Alumni United States Fellows: where are they now?

Image credit: Sophie Wilson

A hallmark of Young Australian in International Affairs’ success is attributed to the bi-annual Fellowship Program. Each Fellow contributes monthly Insights articles, with areas of expertise ranging from Latin American to the Pacific. We spoke with some alumni United States Fellows from 2015 - 2017 to see where they are now!

Sophie Wilson

When were you a Fellow and what did you cover?

I was the United States Fellow in 2015, covering U.S. domestic and foreign policy including firearm reform, climate policy, U.S.-Cuba relations, U.S.-Syria relations, State Department music diplomacy programming in the Middle East, and an early look at the 2016 presidential election.

Where are you today and what have you been up to?

I have worked for the Department of State at the U.S. Consulate General Sydney since mid-2016 in digital communications. Day-to-day I work with an awesome bunch of American diplomats and fellow local Australian employees as part of the U.S. Mission's Public Diplomacy team. As a team, we promote people-to-people ties through a range of public outreach initiatives and my role is to ensure that the work - and the work of the U.S. government broadly - is communicated to Australian audiences via digital and social media.

There have been many highlights, including working with the Consul General's impressive Youth Advisory Council members, accompanying American hip-hop artists to schools in Western Sydney to run workshops fostering cross-cultural exchange through art (music diplomacy is the best!), working with U.S. Navy and Marines in Brisbane while they visit kids in the hospital, organising a lively panel event on political satire and freedom of speech, live-tweeting press conferences by Vice President Biden and Secretary of Defense General Mattis, and landing on the USS Ronald Reagan at sea in a C-22 Greyhound.

How has the Fellowship helped you in your career or personal life?

Personally, involvement with YAIA has given me a bunch of new friends and grown my network to include some impressive, motivating professionals - I am always excited to see what they'll do next. I also love that young people interested in careers in international affairs see my YAIA experience on LinkedIn and reach out for a coffee or a chat (consider this an open invitation!)

Professionally, a big component of my current role is communicating with younger audiences, so the opportunity to develop skills in research and writing with that audience in mind throughout the Fellowship was invaluable. YAIA is also so highly regarded among my colleagues that the Fellowship was well-received during the interview for my current role.

Any advice or words of support for people engaging with Young Australians in International Affairs?

YAIA has created a unique community of young people interested in foreign affairs - what a resource, get involved! Don't be afraid to reach out to others on LinkedIn, apply for the Fellowship, attend (virtual) events, and check out the YAIA Jobs, Internships & Opportunities Board.

If you're looking to build a career in foreign affairs, knowledge, skills and experience in areas outside of IR - communications, STEM, business, arts, social sciences - is increasingly so valuable. There is no one set path for a career in IR.

And if public diplomacy is your thing or you're a young woman seeking a career in foreign affairs, please reach out to me!

Mitchell Robertson

When were you a Fellow and what did you cover?

I was the United States Fellow between January and June 2016. This was a fascinating time in American politics as it was the final push of the Obama Administration, the improbable victory of Donald Trump in the Republican primaries, and the Clinton/Trump race.

Where are you today and what have you been up to?

For the past four years, I have been completing a PhD in United States History at the University of Oxford. My research argues for the importance of the bureaucracy and the judiciary in domestic policy formulation and implementation in the U.S. Specifically, my research examines why the anti-poverty programs of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society were continued during the Administration of Richard Nixon. It’s been an amazing experience. It has enabled me to travel the world - to attend conferences and conduct archival research… and a very memorable private tour of the U.S. Capitol with a Congressman. Through my study I’ve been able to meet and learn from my academic heroes; people who had previously been names on books I studied now sitting across the table from me.

How has the Fellowship helped you in your career or personal life?

The primary skill that was honed by my time as a YAIA Fellow was to be able to produce timely op-eds on quickly evolving news stories. There’s a real need in the modern world for informed contribution from experts, and particularly young people, into modern discussions and debates. In the current news cycle and competitive environment, there’s no room to dither! So, this experience was invaluable to me. It certainly helped me with one of my proudest achievements, which was publishing an op-ed in The Washington Post.

Any advice or words of support for people engaging with Young Australians in International Affairs?

I would wholeheartedly endorse applying for a Fellowship with Young Australians in International Affairs. Particularly when you’re making your start in the professional world, YAIA provides a great platform for sharing and developing your thinking about international affairs, a network of engaging and like-minded individuals and a terrific series of events. In what can be a difficult industry to crack, the success of those involved with YAIA attests to its value!

Chloe Meyer

When were you a Fellow and what did you cover?

I was the United States Fellow in 2017 – covering a range of events and trends throughout the first 100 days of the Trump presidency. It’s particularly interesting to reflect upon this now, as we come towards the end of this presidential term. One piece I covered focused on how America was emerging as an epicentre for transnational social activism, whereby civil activism sparked in the US prompted large-scale, global protest – a phenomenon that has continued well into 2020.

Where are you today and what have you been up to?

Following my fellowship, I graduated from the University of Melbourne after completing an honours year in Islamic Studies focusing on state power in Saudi Arabia. Since graduating from the University of Melbourne, I spent the early years of my career working as a senior policy consultant in Canberra. More recently, I began my work with a social policy firm – CMM Social Change - which provides support directly to communities experiencing entrenched, intergenerational challenge. My role focuses on implementing and influencing policy in the most remote and underprivileged regions in Australia – from the Pilbara in Western Australian, to some of the southern-most communities in Tasmania.

I also worked in the United States Congress as a research fellow for Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The Congresswoman was the head of the Middle East North Africa sub-committee and I attended a meeting between her and King Abdullah II of Jordan to discuss a joint response to the refugee crisis. After an undergraduate degree in Middle Eastern politics, I was pretty thrilled!

I’ve been awarded the Rae and Edith Bennet prestigious travelling scholarship and next year will commence my Masters in Public Policy at the University of Oxford – fingers crossed international travel is back on by then!

How has the Fellowship helped you in your career or personal life?

The Fellowship was a fantastic opportunity as I began to transition between an academic interest in international affairs to a professional one. The opportunity encouraged me to think critically about current political trends that sat outside of was I typically studied and wrote on, which was a truly valuable learning experience. It connected me with a great network of young academics and professionals, many of whom I continue to cross paths with.

Any advice or words of support for people engaging with Young Australians in International Affairs?

Use this as an opportunity to write on what excites you about the field! Looking back, I followed my curiosity about trends I was noticing – the fellowship gave me a reason to pursue this curiosity and put it on paper.

From the US Department of State to the University of Oxford and policy consulting, our alumni Fellows have certainly embarked on some incredible adventures since their Fellowships! Find out where a YAIA Fellowship could take you by applying in our next January – June round! Applications open October 26, 2020.


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