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Seattle University


Globally Engaged for Life

Written by Mike Thee
October 25, 2010

On a recent afternoon, four students in SU’s Master of Public Administration program are sitting around a table in Hunthausen, sharing memories from the internships they did this summer in developing countries. Two students worked in Cambodia and two in Africa. Their experiences could not have been more varied, and yet they are linked by a common thread: the students left for their internships already interested in global development, and, to a person, they returned even more committed to engaging with the world, particularly developing countries.

The seven-week international internship is the central component of the Research for Development Graduate Program, which Janet Quillian began four years ago. While the university offers many education abroad opportunities for undergraduates—such as the International Development Internship Program (IDIP), which Quillian also directs—international programs, she points out, are not as plentiful for students pursuing master’s degrees. Keen on making a global program similar to IDIP available for graduate students, Quillian partnered with Russ Lidman, director of the Institute of Public Service, to offer the research program through the public administration program.

“I decided what I could offer was to teach students research, because basic qualitative research is always needed in the development world,” Quillian says. “And if the students combined who they are and their life experience with a class in research that placed them with an NGO (non-governmental organization) abroad, they would become more knowledgeable about the world and ultimately change agents.”

“This is a wonderful opportunity for the students,” says Lidman, “and Janet does superb work finding high-quality placements. This is not service—it’s serious engagement with issues around social justice. It’s a way for the students to apply a lot of methodological and other skills they develop in their study in a very practical way and to serve the organizations they’re working with.”

Each year 10-12 students participate in the program. There are three phases. In the spring, students take a course that introduces them to participatory research methods. For the summer internships, they are placed with organizations in developing countries where they assist with a research project. Then, in the fall, the students write a comprehensive professional paper on their research.

For graduate student Chamnan Pich, the summer internship was especially meaningful. Born in a refugee camp along the Thai-Cambodia border in Thailand, Pich left the country as an infant. In the United States, she would go on to earn a nursing degree from SU and work in hospitals as a travel nurse as well as community health clinics. This summer was her first opportunity to return to the region. “Initially, there were some identity politics I had to reflect upon because I wasn’t seen or considered Khmer—I was considered Khmer-American,” but, she adds, “It was an amazing experience.”

For her internship, Pich was placed with Jesuit Service at Panteay Prieb, and accompanied outreach workers as they traveled to villages to recruit students for a vocational training center. Her report will provide recommendations for the outreach team. “My experience this summer confirmed that I want to go into global development,” says Pich. 

Steffanie Sinclair is pictured here with a Burmese python during her internship in Cambodia. Click on the picture to see more photos contributed by Steffanie and other students in the program.

That sentiment is echoed by Steffanie Sinclair, who was also placed in Cambodia where she worked with CARE, International to study an increase in violence among Khmer males. Sinclair decided to enroll in the Master of Public Administration program after earning a degree in political science from Seattle Pacific University and coming to work at SU in the College of Education. “I was wanting to go back to school, and started researching programs,” Sinclair says. “I actually picked Seattle University because of (the Research for Development Graduate Program).” The internship, she says, has only reinforced her interest in pursuing a career in global development. 

Meanwhile, over in Ethiopia, Frank Dammann was placed with Catholic Relief Services, where he worked closely with a hydrologist to assess projects focused on ensuring and improving water quality. For Dammann, it was a crash course on the subject matter. “I know a lot about what I don’t know,” he says with a laugh. On this day, he was immersed in writing his report which, despite already pushing 50 pages, he called a “still very rough draft.”

Dammann graduated from a liberal arts college in New York and worked as an actor for a number of years and then transitioning to the nonprofit world. Of the summer internship, he says, “It’s a cliché but the experience was life-changing. I expected it to be, so it’s sort of strange to say that. It continued to clarify where I wanted to go with my own life.”

The experience also altered his perception of the world. He speaks with amazement at the generosity of the Ethiopians who live in the fourth poorest nation on the planet, and how Christians and Muslims there live and work together harmoniously. “I’m a father of two little girls,” he says, “and my wife and I would really like to travel and show our kids that we’re not just the United States.”

Sandrine Espie, for her part, says she had long wanted to work in developing countries. She got her chance this summer, traveling to Burkina Faso, Africa, for her placement with Catholic Relief Services. A native of France, Espie worked for the Office of Science and Technology in the French Consulate in Boston before moving to Seattle. Her educational and professional background in entrepreneurship served her well in her internship with Savings and Internal Lending Communities, where she studied the impact and effectiveness of microfinance projects, particularly for women who receive the funding.

Now that Espie’s had a taste of working abroad, she says there’s no turning back. “I want to keep doing this. I want to keep working with developing and emerging countries. For me this is not the end.”