Alumni support virtual human rights seminar

screenshot of Zoom seminar meeting with participants' faces

While the pandemic has pushed most courses online, students continue to benefit from rich learning experiences like UW Bothell’s annual Washington D.C. Human Rights Seminar. Since 1991, a select group of students has traveled to D.C. to engage with human rights policy at national and international levels. They spend six days participating in intensive seminars with legislators, federal agencies, human rights NGOs, foreign embassies, and think tanks across the political spectrum and return to immerse themselves in human rights research for the remainder of the quarter.

When the 2020 D.C. Seminar went virtual, leaders Ron Krabill and Jung Lee enlisted the program’s vital network in a series of online dialogues. Several IAS alumni joined this cadre of experts and mentors, sharing their firsthand experiences with human rights and social justice. Five of the alumni are now based in D.C. and offered their perspectives on living and working in the nation’s capital.

These alumni were pivotal to the success of the program and included:

  • Hussain Altamimi, Legislative Advisor for Congressman Mark Pocan (Law, Economics & Public Policy ’17, M.A. in Policy Studies ‘18)
  • Sasha Bernhard, Senior Policy Advisor to Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (Society, Ethics & Human Behavior, ‘10)
  • Kyle Elhers J.D. candidate at American University Law School (Law, Economics & Public Policy ’17)
  • Heidi Hannah, Program Operations Specialist at the UW School of Pharmacy (Global Studies ’15)
  • Tanya Kumar, Cybersecurity Analyst on Federal Policy at T-Mobile (Law, Economics & Public Policy ’18)
  • Mary Le Nguyen, Executive Director of Washington Community Action Network (American Studies ’06, M.A. in Policy Studies ‘09)
  • Kiana Reeves, recent graduate preparing for law school (Global Studies ’20)
  • Ben Wiselogle, Foreign Affairs Officer with Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the U.S. Department of State (Global Studies ’12)
  • Kyle Ehlers recently completed a summer clerkship with The Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia and was eager to support the seminar. “I participated in the virtual D.C. seminar because I understand the value of the program despite this year’s limitations,” Ehlers said. “Although I would have loved to meet all of the students in person, I think it is critical that the students become comfortable utilizing the positives that come from networking and learning in an online format. Although the pandemic has forced us apart, the internet gives us the opportunity to connect with people across the country in ways that we would not have tried had the pandemic never occurred. Use it, utilize it, and make the best of it.”

    Kyle Ehlers

    Ben Wiselogle, also based in D.C., welcomed the opportunity, commenting that it was the highlight of his week. “This was the second year I participated in the human rights seminar as an alumnus, and I found it just as inspiring as the first.” Wiselogle was also impressed by the caliber of student scholars. “Learning about the scholars’ research topics and discussing their insights and comments during our meeting left me feeling grateful for their focus on the complex issues of human rights. As in the first year I participated, I think I learned more from the scholars than they did from me. It’s truly a credit to Ron and Jung – they organized such thoughtful and engaging conversations through an entirely virtual itinerary.”

    Ben Wiselogle

    In 2017, Heidi Hannah was a Humanitarian Action Fellow with United Nations Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland and now works in higher education. “I found the D.C. Human Rights Seminar to be a refreshing reminder of the intelligence and heart the students at UW Bothell possess,” she said. “These students have such value to bring to these issues and their voices are incredibly relevant. I cannot wait to see what their reports say and the suggestions they make.”

    Heidi Hannah

    The seminar had a profound impact on Tanya Kumar, who eventually moved to D.C. “The D.C. Human Rights seminar shaped me to be the professional I am today; cognizant of different political spectrums and people, being confident in myself, asking questions and staying curious – but most importantly, trying my best to make impactful change every chance I get,” she reflected. “I moved to D.C. and made my first friends in the city through the D.C. Human Rights Alumni Night, and I try my best to pay it forward as much as I can. We all have gone through the one week and that bond naturally comes with everyone that’s taken part in this program.”

    Tanya Kumar

    Krabill and Lee view alumni participation as critical to the success of the program. “The active involvement of program alumni builds such a rich pipeline of perspectives for current students, and helps them imagine where they could be professionally in just a few short years,” says Krabill. “It also builds a powerful network for those students who want to live and work in D.C., as they already have contacts in human rights and policy-making arenas who have generously offered to help them. And make no mistake, our alumni in D.C. are doing truly remarkable work!”