SICE students aid State Department through Diplomacy Lab projects

Diplomacy Lab

Representatives from the United States Department of State and the office of Indiana Senator Todd Young were on hand to watch presentations from students in Assistant Professor Sameer Patil’s “Legal and Social Informatics of Security” class at the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering.

The presentations are part of the IU Diplomacy Lab, a campus-wide initiative started in 2016 that brings together State Department officials and faculty leaders to guide students in developing research projects that accomplish goals outlined by clients of the State Department. Upon completion of the projects, students have an opportunity to present their work in a Diplomacy Lab Fair in Washington, D.C.

Visitors to Patil’s class included Bryan Gerhart, the director of the Diplomacy Lab program at the State Department, and Deb Johannes, a senior staff member from the Office of Senator Todd Young.

“Our office’s role is to engage folks from outside the building in the work that the state department does,” Gerhart said. “We hope that giving students and faculty access to the Department of State is beneficial in the same way that getting research from students and faculty is beneficial to us. Senator Young is really excited about potentially incorporating Diplomacy Lab into working with questions and resource projects sourced from Capitol Hill. The work that students are doing is incredibly important.”

Two teams of senior informatics students presented their projects to the representatives. The team of Jared Miller, Abeer Kamran, and Adrienne Schwartz presented “Truth Decay,” which studied different ways countries in the European Union are combating the spread of misinformation and suggested ways in which the United States might use methods such as financial disincentives, legislative action, and digital literacy programs to combat foreign efforts to influence policy in the U.S. The group of Stephen Railing, Sarah Leisure, and Ryan Cronk also presented “Countering Disinformation Through Storytelling,” which investigated various methods used to spread misinformation throughout history and how to best combat that spread by informing people how to tell the difference between what is real and what is propaganda. That study, which is still in progress, hopes to use surveys to judge how people react to disinformation and start to build a disinformation narrative that will allow users to recognize disinformation campaigns.

“This project or projects like these can open for students in terms of career opportunities,” said Michael Hamburger, a professor of geophysics and an institutional co-coordinator for the IU Diplomacy Lab. “People with specialized skills that are developed in courses like those at SICE can create enormous opportunities and connections that can lead to great things.”

The Diplomacy Lab was established on the federal level in 2013 by then-Secretary of State John Kerry as a public-private partnership that enables the State Department to “course-source” research an innovation related to global policy challenges by harnessing the efforts of students and faculty experts at colleges and universities across the United States. Since joining the initiative in May 2016, more than 100 students have been involved in IU Diplomacy Lab courses.

“Even if whatever solutions they propose aren’t implemented, they’ve still gained the experience of dealing with something practical, relevant, and important,” Patil said. “Just that experience is important and transfers to other things they are going to do. Some of these ideas might be implemented by the State Department or seed ideas that will make a difference. Regardless of whether that happens, there are a lot of positives that come out of this.”

Cronk agrees.

“The opportunity work on a project that can impact us on a state and federal level is awesome,” Cronk said. “It’s something I didn’t imagine I would be able to accomplish in this class, and it’s great that I can use it on my resume and, hopefully, make a real difference.”

Kamran hasn’t yet thought about how the project will impact her future, but she’s happy she had the chance to showcase her skillset.

“This project was an amazing opportunity,” Kamran said. “It’s interesting to be able to share the culmination of what I’ve learned at SICE with an agency that is making an impact in the real world, and it can shape policy for organizations and agencies in the future.”

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