Mariana Coelho Aires de Melo
Mariana Coelho Aires de Melo (M.A. ’17) landed an internship in Washington, D.C., just one year into her IR graduate program. Working on the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy’s project to protect the iconic Lake Titicaca on the border of Peru and Bolivia broadened her concept of what International Relations encompasses.
“I am learning a lot about how international relations work in the real world,” she said. Led by former Ambassador John W. McDonald, IMTD promotes a systems-based approach to peacebuilding and facilitates the transformation of deeply-rooted social conflict. Mariana stayed on an extra semester to accept a promotion to Managing Director that puts her further along a career path in peacebuilding and conflict resolution.
She came to San Francisco State after completing an undergraduate degree in International Relations at Pontifical Catholic University of Goiás, in Brazil and a postgraduate degree in strategic management in public organizations from Faculdade Projeçāo, based in Brasilia. While on campus, she was a teaching assistant and a research assistant for a project that required her Spanish-language skills. She is also fluent in Portuguese and English, and speaks intermediate-level French.
Why did you choose SFSU and the IR Department for graduate studies?
I came because of the cultural diversity that the university offers. I wanted to have classes with people from other countries. Having access to different cultures and different perspectives was important to me.
What have you been doing in your internship?
I am working with the Climate Change and Human Security (CCHS) team in a project about Lake Titicaca. The project is a Track II diplomacy approach that seeks to involve grassroots in the protection and preservation of the lake, especially the indigenous and local population. We want to apply in Bolivia the successful Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program. Right now we are developing a grant proposal. This project is apolitical, and the intention is to provide constant scientific information. The projects there so far have been top down, and we feel the need for the population to be involved because they are the most affected by climate change.
What will your new responsibilities involve?
I will be responsible for the structuration of our new departments and interpersonal relations. I’ll be in contact with all the directors, the ambassador, the new interns and make sure everything is running smoothly. It is a challenge, but I think I am ready for it.
I am trying to focus my career in peacebuilding and conflict resolution. Our work is involving non-official methods, not official diplomacy. We want to find non-traditional solutions, getting away from the official way that is not that flexible.
How did your education at SFSU help prepare you?
School gives us tools. The Student Success Program gave me all the support I needed in creating a resume, a cover letter, and preparing myself for interviews. The Latin America class helped a lot. It was clear to me how foreigners see us.
What is your advice to incoming students?
I should have started looking for internships as soon as I got to school, starting with volunteer opportunities. People value it a lot when you do volunteer work. I did not do that in Brazil because we do not have this type of culture.
The path is not easy, but with determination people can succeed. Try to get summer internships in D.C. because that is where everything is happening. Get away from your comfort zone, keep trying, and never give up.