Since 2018, three University of Michigan undergraduates have been awarded the Human Rights First Fellowship for a research and service summer internship at Human Rights First in Washington, D.C. This fellowship was created and is administered in partnership with the Donia Human Rights Center, Program in International and Comparative Studies, and Human Rights First. During summer 2020, Rachel Milner (BA Public Policy ‘22) spent twelve weeks working remotely with Melissa Hooper (Director, Foreign Policy Advocacy, Human Rights First) through a virtual internship at the Human Rights First in Washington, D.C. and shared her experiences.
“The Human Rights First Fellowship provided the perfect opportunity to combine my interests in foreign policy and human rights, and determine if this is the right field for me. I would like to thank the Program in International and Comparative Studies, Donia Human Rights Center, and Human Rights First for this amazing opportunity to solidify my interest in pursuing a human rights career.
Many times, the work between two branches, the foreign policy team and the advocacy team, overlapped. One of the major projects Melissa Hooper had been working on was trying to pass the Protecting Human Rights During the Pandemic Act. From this effort I was able to see many facets of NGO work that is often behind the scenes. This included coordinating efforts with other NGOs, talking to congressional offices and their aides about the language and strategy of the act, and setting up an event with human rights defenders from across the world to encourage representatives to support the legislation. Furthermore, I researched the interests of different representatives on both sides of the aisle in order to determine the best talking points that might encourage them to support the legislation. Participating in this process gave me insight into balancing the interests of both parties to garner bipartisan support. For the advocacy team, I was able to monitor different hearings and summarize key points. This was a good opportunity to study congress in session and view the proceedings from a human interest lens.
Speaking with experts in human rights allowed me to see different career options moving forward. Some of my common takeaways to prepare myself for the field included working on developing language skills, immersing myself in other cultures abroad, and making sure to work on topics that I am passionate about. I am now certain that I want to attend law school and apply to the Peace Corps following graduation.
At Human Rights First, I was able to immerse myself in the human rights world through one of the most prominent organizations in the field. I was able to get feedback on research and listen to experts on a wide range of topics. I am walking away from this internship more prepared academically and professionally to build a career in human rights.”