Penn State World Campus undergraduate student Kinan Al Shaghouri recently completed an online internship through the federal government’s Virtual Student Foreign Service program, working for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Office of Transition Initiatives. Kinan lives in Washington, D.C., and works part-time as a technical expert for Apple. He says he has taken three courses per semester since he started in 2014, and he expects to graduate in 2019.
Tell us about your internship. How was it virtual? What kind of work did you do?
All of the interns met virtually one day per week, watched a lecture or dialogue between USAID colleagues, and then discussed the topics they covered, which mostly focused on humanitarian mapping initiatives. Between the weekly meetings, each intern completed mapping-related assignments and shared their progress using the Slack program.
My Virtual Student Foreign Service experience has been very rewarding. I started working for the organization with some assumptions about how these types of governmental and quasi-governmental organizations work. I’ve had doubts about how effective they tend to be when it comes to international development, but after working with them now over the course of the internship, I am blown away by the impact their efforts have had and continue to have on areas of the world that are in desperate need of aid and repair.
In some small way, I was able to contribute to their work while learning more about it. For example, I learned about the many ways that a humanitarian “mapathon” can bring critical information about landscape and infrastructure to aid and relief organizations on the ground in conflict and disaster-afflicted areas.
Tell us more about these “mapathons.”
Volunteers come together to map out these areas, and the hope is that by getting people to fill out critical details about streets and infrastructure, then later — when humanitarian organizations are trying to reach at-risk areas — they have as much information as possible to make the greatest impact. These volunteers look at satellite images and try to decipher what they are seeing while entering information about buildings, schools, parking lots, and other structures into the mapping platform.
This blending of technology and international development inspires me, and I hope to pursue this kind of work in my career.
How did you choose Penn State World Campus and your major in international politics?
After conducting a lot of research to try to find the best online academic program for me, I came across Penn State World Campus, which was highly rated across a number of platforms. It was clear to me that this educational institution would be the perfect place for me to get my distance education.
A few years ago, I decided that I would take a step away from my background in information technology and media and explore the possibility of studying international relations, a subject that I’ve personally been very interested in for a very long time but never had an opportunity to study academically. I selected international politics as my major because it is one of the most interesting and important subjects in the world today and would allow me to better understand a number of critical global issues of our time.
Why is online learning the best fit for you?
I love the flexibility that comes with online learning. I don’t always work standard business hours, so it is really helpful to be able to complete course work at flexible times of the day and on the weekend. I also like that I can complete my studies from anywhere in the world. When I travel to other cities or even out of the country, I have no excuse to fall behind, because I can access my e-books and course work remotely from anywhere with a steady internet connection.
How do you plan to use your internship experience and your degree?
Working with USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives opened my eyes to the world of international development, which I hope to pursue in my future career. This will bring together all of my skills in international politics, technology, and development. I plan to pursue a career in tech and international development. This will help me in the longer-term future as well, because I am considering pursuing a master’s degree in security studies with a focus on technology.
What advice do you have for online learners who do online internships?
First, be organized. There are lots of online and mobile tools designed for busy, working students like us, so take advantage of them. Second, make an effort to get to know your fellow virtual interns. They are often very cool people with lots of interesting backgrounds and life experiences, and it is easy to breeze through an online internship without learning more about them, so take advantage of social media and other ways of getting to know them.
If you are interested in the Virtual Student Foreign Service program, the application deadline is August 2 at 11:59 p.m. ET. Apply here.