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June 23, 2010: News, Research & Events from the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy
Baker Institute Update: Internships open a world of opportunity

Baker Institute internships open a world of opportunity

From harvesting water from fog in Morocco to researching prisoners' rights in Washington, D.C., Baker Institute interns are turning classroom concepts into experiences that will last long after the summer ends.

"In school, you learn theoretical solutions to problems, but as an intern I get to see how policy initiatives are evaluated and implemented in the real world. It has really motivated me further to pursue public interest law," said Daniel LaSalle, Rice class of 2011, who is majoring in cognitive science. He is researching criminal justice reform at the American Civil Liberties Union.

LaSalle is one of nine Rice students currently working in the nation's capital as part of the institute's Jesse Jones Leadership Center Summer in D.C. Policy Research Internship Program. Other D.C. interns are conducting research at organizations and agencies such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Defense University, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Environmental Defense Fund.

Earlier this month, 10 students traveled to Cairo to discuss topics including human rights, religion and the news media with their Egyptian counterparts at the American University in Cairo (AUC). The colloquium was the first for the institute's new student-led Public Diplomacy and Global Policymaking program.

"In one week I learned more than in my 30-day trip throughout countries in Europe, where I was confined to 20 American students," blogged rising sophomore Marc Sabbagh from an Internet café in Cairo. "This trip was on a new level because I was able to make friends and still question who they are and the way their country works."

Between group discussions, the students met with the president of AUC as well as with Nabil Fahmy, former Egyptian ambassador to the United States; visited the pyramids at Giza; rode camels across the desert; and toured the catacombs in Alexandria — and discovered that some of the most illuminating conversations came during relaxed moments with their Egyptian hosts. A long bus trip led to a lively discussion about the pros and cons of online dating and arranged marriages.

The students, pictured above with some of the AUC participants, will publish a report on their trip in the fall. 

In Paris and Brussels, four Rice students sponsored by the Baker Institute are working with research fellows at the French Institute of International Relations. This unique opportunity exposes students to policy studies in areas as diverse as Asia, the environment and the European Union.

This past weekend, six interns headed to Ifni, Morocco. These students, part of an Energy Forum program that promotes sustainability in developing countries, will fine-tune a system for harvesting water from fog to help rural residents who live beyond the reach of utility lines. Using nets similar to those used in volleyball, the interns will trap fog water droplets, which condense to form larger drops that collect in containers set at the base.

In addition, the students will attend planning sessions with cooperatives that produce oil from prickly pears and the Argania spinosa, a tree endemic to southwestern Morocco.

"I'm looking forward to helping people and figuring out how they can efficiently use these cutting-edge processes in the future," said math application major Noemie Levy, who will be a senior in the fall. "It's going to be really interesting to be in the field and directly apply the stuff we're learning in class."

Homeland security fellow testifies before Congress

Joan Neuhaus Schaan, the Baker Institute's fellow in Homeland Security and Terrorism, testified before a congressional subcommittee last week about the possibility of a narcoterrorist attack on Texas’ water infrastructure. Citing unconfirmed threats against the Falcon Dam and Falcon Reservoir in South Texas, Neuhaus Schaan said organized crime in Mexico has the means, access and possibly the motive to carry out an attack. However, she added, the purported threats could be "a hoax to preoccupy authorities while a contraband shipment occurs elsewhere."

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The James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy is a nonpartisan public policy think tank located on the campus of Rice University in Houston, Texas. The institute's distinguished fellows and scholars research and collaborate with experts from academia, government, the media, business and private organizations on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy.

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