Joseph Hartung follows his passion for policy interning at Kenyan think tank

Joseph Hartung 
majors: Global & International Studies and History
minors: African & African-American Studies, National Security Studies, and Political Science

Joseph Hartung’s fascination with history and the conduct of conflict dates back to his childhood. As a kid, he says, he’d spend hours playing with plastic army men and building elaborate small-scale fortifications out of Lincoln Logs.

As a global & international studies and history double-major with minors in African & African-American studies, national security studies and political science, the KU junior is combining his diverse interests in and outside of the classroom. And in his current role as an intern at The Horn Institute, a think thank in Kenya, he’s using his research and writing skills to explore his passion for political and security issues.

Learn more about Joseph’s advice for students searching for the right internship and his future plans to help in the creation of better-informed U.S. policies toward Sub-Saharan Africa.

Where are you from? And why did you decide to come to KU?

I’m from St. Louis, Missouri. I came to KU in large part due to the robust array of course offerings in international security and African politics provided by the Kansas African Studies Center and the Kansas Intelligence Community Center for Academic Excellence. The combination of KU’s acceptance of my dual-credit and AP classes with wide-ranging courses in the disciplines I was most interested in enabled me to specialize much more than I would have had I attended another university. KU also has a fantastic jazz program that I had the privilege of participating in and hope to return to when I get back from Kenya!

Why did you choose your majors and minors?

I came to KU knowing exactly what I wanted to study. I took a class on modern African history and politics a favorite teacher of mine during my junior year of high school. That course sparked my enduring interest in the continent. I’ve been interested in the history and conduct of conflict since I was a kid playing with plastic army men and making fortifications out of Lincoln Logs! I selected my set of majors and minors based on these two primary interests.

Tell about your research internship at the Horn Institute for Strategic Studies in Kenya.

"For KU students interested in pursuing an...experience abroad, I would urge them not to be deterred if the organization...doesn't have an official internship posting."

The Horn Institute is a Kenyan think tank focused primarily on political and security issues within the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes Region. As a researcher, most of my time is spent writing articles for the Horn Institute’s website that provide an analysis of a particular topic (e.g. Kenya’s relationship with Turkey), coupled with a set of policy recommendations. I regularly contribute to larger research projects, attend various meetings and conferences, and assist with editing.  In addition to my work at the Horn Institute, I also volunteer for Wale Wale, an afterschool program focused on providing creative activities and academic support for Kenyan primary and secondary schoolchildren who are interested in the arts.

For KU students interested in pursuing a similar learning/working experience abroad, I would urge them not to be deterred if the organization they are interested in applying to doesn’t have an official internship posting. Be willing to pitch yourself and identify how you can contribute. Also, please take time to learn about the culture, history, politics, and language of wherever you’re hoping to go before you arrive. Not only does it show respect for and navigate the society you will be living in, but it also helps you make more genuine and lasting connections with those you interact with.

Do you have any future internship and/or research experiences planned you can tell us about?

I was awarded a Boren Scholarship to study abroad in Tanzania this coming summer. Unfortunately, given the COVID-19 situation in Tanzania, my program is unlikely to be approved. This being the case, I plan on continuing my internship at the Horn Institute in Kenya till the end of the summer. I will also be starting research for my senior thesis.

What are the benefits of being in the KU College alongside students studying sciences, arts and humanities?

"Interacting with people in other disciplines provides you with a more well-rounded knowledge base..."

Having the opportunity to meet people with passions much different than my your is an incredibly enriching experience. Most of the friends I’ve met at KU come from outside my own field of study. Interacting with people in other disciplines provides you with a more well-rounded knowledge base and gives you fresh perspectives a wide variety of issues.

Give a shout-out to a professor, mentor, advisor, or someone at KU who has helped you?

A huge thank you to KU’s Kiswahili program (Prof. Peter Ojiambo, Prof. Brenda Wawire, and former Prof. John Muchira) for their support. Their teaching styles, which heavily emphasized conversational ability and cultural understanding, were extraordinarily helpful in preparing me for my time in Kenya.

I’d also like to thank Prof. Elizabeth MacGonagle, the supervisor for my independent study course while I am in Kenya. Her honors course, Modern African History, was a fantastic introduction that helped further shape my interest in African security and politics. I am glad to continue learning from her.

"If you have the drive, you will be able to take advantage of many academic and professional opportunities while at KU."

What would you tell your freshman self?

Remember to take your head out of the books sometimes! If you have the drive, you will be able to take advantage of many academic and professional opportunities while at KU. However, it is just as important to take the time forge lasting relationships with the people around you and embrace the other elements that make up the KU experience (not least of which is basketball).

What do you want to do when you graduate?

After graduation, I will pursue a master’s and then a PhD in African Studies or Political Science. I plan to become a ‘scholar-practitioner’ working at the intersection of policy and academia to create a more pragmatic and better-informed set of U.S. policies towards Sub-Saharan Africa. I intend to be a professor at a major research university while also working as a non-resident fellow at a think tank that focuses on African politics and security. Ultimately, I hope to serve as an Africa-focused political appointee within the U.S. foreign policy community.

What motivates you?

A genuine fascination with how certain societies are structured, how they function, and how they interact with one another has always pushed me to learn more about international security, international relations, and comparative politics. I want to find a place where I can put that knowledge to good use!

Meet more of our students. For more information, explore Center for Global & International Studies, Department of History, African and African-American Studies, Intelligence Community Center for Academic Excellence, and Political Science at the University of Kansas.