From the State Department to the UN: Pol Sci student makes a mark in her government internship

Taylor Nelson

What you need to know:
• Taylor Nelson, a political science major at UWM, had an internship at the U.S. State Department last autumn.
• She served in the Office of the Ambassador to the UN and worked on human rights issues and other duties.
• The State Department is looking to hire more people from diverse backgrounds, including those from state schools like UWM.

Before she left Washington, D.C., Taylor Nelson ran a few errands at the White House and then raised a glass of champagne with the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. It was all in a day’s work for an intern in the heart of the nation’s capital.

Nelson just returned from an internship with the U.S. State Department, where she worked for the Office of the U.N. Ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Working in the section of government responsible for handling America’s foreign policy has been a long-time dream –“I’ve been looking at the State Department’s website for internships since I was 15,” Nelson said.

Nelson, a political science major finishing up her final year at UWM, was recruited as part of the State Department’s efforts to expand and diversify its pool of talent.

Nelson and U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda ThomasGreenfield developed a friendly rapport with each other over the weeks that Nelson worked in the office. They quickly bonded over the fact that they both went to school in Wisconsin.

(Thomas-Greenfield earned her Master’s of Public Administration from UW-Madison in 1975.)

“She is the sweetest person I have ever met. I was worried that I was just the intern – no one cares about the intern. She remembered my name every time I saw her!” Nelson said with a laugh. “My last week, I had champagne with her. I was like, I want a job at the UN and she said, we would love to see you there.”

An intern in the capitol
The Office of the Ambassador to the UN is a busy place. Policy advisors, each tasked with overseeing a region of the world and the conflicts and issues that play out in them, regularly advise Thomas-Greenfield and the deputy ambassador to the UN about new developments and ongoing tensions.

As the intern in the office, Nelson was tasked with supplementing their work by drafting memos, working on human rights issues, assisting policy advisors regarding the war in Ukraine, and compiling lists detailing the proceedings of UN meetings. Nelson said her team did a fantastic job of giving her projects that were interesting and valuable to the team, the Department of State, and even the White House. There was never a dull day in the office, and her team quickly became like a family to her.

Nelson was also sent to the White House for an errand or two. One day, she was asked to deliver a handwritten birthday card to Thomas-Greenfield, signed by none other than Vice President Kamala Harris.

The path to the State Department
For any student wanting to follow her in her footsteps, Nelson said that the time to apply to the State Department is now. “They are really looking for people from state schools. Students at UWM have a fantastic chance to get in right now,” she advised. “Just apply. Be honest too, because you have to do a security clearance. Just show you’re passionate.”

“Passionate” is a good word to describe Nelson. In 2018, before starting school at UWM, she studied abroad in Russia at Peter the Great Polytechnic University specifically to show that she could adapt to living in a foreign country.

“I was only there for six weeks, but it was a grand six weeks. I loved it,” Nelson said. “I was in the Kremlin, so I was in the same place as Vladimir Putin. I said, I need to go there now because in a few years I won’t be able to. I didn’t know they were going to invade Ukraine, but looking back, there was a store on their main street that was antiUkraine. It said, ‘Ukraine is Russia.’”

That study abroad trip raised a few eyebrows when it came time to get her security clearance for the State Department internship, but the experience made her stand out.

Nelson wants to continue to study abroad, with plans to travel to Brussels, Belgium, next summer.

UWM has done a lot to help pave the way. Nelson talks animatedly about her political science classes and credits her professors for their flexibility and support during her internship, since she was also taking classes online at the same time she was in the capital: “They allowed me to not put their class first,” she said.

Nelson will graduate this spring. After that, her plans become more nebulous: She is looking into potential jobs with the UN, but she might also start graduate school in Washington, D.C. to prepare herself for a career in government. One thing is for certain, though: Nelson plans to get back to working in the State Department as soon as she can – this time for a career.

By Sarah Vickery, College of Letters & Science