Classroom to capitol: My Experience at FIU in DC | FIU News

This past March, I got an incredible opportunity to participate in a DC Fly-in seminar. The three days that I spent in the nation’s capital allowed me to understand how the content I have learned throughout my time at FIU applies in a variety of fields.

I am a fully online student and, while that modality was absolutely the right decision for me, there are times I feel a bit disconnected from the rest of the FIU community. Experiencing FIU in DC drew me closer to my fellow Panthers and gave me a better sense of direction for my career.

I am an international relations and political science major who will graduate in December. Being a part of this fly-in showed me that the sky really is the limit, and that not only are there opportunities for me in DC but also globally. I took away from the trip that following the cookie-cutter path is not a requirement for success.

I was able to hear from and meet with people from a variety of backgrounds that showed me just how many ways I can use my degree. As my goal is to pursue a career in national defense, I particularly found value in listening to professors Leland Lazarus and Robert Fulton of the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy talk about Latin America and the Caribbean. Much of my education has been focused around European subject matter, and hearing their presentation now inspires me to take classes during my remaining two semesters on international relations in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Going on a fly-in seminar is not only for those looking for DC-based internships, although there are certainly many incredible opportunities for students who want an internship or a job there. Fortunately for me, I was also able to find a connection for my goal to work in Europe. Professor Leland said he would provide me with a contact at a Berlin-based think tank focused on international relations.

Our group also attended the Washington Post’s summit on emerging technologies, which was geared around education and policymaking related to artificial intelligence. We had the opportunity to hear from leaders such as Anna Makanju, vice president of global affairs at OpenAI, Congress’ de-facto artificial intelligence experts Senators Todd Young and Mark Warner and, my personal favorite, Stefanie Tompkins, director of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). During her short session, Dr. Tompkins gave insight into the use of AI in defense technology such as with autonomous weapons systems and synthetic biology, to name a couple. Beyond examples of how cool and useful AI can be, Dr. Tompkins briefly detailed how DARPA combats some concerns that may come along with using AI by deeply investigating the ethical, legal and societal implications of new technologies.

Our group of 15 was divided into smaller ones and empowered to take part in meetings on Capitol Hill to discuss support for multiple research projects at FIU. My group met at the office of Congressman Mario Díaz-Balart with Defense Fellow and FIU alumnus Shaun Stewart. We discussed the ongoing support that the congressman has shown for FIU’s Wall of Wind and the university’s hope for the same regarding the Cold Spray Lab and reconfigurable antennas. We also discussed Shaun’s role as a defense fellow and what it is like to work on Capitol Hill. The visit resonated with me as his position is one that I could see myself in one day.

It is easy to be intimidated by all the congresspeople, executives and other important people you find throughout the nation’s capital. But even so, FIU in DC gave me the confidence to know that I belong there, eventually. The phrase “impact matters” appears throughout the center’s offices, and I can wholeheartedly say that it comes through in everything the staff does. In particular, they do everything they can to connect you with people and companies that will open the doors to your future because they recognize that we are the future.

On our last morning, we toured Accenture Federal Services, a consulting firm that works closely with the US Government on a variety of projects. We also heard from three FIU alumni with three very different backgrounds and degrees who work there. That truly made me feel that there is a spot for everyone at the table.

After my experience with FIU in the nation’s capital, I am more confident than ever in my degree program and future career. And I am more confident in the university that I call mine. As an online student, I feel the fly-in truly added to my sense of belonging and reignited my passion for public policy and defense, making me all the more excited to pursue my career in the field.