Diplomacy Lab partners OU architecture students with U.S. Department of State in research initiatives

By Hannah Pike. This article originally appeared in the OU Daily, linked here.

This semester [Spring 2017], 32 OU architecture students have the opportunity to work with the U.S. Department of State officials to research and possibly improve the United States’ public and private partnerships as part of a Diplomacy Lab.

Architecture professor Marjorie Callahan’s class, Tools of Practice, serves as the lecture capstone for architecture and landscape architecture seniors and graduate students. Incorporating the Diplomacy Lab into the class allows students to research global partnerships to develop case studies that will be used by state officials, specifically in the Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships.

Callahan said her class held a videoconference with U.S.Department of State officials Jan. 30 about its Diplomacy Lab.

“I am excited about this because I always like to have new adventures,” Callahan said. “I’ve been teaching this class for a while, so it’s fun to have something new.”

Diplomacy Lab is a partnership between the U.S. Department of State and faculty at different universities in which professors apply to work on projects the nation is interested in and the department awards the labs to certain professors. These professors then lead a class in which their students complete the project and work with state officials. 

Callahan said the U.S. Department of State chose the OU College of Architecture for the project because the partnerships it is researching deal with public spaces and technology, which are relevant subjects for architecture students.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry launched Diplomacy Lab in 2013, and OU has completed labs in the past, Callahan said.

The class is split into eight groups that will each complete a case study, Callahan said. They will present their first drafts via videoconference before spring break; then on April 7 they will present their final findings to the U.S. Department of State in Washington D.C.

“Each semester I try to bring in something unique, so (my students) can interact with the outside and broaden their worlds,” Callahan said.

The partnerships that the groups are researching range from American spaces in Kazakhstan to the Zoohackathon. Partnership specialist Alexander Kostura, who works in the Department of State, said during the videoconference the work the students do will likely be referenced for the next decade around the world. 

“These case studies are going to be part of our training,” Kostura said. “We’re trying to push the issue forward throughout the department, and actually throughout the federal government, so we work with all the federal agencies, but especially within the department, to try to train our foreign officers abroad and our foreign affairs officers here on how to better engage with the private sector to get more done.”

Mauricio Lopez, architecture senior, said he hopes to gain insight from the course. One of the two priorities of Diplomacy Lab is to “engage the American people in the work of diplomacy,” according to its website. Lopez said that the class is reinforcing his interest in politics.

“In architecture, at the end of the day, we seek to make an impact on our societies, our communities and the world at large,” Lopez said.