Off-Campus Study in Washington, DC: CIPA Student Recounts Fall Externship at U.S. Department of State

Mauricio Cortes is a second-year CIPA student with a concentration in Public and Nonprofit Management.  Before coming to Cornell, he served three tours with the U.S. Navy in the Middle East. He also served as a field engineer with ABB Inc., working on energy and sustainability projects in Los Angeles and Baden, Switzerland. He earned his B.A. in Political Science from Pennsylvania State University.

This past fall, Mauricio enrolled in CIPA’s off-campus study program in Washington, DC, where he completed an externship with the U.S. Department of State, assigned to the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Office of Policy Planning and Coordination (WHA/PPC). He became the first D.C.-based extern in that office to travel with a U.S. delegation abroad to serve as a Policy Analyst

My externship experience at the U.S. Department of State was both enjoyable and enriching. On my first day at the Harry S. Truman building, I became part of a team that assisted in the coordination of the Department’s hemispheric engagement in the 71st United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) last September. During the following weeks I had the opportunity to conduct research on counter-terrorism and the role of China in Latin America, and spent more than 100 hours in other offices and bureaus within the State Department.

This photo was taken during the Third Trilateral Anti-Trafficking in Persons meetings held in Mexico City (November 2016).
This photo was taken during the Third Trilateral Anti-Trafficking in Persons meetings held in Mexico City (November 2016).

Toward the end of my externship I traveled to Mexico City with the U.S. delegation to serve as a Policy Analyst in the Third Trilateral Anti-Trafficking in Persons meetings with Susan Coppedge, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. These meetings took place on the margins of the North American Leaders’ Summit (NALS). This particular experience gave me the opportunity to sharpen my research and communication skills (in both English and Spanish). I had the chance to meet other State Department colleagues from Washington and the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, as well as government officials from three other U.S. federal agencies and their counterparts from Canada and Mexico.

Being an extern in the Office of Policy Planning and Coordination (PPC) exposed me to a plethora of topics such as cyber security, citizen safety, social equality, and economic opportunity. I became very interested in learning how diplomacy was conducted not only outside the walls of the State Department building in Washington, but also outside the United States.  I was very fortunate to work and learn from driven and talented individuals in a progressive environment that fosters respect for one another, inclusion, and development. My semester away from campus allowed me to put into practice the academic component of my MPA curriculum and expanded my practice, knowledge and networking opportunities.

After participating in this externship semester in Washington this fall, and having traveled to Popayán, Colombia last January as part of Cornell’s Student Multidisciplinary Applied Research Team (SMART) program, I can say the Cornell MPA program is one of the most versatile and competitive professional graduate programs. Any high-achieving public administrator should give CIPA consideration.

I am very humbled, grateful, and blessed to have had the opportunity to proudly represent both CIPA and Cornell in D.C. and abroad. This experience would have not been possible without the help of CIPA Director Sharon Tennyson, Executive Director Thomas O’Toole, Administrative Assistant Jamaica Brown, and the rest of the CIPA team.

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