Southeast students present foreign, domestic policy ideas to D.C. group

Friday, April 24, 2009

For months, Southeast Missouri State University student Zarah Ahmad monitored English media outlets in India and Pakistan before giving a national policy recommendation to a think tank in Washington, D.C.

As part of her research project for a senior seminar class, Ahmad formulated policy concerning terrorism in the disputed Kashmir region of India. It was part of a group effort with four other students.

"We didn't agree all the time, but sometimes you agree to disagree," said Ahmad, a junior studying physics.

Ahmad and 27 other Southeast students spent four months researching and creating policy before heading to Washington, D.C., to work with policy experts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit think tank.

For Ahmad, whose father is from Pakistan, the project was more personal, but she said she took an objective approach to the assignment.

"You have to look at both sides and find the middle ground," she said.

During spring break, the students completed a five-day residency at the center. On Wednesday they presented their national policy recommendations at Southeast's second annual CSIS Regional Conference. Each group spoke for 30 minutes about their proposals and answered questions challenging their viewpoints.

Five groups of students analyzed different components of policy relating to conflict, climate change, energy and the United States' relations with India and China.

"I think it really opens their eyes," said Dr. Amy Freshwater, the head professor for the seminar.

She said the students spent four to eight hours a day working with policy experts at the center. Students participated in simulations where they altered their policy according to hypothetical situations, she said

Kelly Barbour, a senior studying mass media, said experts challenged their ideas by taking opposing views.

"Everything we said, they pretty much shot it down," Barbour said. She worked with five other students to create policy regarding China, including recommendations for human rights and the economy.

She said the biggest challenge of the project was setting aside personal viewpoints.

"We really realized there is no room for bias in policymaking," she said.

Kelli Nagel said the exercise made her realize how international issues affect people locally, especially economic issues.

"I realize we're not so isolated," said Nagel, a junior studying English and Spanish.

Erik Peterson, the center's senior vice president, and Linda Jamison, dean of the center's leadership academy, also gave presentations during the conference.


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