Since 2016, Indiana University has been one of a handful of universities actively involved in a unique program that brings the U.S. Department of State and the academic world together. Through the Diplomacy Lab program, IU students have had the extraordinary opportunity to contribute their knowledge, skills, and perspectives to real-world diplomatic challenges. It’s not just a valuable academic experience, but also a meaningful way to make a difference on the global stage.
Diplomacy Lab is a distinctive initiative that provides faculty and students at participating universities across the nation the chance to take on real diplomatic projects identified by the Department of State. It’s an immersive approach to education that not only engages students in hands-on experiences but also offers fresh insights into modern economics, society, diplomacy, and international relations.
In the fall of 2023, a new cohort of students and faculty at Indiana University eagerly joined the cohort of over forty classes at IU that have participated in Diplomacy Lab in the seven years since the program’s start at IU.
Diplomacy Lab has a unique approach to faculty involvement. It encourages faculty members to take on specific projects, weaving them into their existing courses. This isn’t just theoretical learning; it’s a tangible, impactful application of academic knowledge. Four official “models” for participating guide the process, giving faculty and students a clear roadmap.
Dr. Elisheva Cohen’s motivation for joining the program was to diversify the projects her students were working on, within and beyond the classroom. Her Diplomacy Lab project connects students in the Tobias Center for Innovation in International Development’s HLS Global Consultants with the U.S. Embassy in Papua New Guinea to create the “Guidebook to Independence.” This semester her students are tasked with creating a comprehensive guidebook outlining the steps needed for an autonomous region to become a recognized independent country. It was an exercise that not only expands their academic horizons but also contributes to real diplomatic efforts. “Working on a project with the US Department of State will provide HLS Global Consultants with new skills and experiences that will build their professional capacities in international development as well as in diplomacy and international relations,” Cohen shares.
For College of Arts + Sciences professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Michael Hamburger, it was a unique alignment of passion and opportunity. While not all projects fit his area of expertise, the proposal from the U.S. Embassy in Canada resonated with his research in disaster risk assessment and reduction. It was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
Hamburger seamlessly integrated the Diplomacy Lab project into his “Environmental & Energy Diplomacy” course. The project challenges students to assess a wide range of natural hazards in Western Canada, collaborating with the U.S. Embassy. From earthquakes to wildfires, students are delving into the complexities of disaster risk assessment.
Justyna Zając’s project “Hybrid Threats and Hybrid Warfare in Europe and Eurasia” falls squarely within the visiting professor of political science’s expertise. Her bid to participate in Fall 2023 was motivated by the opportunities it offers to foster students’ professional development. Zając expressed, “Diplomacy Lab provides a unique opportunity for students to explore the real-world challenges identified by the US Department of State, contribute to the policymaking process, and, in consequence, influence developments in global politics. I couldn’t imagine a better opportunity for my International Studies students to broaden their professional experience.”
In her course, INTL-I 310 Contemporary Security Issues in Europe, students collaboratively analyze hybrid threats and warfare across Europe and Eurasia, offering recommendations to the Department of State for targeted countries. Zając’s participation in the Diplomacy Lab program is driven by her strong belief in the significant career competencies it imparts, fostering critical analysis, problem-solving, and collaboration – attributes highly valued by employers in various sectors.
Even years after their initial participation, faculty agree that the benefits extend beyond the classroom—for students and themselves.
John Rupp, associate professor emeritus at the O’Neill School of Public Health, reflects on his semester with a bid from Turkmenistan regarding policies for mitigating fugitive methane. “It was an exercise in professionalism,” he says. “Students learned to navigate these complex issues independently while I, as the instructor, had to find that right balance between giving guidance and letting them explore their own ideas and solutions.” His project culminated with presentations to diplomatic staff and critical feedback from chief diplomats with the Department of State.
Joe Ryan shared his experiences teaching courses related to international development. His journey encompassed challenges such as adjusting expectations and managing multiple projects. He also highlighted the significant impact the program had on students, saying, “It’s truly remarkable to see how this program offers our students the opportunity to interact professionally with clients and understand the inner workings of organizations and government entities.”
Scott Shackleford’s experience with a Cybersecurity Risk Management capstone revealed the importance of adaptability in the program. Challenges included managing multiple projects alongside a capstone course, leading to lots of meetings and demands on his time. “In this program,” Scott says, “everyone involved learns the importance of adaptability and staying resilient. It’s a glimpse into the demands of government work with clients and how classroom theories translate to the real world.”
Bids are accepted each semester with the project menu released for spring courses in October and for fall courses in April. Interested faculty are encouraged to visit diplomacylab.indiana.edu to learn more.