June 2021 Conference Insights

The Harvard Undergraduate International Relations Scholars Program (HUIRSP) is an annual undergraduate-run conference for high school students looking to pursue a career in foreign policy. Featuring a range of professionals and academics, this equal-opportunity conference aims to reach students all across the world, of different nationalities, socioeconomic classes, and lived experiences. This program seeks to expose high schoolers to current foreign policy questions with prominent leaders in the field.

In June 2021, the conference welcomed 615 students from 62 different countries around the world. Across 3 days, it also hosted 150+ experts, including Henry Kissinger, former U.S. National Security Advisor & Secretary of State; 12 Department of State, 4 Central Intelligence Agency, and 2 Department of Defense personnel; 13 current and former U.S. Ambassadors; the foreign minister of the Dominican Republic; current and former CEOs of Blackstone, Google, and the Center for a New American Security; and various United Nations representatives, policy advisors, think tank directors, and academics. 

Students had an opportunity to interact with these experts and directly ask them questions during Q&A sessions. Among them was Leon Panetta, the 23rd Secretary Defense and Central Intelligence Agency's Director from 2009 to 2011; Secretary Panetta has had a wide range of experiences, ranging from Congress, to the executive office to intelligence and Defense, but he presented at the HUIRSP as the leader of the Panetta Institute, which aims to mentor the next generation of public servants. Notably, in response to a student’s question about enhanced interrogation techniques by the CIA, Panetta rightly mentioned, “It's important that we learn the lessons of history. And the lessons from that part of history is that in choosing, I don't think you have to make a choice between security and our freedoms. And for that reason, I think we could protect our security and still adhere to our values as Americans, and I hope that that continues to be the guideline we use in the future."

By following 1 of 11 regional tracks—including Europe, Latin America, Middle East, Africa, South Asia, Eurasia, and East Asia and the Pacific—students employed that guideline in practice. Specifically, they participated in policy hackathon projects, whereby they were given a crisis scenario and collaborated in teams to produce a professional policy memo and presentation to the program addressing their crises—situations ranging from the War in Yemen to national security clashes between India, Pakistan and China. Of the 12 teams who advanced to the final round from their regional sessions, the winning team of the Conference-Wide Policy Hackathon was Olivia Fess, Farhan Babur, Shayaan Anis, Jash Desai, Amber Simons, and Tafhimul Hasan from the South Asia regional division.

In this manner, the June 2021 HUIRSP honed students’ real-world policy writing skills, cross-cultural leadership, and understanding global challenges from all sectors of international relations. In his final address to students at the conference, Leon Panetta encouraged students to “think strongly about the kind of career that you want in the future, but most importantly dedicate yourself to making people's lives better”—and it is HUFPI’s hope that we have helped inspire the next generation of foreign policy leaders to do so.