A returning Peace Corps Volunteer finds an international policy home at Carnegie Mellon University-Center for International Policy & Innovation - Carnegie Mellon University

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A returning Peace Corps Volunteer finds an international policy home at Carnegie Mellon University

Daron Christopher, CIPI Research Associate
Daron Christopher, CIPI Research Associate

Although Daron Christopher came to Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz College with significant field experience working on international development, his tenure as a graduate student and Research Associate at the Center for International Policy and Innovation (CIPI) would afford him many more opportunities to expand his expertise. His time as a student in the Master of Science in Public Policy and Management in DC (MS-DC) degree program at Heinz College, and his work with CIPI have given him the opportunity to bolster his skills and knowledge of foreign policy.

“I had just recently returned from overseas when I came to Carnegie Mellon,” said Christopher, a University of Pittsburgh graduate who served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cape Verde from 2007-2009. “Oddly enough, I feel like I have gained the most experience in foreign affairs since I began my studies.”

Christopher’s work as a CIPI Research Associate has given him several occasions to put those lessons into practice. When Christopher joined the CIPI research team, the center was organizing the Conference on Mitigating the Use of Violence in Liberia's 2011 Electoral Contests, which afforded him the opportunity to interact with key African policymakers working to promote democracy and combat electoral violence. He also collaborated with colleagues who were conducting research, editing and fact-checking an edited volume focused on electoral violence in Africa. Christopher’s research for the conference in Liberia focused on assessing and evaluating trends in political and electoral violence in the west African nation. He assisted in the organization of the conference of high-level government and civil society leaders in Monrovia, Liberia, which focused on bringing together stakeholders to devise recommendations for preventing the use of violence to influence the country’s October 2011 elections. Christopher found himself coordinating logistics on the ground in Liberia while most of his classmates were in the height of finals week back on campus.

“It was a really great opportunity that CIPI made possible, especially for a student research position!”

Christopher’s time at CIPI gave him a crash course in what it takes to manage a complex, international project--as well as a chance to fine-tune his writing skills. Drawing on his past journalism skills, Christopher was tasked with working alongside media counterparts in Liberia to spread the word about the conference, as well as try his hand at speech writing.

“I've always really enjoyed writing so it was a great experience to use those skills for a really important cause,” explained Christopher. “Through my work on the book and in the conference, I learned a lot about how to communicate a complex issue to a wide and diverse audience in a way that makes them care. I think it’s really important to not just outline policy proposals to people, but to tell them a story about why and how government decisions can affect their lives. That’s something that I think is often overlooked often in government, especially when it comes to foreign policy.”

Over the summer and during his graduate apprenticeship program this fall, Christopher has been applying his CIPI experience and communication skills to new professional environments. He spent part of his summer as a policy researcher and blogger at the Center for American Progress's Enough Project in Washington, DC, an initiative to stop genocide and human rights abuses focusing strongly on Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. During his tenure, Christopher penned a number of pieces for the project on foreign policy topics ranging from the human toll of the conflict in Darfur to the dangers faced by Congolese reporters covering human rights in Congo. In July, he joined the U.S. Department of State as an apprentice through the Heinz College MS-DC program. Working in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, Christopher serves as the speechwriter to Ambassador-at-Large Melanne Verveer and a policy advisor for issues affecting women in Africa.

“I feel very lucky to have the chance to go to work every day doing something that is interesting and really meaningful,” he said. “It is of huge benefit to me that I was able to spend my first year steeped in many of the issues that come up, especially in Liberia which has seen a lot of advances in women’s leadership in recent years. The work is very fast-paced and there is a tremendous range of issues to stay on top of, but I really feel that my time working with CIPI has helped give me the tools I need to succeed.”