Dina Shahrokhi BA’11

Houston, TX
Foreign Affairs Officer, U.S. Department of State.

I feel incredibly blessed for the experiences at the State Department thus far. My EPPS mentors like Drs. Dow and Harpham can affirm that this was always the kind of work I wanted to do – to use what I learned at UTD and through the McDermott fellowship to help people. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to study abroad in the Middle East and focus on language and area studies while also learning a lot about U.S. politics through EPPS, which absolutely helped me succeed later during graduate study at Harvard and now in Washington.  Best yet, I know that my journey has just begun, and I look forward to many years of adventures, challenges, and, hopefully, triumphs. 

I joined the State Department in 2017 as a Presidential Management Fellow (PMF) after graduating from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government with my Master’s in Public Policy.  The PMF is a fantastic leadership development program for recent graduate students that allows young civil servants to explore different areas of the executive branch while also receiving training on how we function with Congress, leadership and management, and other priority areas.  My “home” bureau that sponsored me as a fellow is the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), which serves as the humanitarian bureau of the State Department.  In PRM, I have had the opportunity to work on both programming of humanitarian assistance funds and policy advocacy for internally displaced people in Iraq and Syria, Palestinians, refugees in Jordan, and Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. The experience has affirmed something many of us already know – that the United States has a lot to be proud of!  We are by far the largest single humanitarian donor in the world, and we tend to be more flexible in our funding so our humanitarian partners can use our assistance how they need it, when they need it. We oversee these funds carefully (which is part of my job), so that we ensure the most responsible and efficient use of taxpayer dollars and make sure these vulnerable populations are getting the help they need. 

Part of how I’ve executed this work is spending six months in Jordan and four months in Bangladesh serving in our embassies focusing on refugee-related issues.  I regularly visited refugee camps to talk to recipients of our funding to make sure they were getting needed assistance and to shape how the U.S. government shaped our humanitarian response.  Then I spent a lot of time working with other large donors like the UK, the EU, and Germany to advocate with host governments to ensure these refugees received the protection and assistance they needed.  The host governments have been so generous in hosting hundreds of thousands or even millions of refugees, but there is always room to do more.  

As a part of my Fellowship, I also spent three months serving on the UN Security Council in New York, where I worked on issues ranging from Children in Armed Conflict to Afghanistan.  Those who did Model UN at UTD will remember preparing strategy memos, holding up tent cards and waiting on your time to speak – it’s strangely similar, but with higher stakes :). And there are some differences too – not everyone plays by the rules, results matter more than process, and there is a much longer period over which to negotiate, plan alliances, and re-strategize.