I have recently returned from the student-managed International Affairs Symposium at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. Undergraduates run an impressively organised, intellectually stimulating three days for themselves and for the public.
The International Affairs Symposium kindly invites speakers from around the world to give a PowerPoint-free twenty-minute talk, followed by debate and discussion. I spoke on disaster diplomacy, explaining why disasters in conflict zones usually do not create peace.
The event is not just about lecturing. Student hosts are assigned to each speaker, providing the chance for detailed one-on-one discussions about theses, career interests, and life choices. Informal discussion lunches permit speakers to interact with other students, provoking the students to debate each other.
Our chats ranged from sustainable energy to the impracticalities of the economic theories strangling the world. I learned plenty regarding the students' ambitions for their future and the irritation of seeking politics-related employment in the poisonous atmosphere of today's left-vs-centre-vs-right ideological battles.
My visit coincided with one of my host's final thesis presentation. I was fortunate enough to attend her class, watching the students analyse international affairs conundrums, such as causes of Angola's civil war in the 1970s and the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989.
The level of engagement, creativity, knowledge, and interest in wide-ranging political and environmental topics was exciting. On a lush green campus framing the spectacular volcano Mt. Hood, inquisitive minds were ready to learn about the world; and to make it better.
The Lewis & Clark International Affairs degree encourages critical thinking, constructive debate, and taking risks with new ideas and approaches. These are exactly the skills disturbingly absent from today's older political and administrative leaders.
Do the opportunities exist? How long until young enthusiasm collides with the reality created by those who have lost their youth, their enthusiasm, and their creativity? Those involved in the Symposium are the élite of their generation. They want to do better and can.
Dr. Ilan Kelman is a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research - Oslo (CICERO).