EVENT REPORT: Career Connections Seminar for U.S. Exchange Alumni, 7/31 – 8/2/19

The 3rd Career Connections Seminar was held in Los Angeles this past week. The seminars are designed to assist participants of U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs exchange programs (and Peace Corps alum) to develop career strategies and learn about professional opportunities. The seminars are hosted by grantee Partners of the Americas, based in Washington, DC. I was pleased to have been included as a presenter for the LA seminar.

Over 80 participants attended the seminar which started late on July 31 with a reception and ended the afternoon of August 2. The seminar consisted of myriad presentations and workshops on career development, as well as a visit to the Pacific Council on International Policy.

I was impressed with the range of participants attending, many from California. A large number had participated in the Benjamin A. Gillman Fellowship program. In addition, there was a large group of Fulbright alum present. And some had participated in exchange as high school students in programs such as the YES program.

Thursday, August 1

The opening keynote address on Thursday was by Doug Blush and Lisa Klein, a husband and wife film team, and founders of MadPix, Inc. They emphasized the importance of story telling, and suggested that we all had important stories to tell. They shared about a number of projects including their most recent film The S Word which looks at suicide, and A Plastic Ocean, which focuses on the overuse of plastic.

Session on Networking

This was followed by a presentation that Alexandra Endara of the University of Southern California and I did on “How to Hunt for Jobs and Create Career Path.” I focused on developing a strategy, but keeping to the basics. I also shared Richard Leider’s napkin test with the group. Endara looked to factors related to finding work including focusing your strengths and abilities.

This was followed by panel sessions that participants could attend on the “Do’s and Don’ts of Job Interviewing,” “Pathways to Careers with the U.S. Government,” and “Stand Out: Building an Effective Cover Letter and Resume.” I presented with Julianne McCall from the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research on “Is Grad School for Me?” We looked at the benefits and challenges of grad school education. Many participants had questions related to whether grad school would make difference in their career and opening up opportunities.

After lunch, a plenary session on “Proposal Writing 101: The Citizen Diplomacy Action Fund” has held. Amy Christianson of the State Department and Summar Lyons of Partners of the Americas shared about a new program offering up to a $10,000 per grant for alum of State programs. Summar talked about the process of applying for the grant.

In late afternoon, we visited the Pacific Council on International Policy. Marie Royce, assistant secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs of the State Department, shared about her career journey, as did Nina Hachigian, deputy mayor of LA and Jennifer Faust, executive director of the Pacific Council. Royce talked about the importance of “international mobility” in one’s career. And Hachigian shared about the city’s efforts at promoting exchange with community college students, among other programs. There was a focus on women in leadership during this session. We also learned about the various programs of the council including its junior fellows program.

Visit to the Pacific Council

This was followed by a networking reception.

Friday, August 2

The second day started with break out sessions on “Communications and Media Literacy,” “Global Health,” “Education,” and “international Development”, which was hosted by Alexandra Endara and me. We looked at our individual career pathways. She talked about her experiences at the World Bank among other things. I shared Lederach and Mansfield’s “Strategic Peacebuilding Paths” and my work with the Forage Center. My intention was to broaden the notion of international development to include all peacebuilding strategies.

A plenary session was then held on the “Art of Networking & The Power of Branding.” Here, Anar Simpson from Technovation shared her career journey. Taylor Nelson from Global Glimpse and Sherrita Wilkins from AppleOne talked about the importance of using LinkedIn and branding. This was followed by a plenary on “Community Resources” by Tracy Navichoque of the LA World Affairs Council.

After lunch, I was part of a panel of mentors taking “rapid fire questions” from the audience. This session was particularly well done in that it gave participants a chance to ask questions about career issues that had not been cover up to that point.

A final session focused on “Exploring Careers in Civil and Foreign Service.” Here, Elizabeth McKay from USC and Alfred Nakatsuma from USAID talked about their careers. Cecilia Cho, who is the State Department’s Diplomat in Residence for Southern California, provided guidance in apply ing for Foreign Service positions. Information about the Payne Development Fellowship Program was provided. The best site for looking for State Department positions is careers.state.gov. Nakatsuma shared a short film from USAID about the agency’s work. Kahoot.it was used by Cho to teach about international issues and knowledge.

The next seminar will be held in New York City in October. Check with Summar Lyons at slyons@partners.net for specific dates and the application process.

My other “Event Reports” are here.  Recently I have visited the International Conference on Conflict Resolution Education, the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute, CSIS, World Bank, Johns Hopkins University/SAIS and the SIDW career fair at George Washington University.

David J. Smith is a career coach, speaker and consultant based in Rockville, Maryland, USA. He is the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace(IAP 2016). He is an official member of Forbes Coaches Council and member of the PCDN Career Advisory Board.  David is also the president of the Forage Center for Peacebuilding and Humanitarian Education, Inc. and teaches at School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University and the School of Education at Drexel University. He can be reached at davidjsmith@davidjsmithconsulting.com.


Published by David J. Smith

I am a career coach, consultant, and head of a not for profit - the Forage Center - that offers humanitarian education training. I also teach at George Mason University and Drexel University. A one time lawyer, I spent many years teaching in a community college where I was a Fulbright U.S. Scholar teaching in Estonia. I'm the author of Peace Jobs: A Student's Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (IAP 2016). I've been married to my best friend for over 31 years and we have two well adjusted adult children who teach me something new everyday. I live in Rockville, Maryland.

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