Alumni Stay in Touch

From D.C. to Vanuatu

— Ginger Jacobs, POLS ‘16

My summer began with me feeling confined as I donned a button-down, blazer and pen- cil skirt. I was quickly given a whirlwind tour of the Senate, House and Capitol buildings.

My tour guide was walking incredibly fast, and I was having a hard time keeping up in the heels I was not used to wearing. This was the start of my summer as a policy intern in U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz’s Washington, D.C., office. 

Though I was assigned three legislative aids as my mentors, the highlight of my summer was working on foreign affairs. Every day, I was responsible for compiling a news update on the ongoing Iran nuclear negotiations. I was in constant disbelief that I had the opportunity to apply my global politics classes to my work. My final update summarized the details of the historic Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and I was later informed that it went right into the hands of the senator.

By the end of the summer, I had heard Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speak in the Supreme Court; sat in the front row as Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright were interviewed; watched a live filming of “Meet the Press,” where I personally asked Chuck Todd a question; and attended a lecture by Beau Willimon, the writer of “House of Cards.” I physically ran into John McCain in the hall, and while watching the Senate floor, witnessed Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren giggle and clasp each other’s hands. 

I then traded in my suit for a pair of shorts and a T-shirt, got on a plane and flew to Vanuatu, a Pacific Island nation in the South Pacific Ocean. There I met up with Professor Laura Hosman to lead a two-day training for the Peace Corps on our SPELL devices. SPELL, or Solar Powered Electronic Learning Library, is a solar-powered computer server preloaded with educational content. The device is made mostly with components we ordered from Amazon.com and is not much larger than a textbook. I began working on SPELL in Hosman’s Global Synthesis of Liberal Arts and Engineering class at Cal Poly.

The Peace Corps was interested in SPELL as a tool to use in elementary schools throughout the Pacific region that were without electricity or Internet. Twenty-five Peace Corps volunteers stationed throughout Vanuatu’s 22 different islands paid their way to attend the training, believing that SPELL would empower their communities’ schools. To see a project go from a classroom at Cal Poly to a training room across the world was an amazing experience. Hearing the unique challenges the volunteers face in their communities and their vision of what they thought SPELL could do for them, not only brought the project to life, but also made it personal. 

I went from connecting with policymakers in Washington, D.C., and getting an inside look into Congress, to traveling from village to village in Vanuatu and hearing about the tragedies from Cyclone Pam and the struggles of living in such a remote location. Connecting with people from another culture, gaining a better understanding of their lives, and building relationships made SPELL more than just a school project. These experiences represent two very different fields of political science. As a senior contemplating post- graduate work, I thought I would have to choose which type of “connection” I preferred. Instead, I have decided that the two experiences enhance each other, and I hope to balance the two in my career as a political scientist. 

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