Washington Week introduces students to alumni diplomats

Tar Heels networked about foreign affairs careers through this UNC Global Affairs program.

Washington Week participants sitting behind table with microphones listening intently.
Washington Week participants visit the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. (UNC Global Affairs)

Washington Week allows Tar Heels to exchange ideas and expand their networks. Students meet professionals in foreign affairs, and Carolina alumni introduce Tar Heels to Washington.

“I think what people in Washington are hungry for is smart, thoughtful people who have had a rigorous and open-minded place to explore and learn,” said Jennifer Davis ’94, ’97 (JD). “We need those kinds of minds in Washington now more than ever, and Chapel Hill is full of them.”

Davis is a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, currently posted in Washington, D.C. Over the University’s spring break`, she and many other Carolina alumni welcomed 24 undergraduate students from UNC-Chapel Hill for the Diplomacy Initiative’s second annual week of networking.

In Washington, students met with Davis and other policymakers working in the federal government, in the private sector and for nongovernmental organizations to learn about careers in foreign affairs. The Office of the Vice Provost for Global Affairs organizes Washington Week, drawing on the vast network of Carolina alumni working in the capital to provide students with career insights. The experience is funded through the Chancellor’s Global Education Fund, with minimal cost to participants.

Annika Deshpande ’26 attended Washington Week last year and returned this year as a student leader.

“Our alumni are very passionate and very willing to help fellow Tar Heels,” Deshpande said. “I have stayed in touch with several people I met through Washington Week, and a couple of them have become professional mentors.”

This year, students visited the U.S. Department of State, the Pentagon, the Mexican Embassy, the Institute of International Education, the United States Institute of Peace, the Carnegie Endowment for the Institute of Peace and Deloitte.

“Washington Week is incredibly dynamic,” Lily Potthast ’25 said. “Every site we visited allowed me to better understand our nation’s complex diplomatic infrastructure and gave me the opportunity to learn directly from the committed, passionate people whose work impacts millions around the globe every day.”

A networking reception helps the Washington Week students, along with students in the Honors Seminar on Public Policy and Global Affairs, to connect more deeply with Carolina alumni in Washington. This year, more than 50 alumni came and heard remarks from Lee H. Roberts, Carolina’s interim chancellor, and Barbara Stephenson, vice provost for global affairs and chief global officer.

“Washington Week offers students a taste of the thrills and challenges of working in foreign affairs,” Stephenson said. “Carolina alumni, who are so committed to their alma mater and the next generation, open doors across Washington and create a special Carolina experience.”

Davis and Morgan O’Brien ’01 have been part of Washington Week both years. They also serve as judges in Carolina’s annual Policy Brief Competition. Both programs focus on helping students build the skills used by policymakers to address global challenges.

Davis agrees there is value in these experiences and added that the exchange is mutually beneficial.

“We can share what it’s like to be in the Foreign Service or working in diplomacy,” Davis said. “And in return, we find hope working with these students. It’s a great relief to see such brilliant students — this next generation of leaders — who are ready to take the baton.”