the portfolio was Brazil. I studied in Brazil during my undergrad and learned some Portuguese while I was there. In that role, I received papers that others had drafted, and reviewed them to make sure human rights was mentioned in them. I also compiled information, media notes and so on to make sure human rights issues were present in various conversations. I was able to be in meetings with incoming officers who were assigned to different posts.

Interning at the State Department helped me gain a comprehensive understanding of human rights issues that are critical right now in the western hemisphere—corruption and indigenous rights, for example—that will definitely drive my studies and future research. It also reminded me how fast things change and evolve in global issues. So when I start school, I’m going to try to be very intentional in following foreign news, and try to keep track of global developments that are happening every day.

I plan to work in the Foreign Service for at least five years, to fulfill my Pickering Fellowship. I’ve also been interested in the work done by non-governmental organizations (NGOs). When I interned at the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, my observation was that while grass-roots advocacy is critical, that I could probably do more to promote human rights if I were in the government.

I also witnessed the important role that NGOs play at the State Department. A goal of mine at the Humphrey School is to expand my network of contacts with NGOs. One of the reasons I chose Humphrey over schools on the East Coast is because of the number of NGOs that are based in Minnesota.
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