Undergraduate students at the University of Pennsylvania are becoming diplomats-in-training who develop innovative policy through a non-partisan organization, the Penn Diplomacy and Policy Council.
In the spring of 2016, president and founder Robert Dowling created PennDPC because many students he encountered wanted to lead diplomacy-related activities designed to address pressing issues. Penn’s campus, he says, was ripe with opportunity for a new policy-focused umbrella organization that embodies global engagement.
That’s after his one-year hiatus to do international development work. Starting with a fellowship for the government of Andhra Pradesh, India, and ending in Zimbabwe and greater southern Africa, he will be building economies through restructuring and designing innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystems.
Dowling says that PennDPC brings students together through shared interests in international relations leadership and a commitment to impactful change-making, but he stresses that the club is rooted in “fellowship, not membership.
“It’s an entirely different model than what other clubs are doing,” Dowling says. “It’s a one-year fellowship that follows a ‘pay-it-forward’ model, fostering engagement with fellows during the remainder of their years at Penn and beyond.”
PennDPC’s fellowships focus on innovation and international development, counterterrorism, general diplomacy and gender equity.
“Each fellowship group focuses on different aspects of policy and diplomacy,” says Matthew Mizbani, a sophomore economics major from Niskayuna, N.Y., and PennDPC’s media and outreach director.
“The Innovation Fellows are committed to entrepreneurship and international development, submitting proposals to global competitions and establishing businesses that will impact the world’s most vulnerable populations,” Dowling adds.
Still in its infancy, PennDPC sent a group of ad hoc Innovation Fellows to United Nations headquarters in New York City for the First Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation, where they were engaged in policy discussions among diplomats.
Another fellowship is the Alternative Counterterrorism Strategies Initiative. A partnership with Robert O’Block and the Center for National Threat Assessment, this fellowship is designed to determine the best methods for proactive counterinsurgency.
The Gender Equity Group is made up of Equality Fellows, who are working on issues related to human rights reform and gender-related equity.
Kaylee Slusser is a sophomore with a dual-major in economics and political science who hails from Mocanaqua, Pa. As the vice president of PennDPC and the president of the Gender Equity Group, she says that her branch of the tree focuses on raising awareness and tackling gender issues from all angles.
“Some topics of interest will be women in entrepreneurship, the gender pay gap and equal education, to name a few,” Slusser says. “We will be organizing lectures and interactive forums, as well as sending delegates to various summits.”
For students who are interested in general diplomatic relations, the Diplomacy Fellowship encourages students to join the community without a specified interest.
Each group of Fellows is charged with developing and executing policies, as well as engaging in debate and leading projects in those fields, Dowling explains.
The group’s partnerships have already offered students unique opportunities, such as the 10 fellows who participated in the World Bank’s Global Forum on Youth in June. In addition, PennDPC hosted the International Young Leaders Assembly in August for sessions on entrepreneurship and innovation. But, the fellowships represent only half of PennDPC’s program.
The other half, Dowling says, is its conferences. The group is in the process of planning many conferences for high school students around the world and hopes to host its inaugural events in Vietnam, Puerto Rico and either Nigeria or Ethiopia.
“This is going to be a huge endeavor, with conferences being facilitated by our members around the world and fellowships that are the full display of the intellectual vitality and change-making here at Penn,” Dowling says.
Dowling encourages interested students to apply online. The PennDPC selection board will review applications on a rolling basis through Sept. 9.