A Historic Summer in Senegal 

Jesús Luis Zúñiga IV , SP2 Masters in Non-Profit Leadership, 2024

I expected a busy summer full of new experiences, interesting work, and good food when I was invited to intern in Dakar with UNESCO’s International Institute for Education Planning (IIEP) as part of my International Educational Development graduate program at Penn GSE. But, I did not expect to land in Dakar on the eve of massive protests as dramatic presidential campaigning would test Senegal’s famed stability. Then, about halfway through the summer, the Sahel became an  unfortunate center of geopolitical attention yet again as Niger threw a flash coup d’état, pulling France, Russia, Wagner Group, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Senegal via the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) into tension. 

As a result, UNESCO’s Regional Office for West Africa-Sahel was buzzing this summer, and I was able to learn much more in the office than had I done my internship remotely from Philadelphia! I am so grateful to Penn’s Career Services and our Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GAPSA) Summer Internship Funding for supporting me in both my personal and professional growth, and for the opportunity to gain this experience without adding a cent to my student-debt burden. 

Thankfully for me, and for the Sahel, the summer’s tensions never lost complete control, and I was able to complete my internship without evacuation. Although it only lasted 3 months, I was welcomed into a flexible team that helped me to get exposure to a lot of IIEP’s work. I had always been curious about education policy, and this internship gave me a glimpse of international, multilateral education policy planning from perhaps the highest possible altitude. IIEP typically works directly with Ministries of Education, supporting the research, development, planning, and guidance necessary to help countries implement education reforms and education planning. 

My main project was helping prepare a proposal to pilot an Early Warning System focused on helping schools apply machine learning and specific indicators to identify girls becoming more at risk of dropout with time to intervene. I also helped prepare an updated version of three module training IIEP offers to Education Ministry leaders across Africa to build leadership capacity for incorporating more gender mainstreaming and awareness into national education policy initiatives. 

In addition to my work with IIEP’s Gender at the Centre Initiative (GCI), I was able to explore other IIEP projects, such as their work supporting South Sudan’s new education system, studying policies for disabled students in lusophone Africa, and exploring a fascinating intersection between mother tongue literacy and vocational education: 

I was the first intern in office memory to get approval to accompany a site visit, and I spent 3 days visiting a UNESCO and Senegal Ministry of Education pilot project teaching adolescents carpentry via Wolof (Senegal’s dominant national language). I visited the pilot to explore lessons that the GCI team could incorporate into their work with vocational education. 

It is hard to believe that the summer is already over, but I am returning to Philadelphia with a much better understanding of International Educational Development and more ideas for my goals upon graduation. I am proud to be a Quaker where we value supporting unpaid interns in social impact! 

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2023 GAPSA Summer Internship Funding Program that is coordinated by Penn Career Services. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

By Career Services
Career Services