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Baker Institute to launch new program

By Graham West     2/22/12 6:00pm

The James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy provides excellent opportunities to Rice students, including paid internships during the school year and the chance to discuss policy with prominent guest speakers. In the summer, the institute funds internships for a select group of students in Washington, D.C., or Paris, France. This semester, one of the institute's newest initiatives, the student-led Public Diplomacy & Global Policymaking in the 21st Century Program, is offering an even more incredible experience for 12 undergraduates: a weeklong trip to Qatar, where students will attend a conference with their counterparts in Education City.

The PDGP program began in 2009 as a student initiative led by Sean Graham (Baker '10) and Tom Campbell (Lovett '11). These two friends envisioned an undergraduate colloquium where students from different cultures could meet to discuss international policy. After months of hard work, their goals were realized; in June 2010, I had the good fortune to travel with Sean, Tom and the inaugural PDGP delegation to Cairo, Egypt for a week. Ten of us from Rice met with students from the American University in Cairo and discussed topics ranging from interfaith dialogue to new media technology and economic development. Beyond these sessions, we had the opportunity to interact informally with our Egyptian friends while touring Cairo. Upon returning home, we, as a group, published a Baker Institute report summarizing our discussions, conclusions and experiences. Thankfully, we were able to repay the wonderful hospitality of our friends from Cairo when they visited Rice in early January 2011.

I am excited to say that in 2012, PDGP has expanded in both size and scope. We also selected Doha, Qatar as the second location for the student colloquium. When Baker Institute Director of Development Christene Kimmel and I were considering future PDGP trip possibilities in 2011, Qatar was at the top of our list due to the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani's efforts in recent years to develop a leading knowledge-based economy and increase his country's diplomatic presence on the world stage. Fortunately, Baker Institute Fellow in Science and Technology Policy Kirstin R. W. Matthews was already working with the Qatar Foundation to organize an international conference on stem cell science and policy. She joined the PDGP team and helped us plan the colloquium even as she organized the stem cell conference.

The trip will take place over Rice's spring break, and thanks to a generous grant provided by the Qatar Foundation, it will not require student funding. In addition to the colloquium, Matthews, Kimmel, and I also developed a class, UNIV 312, to accompany the program so that students could become more knowledgeable and prepared for discussions while also learning about the culture and history of our host country. Moreover, the team selected for this year's delegation is diverse by nearly all measures. The group contains five women and seven men, with students representing seven different residential colleges, all age groups, and majors in the social sciences, humanities, natural sciences, engineering and music.

Rice's student delegation has been busy laying the groundwork for the trip to Doha. We are negotiating with students from Education City to determine the topics we will discuss at roundtable sessions. We are putting together a preliminary itinerary that includes visits to points of interest in Doha, such as the offices of the Al-Jazeera news network. Finally, we are also reaching out to Qataris, expatriates and international visitors to set up informational meetings.

Baker Institute Founding Director Edward P. Djerejian encouraged the development of PDGP from the start.

"Student leadership and intern programs like this offer important opportunities for Rice students to burnish their academic credentials with practical public policy experience," Djerejian said.

Djerejian will be a guest lecturer this semester for our class and will deliver opening remarks at the student colloquium in Doha.

Ultimately, the PDGP program shows how relevant the Baker Institute is to every student at Rice University. By sponsoring a program that is open to all areas of academic expertise, the institute is proving that good policy in a global environment requires a versatile and competent new generation of leaders from a wide range of backgrounds. This year's team has a chance to put into practice the institute's mission of bridging the world of ideas and the world of action. The Public Diplomacy and Global Policymaking 2012 Colloquium in Doha, Qatar is sure to be an extraordinary experience for those attending. We want to extend an invitation to all Rice undergraduates to apply to the program in coming years and help us continue to shape this evolving and important initiative.

Graham West is a Sid Richardson College senior.

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