Q&A with Audel Shokohzadeh
September 2, 2016—Master of Public Policy, 2017
Global Public Policy Concentration
Summer internship: Stimson Center, Washington, DC. My assignment was to work with the communications team, supporting the re-launch of its brand, complete with new look, new motto, and new tagline.
Tell us about your experience. It was a very interesting time to be at Stimson. They were re-evaluating their presence in social media and also looking for ways to better utilize traditional media. Along with another intern on the communications team, we came up with strategies on the best time to post, how to use social media for crowd source funding, and ways to use traditional media more effectively. It was really cool to be on the ground floor of the brand re-launch.
One of the takeaways is that we did analytical reports on our posts, and took the time to see what kind of impact we had: who was reading our posts, and how engaged are people. With our press lists, we looked at how many people read our messages, who deleted, etc. I never thought of that before. Those reports were really helpful and reflective if what we were doing, and helped us tweak the messages that we put out here.
What in particular made the internship rewarding? With the communications team, you have to have your hand in all of those pots that are going on. There are no opportunities for research specializations, but you have to have your hand in everything and understand how current events tie in with the research that we have done and how we relate to it. It was valuable seeing how experts in a think tank work: it’s more than just thinking. It’s about coming up with ideas, collaborating with other other government officials, local actors, and coming up with a solution that may have a meaningful l impact. I never expected a career in think tanks before this, but now have the option of working for one in the future.
How will this internship shape your completion of studies at the Humphrey School? I think for the obvious skills that I got in terms of improving writing, communication, and presentation skills will be very helpful. This internship helps me think more thoughtfully about the political angle when it comes to recommendations out there. Stimson is nonpartisan, I learned about trying to think through: how do you come up with an idea that will have the widest appeal in a very political environment? I’d ask my supervisors, “How do you break free from that mentality? It seems political, and how do you navigate that?” It was great to see how they approach those challenges, especially in an election year when everything is political.
How do you see this experience impacting your plan to advance the common good after graduation? Definitely seeing the impact that a think tank can have, having productive conversations, and creative ideas to see the problems out there with regard to the U.S. and foreign policy: It was great to have that experience and see that I can thrive in that environment. The analytical skills in communications, being reflective of the work you did, being critical of the work that you did for the sole purpose of doing better work down the road. How to improve your craft so that you can improve your work down the road was beneficial to me. The other part for me was breaking out of the echo chamber: thinking of things in a new way, being more nonpartisan, thinking more critically about my work. Those were the three takeaways from the internship and will help me advance the common good here at the Humphrey School and throughout my life.
I just can’t speak enough about how great of an experience it was to be at the Stimson Center, and I know it was a partnership [with the Humphrey School, launched in 2015] that will get stronger. I hope that if other students are offered a communications internship, they will take advantage of it. Some people are turned off by no research, but I can’t stress enough that I was exposed to so many thinkers and researchers, and had the opportunity to do some research (for my blog post). The opportunities that the Stimson provided was invaluable: to create a press release, create a tweetable post along those lines, that experience is bar none. Communications is now something that I’m incredibly interested in, and that I will enjoy.