Virtual internship takes innovation to the next level

3 ASU students selected to work as eInterns for U.S. state department

February 5, 2016

Arizona State University has been named the most innovative college in the country, and now select Sun Devil students are taking part in one of the U.S. Department of State’s most innovative programs for aspiring government workers.

The Virtual Student Foreign Service (VSFS) was created in 2009 by the Office of eDiplomacy, a branch of the State Department responsible for using technology to make the government’s diplomacy efforts more productive. Students apply to become VSFS officers in one of 21 government agencies, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). portrait of Katie Curiel Katie Curiel, a graduate student in the new School for the Future of Innovation in Society, is an intern with the Virtual Student Foreign Service program. Download Full Image

“We kind of created the idea of virtual internships,” said Bridget Roddy, coordinator for the VSFS in the Office of eDiplomacy. “It’s really, really grown, and it’s becoming a model that other agencies are really latching onto.”

Accepted applicants are allowed the freedom to work from home as “eInterns,” where they assist on various government projects for nine months at a time. This year, 720 VSFS officers — three of whom are ASU students — were selected out of more than 2,700 applicants.

Amy Umaretiya, a senior undergraduate majoring in civil engineering and political science in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the College of Liberal Arts and Scienes, is a VSFS eIntern with NASA. In her role, she conducts research on renewable energy that can be used to power stations in harsh environments in high latitude and high altitude. Umaretiya chose to participate in the VSFS to build upon her interests after spending a summer interning for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and being a part of ASU’s Policy, Science, Technology, and Society Scholars Program

“I love what I’m doing with NASA. My supervisors have been great with giving me a lot of guidance while also letting me shape my own progress,” Umaretiya said. “They know I’m interested in more than just the technical aspects of the problem, and have given me a lot [to] think about on the social side. For example, how can we address the fact that some communities were built around coal mines when we have to switch energy sources? These are the kinds of interdisciplinary questions I’d like to answer in my future career.”

The VSFS also particularly appealed to senior undergrad Jon Arias, who is an ASU online student dual majoring in history and mass communication. Arias lives in California, but that hasn’t prevented him from eInterning for the Washington-based State Department, as well as with NASA, which has operations in several locations around the country.

“The work that is being done through the various VSFS positions is life changing. It truly is,” Arias said. “But, what fascinates me is the potential to reach someone who is working on the next invention, and just needs a little spark or idea. Perhaps they are unaware of what NASA has already done that could help or change the direction of their own project. To be a part of that in any small way is rewarding to me.”

Katie Curiel, a graduate student in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, has been able to implement her years of experience in education and her major in global technology and development in helping to run the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) new Global Innovation Exchange, a platform designed to bring investors and social entrepreneurs together to foster project funding and ideas exchange. Her experience with the VSFS has allowed her the opportunity to travel as far as the Persain Gulf nation of Qatar to talk about the Exchange and furthering global development efforts.

“My interest in this internship was that I’d have the opportunity to not only work in something I’m passionate about, but to also extend my career interests and kind of put my foot in the door outside of education and into the field of global development,” Curiel said. “I can bring people and resources in my  network to the exchange and it’s a benefit for them and the world.”

Through the students’ VSFS eInternship experiences, they have been able to contribute to significant national and international projects, while also expanding their career preparation and possibilities. The ASU VSFS eInterns, as well as the Office of eDiplomacy, encourage interested students to apply for VSFS positions for the 2016-2017 year.

U.S. students can apply to VSFS once a year in July. Selected students are expected to virtually intern an average of ten hours per week from September 2016 through May 2017. Students may be eligible for course credit for their VSFS eInternships depending on their school’s or college’s internship requirements. Learn more about receiving academic credit at ASU for internships

For more information on VSFS, visit

Katie Curiel contributed to this article.

Reporter, ASU Now

ASU hosts geodesign workshop for Valley’s best and brightest

Designers, developers come together to brainstorm ideas for a sustainable desert city

February 5, 2016

Geodesign and urban development may not be the sexiest words in the dictionary, but it’s the meaning behind these titles that generates a lot of interest among students and faculty alike.

Arizona State University recently hosted about 15 different organizations at a design and development workshop on the Tempe campus. During the two-day seminar, community representatives, stakeholders and academics met to work out the details of future urban planning in Phoenix. Among the organizations were Native American tribal representatives, economic development directors and community relations officers. people sitting in workshop Download Full Image

The purpose of the workshop was to demonstrate the use of digital geodesign tools to create a sustainable city in a desert landscape. The focus: Northwest Phoenix, where plans are being laid out to redesign the area around the Thunderbird Global School of Management, which ASU acquired a year and a half ago.  

The designers and developers aim to help everyone impacted by new developments in the area by determining the best possible layouts for new construction projects. This is done primarily through geodesign’s most powerful tool: geographical information systems (or GIS), which allows planners to analyze and evaluate future land-use scenarios with various stakeholders.

The workshop also explored environmental factors, such as CO2 emissions and water conservation.

“Every scientific body that I go to talks about how to create simulation models for the future so that our cities are more sustainable,” said Patricia Gober, interim director at ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. “The ability to use these models and fuse them with public debate and discussion helps us tackle climate change issues.”

“The engagement and conversations are positive,” said workshop attendee Bobbi Magdaleno, director of community relations at ASU’s Office of Public Affairs. “It’s exciting because we’re talking about things like growth, change and vision.” 

“[The workshop] is an opportunity for students to have hands-on experience,” said attendee David P. McAlindin, assistant director at Glendale’s Office of Economic Development. “The students can look at how they can better communities with tools that are available to them.”

The workshop also helped kick off a proposed new master’s program in geodesign at ASU. 

According to Gober, the master’s program is a perfect example of how ASU searches for ways to be part of the community, and that there has been a high level of interest from students both locally and internationally.

“I think that the participants and community reps were quite excited by the tech and social processes surrounding geodesign. They saw real potential to develop things for the future,” she said.

Trevor Fay

reporter, Media Relations and Strategic Communicatons