State Department utilizing college talent virtually

Tuesday - 7/2/2013, 4:43pm EDT

By Melissa Dawkins
Special to Federal News Radio

Employees and contractors of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development can now post nonsensitive online projects for college-student volunteers to complete.

Anyone with a State.gov or USAID.gov email address can sign up and post any short "challenge" that does not require a security clearance or any special permissions to complete.

Students enrolled in colleges and universities then work remotely on a volunteer basis to complete the online projects. Any student with a .edu email address can sign up to volunteer on the microtasks.

The State Department launched the microvolunteering platform as the "world's first entirely-online student foreign service" through the Virtual Student Foreign Service (VSFS) program. The Robertson Foundation for Government, a nonprofit family foundation that encourages U.S. graduate students to pursue careers in the federal government, supports the website.

State Department employees and college volunteers are connected via Sparked.com, an independent microtasking platform.

On the site, employees and contractors post "challenges" to interested volunteer students. They may delegate almost any task to student volunteers, as long as the assignment follows a few guidelines. No clearance is required to post "challenges," according to the website.

Most tasks are designed for students to complete in two minutes to two hours.

The microvolunteering initiative grew out of VSFS's eInternship program — administered by the Bureau of Information Resource Management's Office of eDiplomacy — which selects qualified undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate students to partner with U.S. diplomatic posts overseas while the students work remotely on digital-based diplomacy projects.

While any U.S. student can volunteer to do short tasks through the Sparked.com platform, students must go through an application process to be selected for an eInternship. eInterns complete longer projects as part of their nine-month program.

Applications for the 2013-2014 school year eInternships opened July 2 on USAJobs.gov, and VSFS will continue to accept submissions through July 20. Prospective applicants indicate projects they're interested in and the selected eInterns complete projects assigned by Foreign Service Officers.

Selected students intern online for 5 to 10 hours per week through the fall and spring semesters. These students complete all assignments from their college or university campuses; eInterns don't travel abroad or to the State Department. Many of the available eInternships have a social media, digital media or online component. Bilingual interns may also help with translation tasks.

In addition to the State Department and USAID, the Agriculture and Commerce departments, the U.S. Commercial Service, the Board of Governors (BBG), the Education Department, the Smithsonian Institution, EducationUSA, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) and the Interior Department all have positions available for eInterns for the 2013-2014 VSFS internship program.

VSFS has 276 projects available for virtual interns selected for the 2013-2014 program. Only U.S. citizens are considered for eInternships.

Neither students selected for eInternships, nor students completing microvolunteer projects through VSFS, receive monetary compensation.

In 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched the eInternship program. The microvolunteering program was introduced in 2012.

Last year, the State Department and participating agencies had 343 eIntern positions in conjunction with 44 different countries.

Melissa Dawkins is an intern for Federal News Radio

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