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Large group of people outside in front of flags at the Council of Europe

Council of Europe Agreement a ‘Gem of an Opportunity’ for Syracuse Students and Faculty

December 22, 2023

It adds internships for those studying in Strasbourg, France, as well as research opportunities for faculty and students interested in human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

It is not every day that Syracuse University partners with an international organization representing more than 700 million people.

The Council of Europe and Syracuse University have announced a new agreement that strengthens and expands an existing relationship by providing internships for students studying abroad in Strasbourg, France, as well as research opportunities for students and faculty. 

The agreement provides for up to 12 student internships at the Council each year, widens the number of departments and divisions that Syracuse students can engage with, and broadens opportunities for research collaboration for Syracuse students and faculty.

Founded after World War II, the Council of Europe is Europe’s leading human rights organization, composed of 46 member-states such as Ukraine, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Turkey and Italy. Separate from the European Union, it is akin to a ‘United Nations of Europe’ and strives to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

The agreement was signed by Maxwell School Dean David M. Van Slyke and Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe Bjørn Berge on Dec. 8 in Washington, D.C. 

Three men standing near a meeting table.
Maxwell School Dean David M. Van Slyke, left, speaks with Council of Europe representatives Bjørn Berge, deputy secretary general, and Miroslav Papa, director of political affairs and external relations, at an event in Washington, D.C., to celebrate a new agreement between the Council and Syracuse University.

“While the United States is not a member of the Council of Europe, it has close links as an observer state, and your presence here today, Mr. deputy secretary general, is a sign that the United States and Council of Europe are indeed partners,” said Van Slyke at the signing event. “Syracuse University and the Maxwell School are proud to be part of the Council’s relationship with the United States and to play our modest part in fostering understanding between our two societies and in furthering a partnership so vital to the well-being of the world.”

The relationship between the Council of Europe and Syracuse University began in in the early 1990s, growing out of Syracuse Strasbourg’s strong historical reputation and network of partnerships in the region. Through the years, an estimated 300 Syracuse students studying abroad in Strasbourg have benefited from Council internships, adding to the wide array of programs affiliated with the Syracuse University Center in Strasbourg.

Berge asked those in attendance at the signing event to consider the diverse array of former program participants now working in public service on both sides of the Atlantic. He described the relationship as a “win-win” for the Council of Europe and the University.

“There could also be no better moment to reinforce this relationship and demonstrate our shared determination to shape a better world,” Berge said. “The memorandum of understanding that we sign today with Syracuse University is one step in that direction. It represents an important trans-Atlantic link with a prestigious university.”

Berge was joined at the signing celebration by Miroslav Papa, director of political affairs and external relations at the Council of Europe.

In addition to Van Slyke, Syracuse representatives at the event included Steve Bennett, senior vice president for international programs and academic operations, and Margaret Talev, Kramer Director of the Washington, D.C., based Institute for Democracy, Journalism and Citizenship (IDJC).

Bennett shared that in the past year, Syracuse students have served as interns in numerous council departments and divisions, from the directorate general of human rights and the rule of law to the Pompidou Group, which focuses on international drug policy. 

“For Syracuse University, these are precisely the types of experiential learning opportunities that our students’ treasure and that are a cornerstone of what makes a Syracuse education exceptional,” he said. 

Four people seated at a long desk in the Council of Europe
Syracuse University students participated in the World Forum on Democracy at the Council of Europe in November 2023. Shown, from left to right, are Nathaniel Hasanaj, Iraklis Kapanidis, William Johnson and Grace "Gray" Reed.

The Pompidou Group has long enjoyed a special relationship with the Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics. Beginning in 2010, Falk College engaged with the Pompidou Group, leading to the 2019 creation of the International Drug Policy Academy. The academy’s courses are developed with Falk faculty and provide an opportunity for Syracuse students to engage with cutting edge issues in drug policy with international stakeholders from across the world.

The relationship with the Council of Europe has also been a draw for Maxwell School students from across disciplines. Senior Riona Sheik interned with the Council in the spring of 2023. “This was a very rewarding internship because I was able to gain firsthand experience with social welfare and insight into how different European social rights are from the United States,” said Sheik, who is majoring in political science and international relations at the Maxwell School and finance at the Whitman School of Management.

An opportunity to intern with the Council was a draw for Carina Sarracino, who is majoring in political science and international relations. While studying abroad from January to April of 2023, she gained an up-close view of the Council’s vital work while interning under the mentorship of its director of political affairs and external relations. Among the many meaningful opportunities was the chance to witness the adoption of a resolution that addressed the issue of sexual violence during wartime.

“Having an opportunity to see such an important resolution adopted, and to see firsthand how these processes work, was unparalleled,” said Sarracino. 

Van Slyke said the agreement’s timing aligns with two milestones—50 years of Syracuse Abroad in Strasbourg and the Maxwell School’s 100th anniversary in 2024. Further, it is well-timed with the recent launch of the IDJC, a joint initiative of the Maxwell School and the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications.

“A broad range of Syracuse and Maxwell faculty and students are focused on issues related to polarization, misinformation and disinformation, access to information, and democracy,” Van Slyke said. “The new Institute for Democracy, Journalism and Citizenship, led by Margaret Talev, offers another potential resource, partner, and source of collaboration. As Margaret has said, ‘Current and emerging challenges to democracy are everyone’s problem and can’t be fixed alone.’”

Established in 1974, Syracuse Abroad Strasbourg offers fall and spring semester and summer programs for students across the University’s 13 schools and colleges. Approximately 150 students participate annually, taking classes and harnessing internships and other experiential learning opportunities at the Council of Europe and other organizations and institutions. Fluency in French is not a prerequisite for many programs, including the Council of Europe internship, which seeks both French and English speakers as the two official languages of council business. 

“For students interested in international affairs, human rights, democracy, political science and related topics, Strasbourg is a great place to study internationally,” said Syracuse University Strasbourg Director John Goodman, who is a former diplomat for humanitarian organizations. He played an instrumental role in cultivating the University’s deepened relationship with the Council.

“Thanks to Syracuse’s 50-year presence in the city, students have direct access to working practitioners in major international bodies. It is extremely rare and valuable to have the chance to work inside some of the world’s preeminent inter-governmental institutions,” he added. “Syracuse’s relationship with the Council of Europe is a gem of an opportunity for Syracuse students.”

By Jessica Youngman and Cort Ruddy


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