Skip to main content

ASU students research solutions to real-world policy issues in D.C.

Students in the Policy Design Studio and Internship Program at Gettysburg.

Skyler Daviss (fifth from right) and Connor Murphy (right) tour the Gettysburg National Military Park during their time in Washington, D.C., as part of the Policy Design Studio and Internship Program.

June 15, 2016

Brainstorming solutions to global problems, spending afternoons on Capitol Hill and touring national monuments like Gettysburg — that’s all just another week for students in the McCain Institute Policy Design Studio and Internship Program at Arizona State University.

“It’s been an amazing experience,” said Connor Murphy, a participant in the program this past spring. “It’s opened a lot of professional doors, it’ll help with jobs and internships in the future, and I think a lot of people respect experience in D.C.”

Every semester, juniors and seniors from various majors at the university participate in the semester-long program hosted by the McCain Institute for International Leadership through the School of Politics and Global Studies. Students earn 12 upper-division credits as they gain valuable skills and hands-on experience in foreign affairs, teamwork and leadership.

Skyler Daviss, who graduated from ASU in May with a degree in history, spent her spring semester participating in the program along with 22 other students.

“It had always been a dream of mine to live and work in Washington, D.C.,” Daviss said. “So I went for it.”

Daviss interned with Greater Greater Washington and the Advocacy Project. Greater Greater Washington, a transportation and housing blog, keeps communities informed and civically engaged in the Washington, D.C., area to promote sustainable and equitable development. The Advocacy Project, an international human-rights organization, supports advocates for peace in countries like Vietnam, Mali and Uganda.

“As a history major, I love being able to study the past, notice trends and make recommendations for a better future,” Daviss said. “I had known that foreign policy creation and implementation is a great way to make those necessary changes, although I was not aware of how vast the opportunities are in the Foreign Service.”

One day each week, students meet in the Decision Theater at the McCain Institute for a weekly seminar known as the Policy Design Studio. The program simulates a U.S. embassy in a specific foreign country, where students are faced with real-world foreign policy issues and decision-making. Through research, design and class discussion, they create a relevant data set for policy implementation.

At the design studio, Daviss assumed the role of a defense attaché where she, along with her teammates and actual U.S. diplomats, approached real situations happening in Southeast Asia.

“It was great to follow President Obama’s trip to Vietnam and hear him discuss the implementation of several ideas that our team actually supported in the Policy Design Studio,” Daviss said. “That was extremely encouraging.”

Although the program has ended, Daviss’ motivation for change has not. She plans to attend graduate school and continue her studies on public policy, and would like to enter the Peace Corps with her eyes set on a placement in Vietnam. 

“I had always planned on serving, especially after becoming a Peace Corps campus ambassador,” Daviss said. “After studying Vietnam, I hope to be placed in that specific country so I can help in the areas that I imagined in the design studio.”

Murphy, who also participated in the program this spring, is a senior studying political science and journalism. When he learned about the program his freshman year, Murphy immediately planned to apply in his junior year.

“I knew that I wanted to be involved in politics, and I had an interest in government and public service,” he said. “I’m specifically interested in working for the State Department in the future, and this course catered to students interested in diplomacy.”

With thousands of students from around the world competing for internships in Washington, D.C., Murphy knew it would be tough landing a specific one. He was offered a position with the Office of Public and Media Affairs with the U.S. Trade Representative, where he discovered firsthand the challenges and rewards of public diplomacy and service.

During his internship, Murphy focused on the public side of foreign trade, analyzing public opinions and news publications and keeping up with congressional impacts on trade agreements.

“I think it made me respect public servants a lot more … because oftentimes you’re working on programs that are going to benefit people all around the world,” he said.

In the design studio, Murphy was given the role of deputy chief of mission, which is second in command in a real embassy. In their policy group, he acted as the student leader, responsible for having an understanding of each group member’s issues and research as well as his own.

“I think the best part about the design studio is getting lots of hands-on experience with some incredible U.S. diplomats,” Murphy said. “We got to go the U.S. State Department and meet desk officers, Foreign Service officers, all sorts of diplomats.”  

Murphy is applying for an internship with the U.S. Department of State, where he considers working in the future to protect journalistic freedoms around the world.

“Being able to say not only that I interned in D.C., but also participated in the Policy Design Studio is so helpful, and it’s really going to set my application apart,” he said.

“I also realized the world is such a big place — and I don’t think I would’ve realized that if I hadn’t come here and seen all the amazing people who have come from other parts of the world, and done different things … so it opened my eyes that way.”

For more information about the program, visit 

More Law, journalism and politics


Image of an aerial view of a group of people seated at a table with laptops and papers superimposed with the letters "SUSI."

ASU's Cronkite School to host international scholars, students for SUSI programs

This summer, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University is hosting two Study of…

June 17, 2024
A gavel sits on top of a laptop.

ASU Law launches AI focus across multiple degree programs

The Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University — ranked the nation’s most innovative university since U.S.…

June 11, 2024
People seated at a conference table smiling.

Business journalists continue to earn premium salaries; 70% report salary increases

Business journalists continue to earn an impressive premium over their general-news peers, while demographic data indicate a…

June 04, 2024