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SHE-CAN Scholar reflects on internship at The Wilson Center Africa Program – by Bonnette Ishimwe

SHE-CAN Scholar reflects on internship at The Wilson Center Africa Program – by Bonnette Ishimwe

During my spring semester at Whitman College, I was completing an off-campus program study on U.S. Foreign Policy at American University’s School of Professional & Extended Studies. In addition to taking classes, the program requires students to do an internship during the semester. My professor recommended I apply to The Wilson Center Africa Program because they had a new scholar named Dr. Signe who was coming in and would be working on public policy in Africa. I happen to be interested in that subject so I applied and got the position! I started my internship in February and it ended on June 21. My internship was only supposed to last throughout my spring semester, but Dr. Signe still wanted my help with different projects and we decided to extend my internship halfway into the summer.

The most important takeaway from my time at The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars is the mentorship relationship I built with scholar Dr. Signe who I conducted research with for his book “Innovating Development Strategies in Africa: The Role of International, Regional and National Actors.” Dr. Signe is a distinguished global scholar who was recognized by The World Economic Forum as one of the Young Global Leaders. He received the Desmond Tutu fellowship to study at The London School of Economics and Political Science, and received executive education at The Harvard Kennedy School which I aspire to attend for further studies.

In addition to completing research for the book’s outline (the chapters), I completed research on the financial empowerment of African women running for office, which I think helped me get an idea of what the challenges and advantages will be moving forward if I decide to run for office later in life. However, this was more of a side project. Dr. Signe was thinking of writing a scholarly piece on the subject, and I offered to do some light research because I was genuinely interested in the topic. I also had the opportunity to discuss my aspirations in life with him. Together we strategized a plan that would help pave my road to grad school and also designed a path that would help me work towards a career in foreign and public policy.

Another rewarding aspect of my internship was the rigorous environment and its academic setting. Individuals were very passionate and driven by the work they did and the impact it makes either in Congress or globally. Getting to network with experts whose expertise stretches globally and covers a wide array of areas such as economics, health, education, women empowerment, governance and international politics, nuclear proliferation and intelligence was in part another major reason why The Wilson Center was such a great fit for me. Additionally, I was able to sit in on a wide range of discussions, talks and lectures. The talks directly tied to the Africa Program at The Wilson Center where I was interning or the Middle East Program, Latin America Program, climate change, nuclear weapon proliferation and more.

Finally, the fact that I could easily evaluate my work and assist Dr. Signe with the work he wanted to accomplish was very rewarding. Even more so, I learned so much about the African continent that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. I liked the fact that my research was mainly based on contemporary Africa rather than African political thought, which I’m used to discussing and writing about as a politics major with a focus on African politics. Dr. Signe gave me weekly feedback on my research which had a great impact on my performance week after week. Every week the research I provided to complete the book’s outline was more tailored and improved to the project at hand. I wanted an internship that matched the program I was completing at American University, and I wanted to intern for an institution where I could put to use the theory I was getting from my classes on foreign policy. The Wilson Center happened to be the best fit!