Rebecca Skaff, MIA Class of 2018
- Where and with whom did you do your internship?
In Washington, DC, for the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), which is part of the Executive Office of the President. I worked in the Office of Textiles, which is responsible for trade negotiations affecting the textile and apparel sector.
- What were your primary responsibilities?
I conducted preliminary research on trends in the domestic textiles and apparel industries to ensure that efforts to modernize NAFTA should strengthen domestic competitiveness and not disrupt or undermine the jobs that depend on NAFTA trade, either directly or through unintended consequences. Much of my work included clearly defining trade provisions, comparing usage of tariff preference levels and other NAFTA-specific provisions, and considering stakeholders’ testimonies. These tasks assisted the Assistant and Deputy Assistant USTRs for Textiles decide which provisions to keep, delete, or modify for NAFTA 2.0.
- Which of your previous classes or learning experiences were most useful to you during the internship?
The majority of my courses as an undergrad were based in international economics, which helped tremendously in shaping my foundation in economics. At the Bush School, however, two courses contributed to my success at USTR by preparing me with trade policy knowledge and quantitative skills.The first course is Dr. Robertson’s International Trade Policy course. The course covers a great deal of NAFTA’s history and USTR’s roles and functions (among other trade agencies and organizations). It also delves into trade policy on a more practical level and engages the students to think outside of economic theory.The second course is Dr. Sellars’s Quantitative Methods course (both I and II). Quant I forces you to think more critically and practically about problem solving and researching with data. You learn the ins and outs of working with data and recognizing “bad” policy suggestions based on empirical research. Quant II really dives into Stata, a brilliant statistical software that does magical things (you learn the basics in Quant I, but Quant II is where you get into the nitty gritty of research). Stata skills are incredibly important for internship experiences because you can make policy recommendations to your employer AND back them up, as well as take your research a step further with some extra graphs or statistical tests!
- What were the highlights or most important learning opportunities from your internship experience?
Where do I begin? Simply being able to say I contributed to NAFTA 2.0 is humbling. Additionally, meeting with teams from the Department of Commerce and the US International Trade Commission to work on the textiles chapter exposed me to other perspectives to use in my own work. More importantly, the experience of working together with those officials and with foreign government officials blew my mind. You don’t really understand just how many people from so many places work together on a slew of tasks to achieve trade deals, laws, and so on, that on a daily basis we take for granted. It doesn’t click until you see it happening in front of you.I must also add that 4th of July fireworks on the White House lawn, bowling in the Truman Bowling Alley, and unlimited White House tours all done with my greatest friends were PHENOMENAL perks of being an intern in the Executive Office of the President!
- Do you have any advice for first year Bush School students who may be applying for an internship for this summer?
Just go for it. You may think you really want one thing, but if you don’t get it and get something else instead, give it your all anyway. You never know what opportunities lie ahead. While you are there, don’t wait until the supervisor has something for you; show your supervisor that you are self-motivated and that you want the challenge. Sometimes, you’ll be asked if you can do something meaningful that you have never heard of, with very little direction – say “yes” and figure it out along the way. Definitely ask for help when you need it and use all your resources, but don’t underestimate yourself. You can do more than you think.