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Nov 26, 2012 | Atlanta, GA
In the spring of 2009, Kristin Lundberg’s team at the U.S. State Department was tasked with a project that had no precedent: organize a live, interactive webcast of a speech by the Secretary of State.
Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton was scheduled to be in Brussels, Belgium and address a group of European students. American officials at embassies and consulates across Europe were offered the opportunity to organize viewing parties with local youth leaders who would watch the Secretary speak, ask questions, and comment - online in real time.
“Inviting people to comment online while she was speaking was something very new to people in the State Department,” said Lundberg. “The idea that we’d have a chat going during her speech was really unconventional at the time.”
Lundberg, who earned a joint degree in International Affairs and Modern Languages (IAML), is well-acquainted with taking on a challenge. Her current post as a foreign affairs officer at the State Department required 14 interviews over the course of two days for one of only a few hundred fellowship slots coveted by nearly 700 finalists. She had roughly a 5% chance of getting the job at State, but succeeded. She’s also pretty proud of passing Georgia Tech’s required undergraduate math classes.
But during that spring three years ago, Lundberg could only sit tight and cross her fingers that the server didn’t crash.
“When I think about our setup, it was the most dinky setup you had ever seen,” she recalled. “We had no budget and we were still building our office.”
Despite the obstacles, the webcast went off without a hitch. Her team managed to assuage the worries of staffers who felt online commenting would distract from the talk, and Secretary Clinton’s voice was perfectly audible in embassies miles away from Brussels.
“I think people are very nervous about technology,” said Lundberg. “Technology is not perfect. You are taking a risk, but the payoff is worth it.” More people are reached, and more voices are heard.
Lundberg appreciates how trivial the technological concerns of just a few years ago seem today. But that first webcast was significant for her career and for the promotion of digital public diplomacy by the State Department.
“Events like that one really paved the way for the future of our office,” she said.
She works in CO.NX (pronounced “connex”), an office within the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) at the U.S. State Department. IIP is the State Department’s public diplomacy (PD) communications bureau, leading it's support for U.S. Embassy PD efforts and engagement with overseas audiences. In a government built on acronyms, CO.NX doesn’t actually stand for anything. It’s a play on the verb “connect.” CO.NX makes State's panel discussions, expert web chats, student alumni discussions, and guest speaker events virtually accessible, free of charge to anyone in the world with an Internet connection.
After serving as a senior producer for several years, Lundberg is now the lead training coordinator and visits embassies worldwide training them to do what CO.NX does domestically. The custom-designed training is two-part: first, it provides the technical tools and knowledge to enable embassies and consulates to set up their own online broadcasts, and second, it enables understanding of how to effectively convey messages through the medium.
Lundberg says her job is “to blend technology with policy.” It’s something she learned during her time at Georgia Tech, and she credits it as a significant contributing factor in her landing the Presidential Management Fellowship at the State Department after graduate school in 2008. She was competing for a fellowship along with graduates from Harvard, Yale, Tufts, and others.
“The main thing I knew that was different for me was my Georgia Tech background,” said Lundberg.
So she played to her advantage. During interviews she made it clear that she had the required mix of technology and liberal arts training for the job. As an undergraduate she organized speakers and managed workshops for The Sam Nunn Bank of America Policy Forum. She said that she “grumbled like everyone else” about the IAC requirements to take calculus, computer science, and management courses, but she discovered during group projects in graduate school that she was the only one trained in Excel macros.
Lundberg told interviewers, “I haven’t just written papers or done research. I have actually implemented my knowledge. I’ve taken policy and turned it into action.” She added, “I’m not afraid of technology. I’ll help you learn. And I know international affairs.”
That mix of skills got her in the door.
“It can be very challenging for employers to find candidates that understand not only the technical side of things, but can also communicate well, both orally and in writing. You really have to have both skill sets if you want to be competitive in today’s market and Ivan Allen College certainly emphasizes this throughout the coursework,” she said.
Lundberg sees digital skills and familiarity with technology as a training requirement for future government officials.
“Nothing beats face-to-face. That’s the cornerstone of what we do,” said Lundberg. “But considering our resources we have to do more with less all the time.”
Thinking back to that first webcast in Brussels, Lundberg knows you can do quite a lot with a little. To her, the small challenges that may come with uniting technology with policy are always worth the payoff of connecting the world.