Peter Klicker’s interest in international affairs began well before he ever set foot in Williamsburg, but it was his time at the College of William & Mary that brought him the opportunities to engage on a global scale.
As a junior at Emmaus High School in Emmaus, Pa., Klicker ’12 was selected to attend the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for International Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. While there, his classwork included courses in international diplomacy, international communication and international political economy. Unsurprisingly, his experience deepened an emerging interest in international relations.
When he returned to school in the fall, a family friend and college placement advisor helped Klicker plan possible college choices. William & Mary was presented as a “reach” school, but one that intrigued him.
“The size is really interesting,” said Klicker. “It’s big enough to have a lot of resources but small enough to have real faculty-student interaction. I was also always interested in public service and William & Mary has such a proud tradition, going back centuries, as well as with more contemporary people like (Chancellor) Robert Gates.”
While weighing his options, Klicker did some research on the College and discovered the study abroad programs and Washington, D.C., Office, but was troubled by the main campus location.
“My only concern was that while Williamsburg is very nice, it’s not very cosmopolitan,” he admitted. “I was worried about getting a global education.”
Students Helping Honduras
Klicker needn’t have worried. Shortly after arriving in Williamsburg, he was presented with the opportunity to join Students Helping Honduras (SHH) on a service trip to El Progresso, Honduras. SHH was founded in 2006 by Cosmo Fujiyama, a graduate of the College, and her brother Shin Fujiyama, and brings college students from across the country to volunteer in Honduras throughout the year. Klicker repeated the trip his sophomore spring.
In Honduras Klicker helped build a new village for a community originally displaced by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, working on new homes and an education center so that local students could enjoy more structured afternoon activities. He also visited orphanages and engaged in more cultural activities, such as joining children for soccer games.
“It’s easy to lose perspective in college and to get stressed out about things like exams or course selection that don’t matter a great deal in the grand scheme of things,” mused Klicker. “Volunteering in Honduras reminded me of how fortunate I am to have so many opportunities and that I have a responsibility to use them in a way that benefits other people. The hardest thing is trying to hold onto that perspective after you leave Honduras and return to campus.”
A Year Away
Looking for more opportunities, Klicker attended the Summer National Security Institute with the William & Mary Washington Office in 2010, which allowed him to take courses on international security, visit the Pentagon and Capitol Hill and intern with the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. He received a Reves Center International Internship Scholarship to help fund his summer plans.
During his internship, Klicker compiled daily briefing books for the Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs and weekly activity reports for the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs. He also reviewed action memos, information memos and briefing checklists, and attended meetings in order to take notes for other staff assistants.
“Being a fly on the wall in meetings and seeing how they’re working it all out was very interesting,” remembers Klicker. “A lot of those things you hear about in class, but seeing it in real time, in real life, is just fascinating.”
In fall 2010, Klicker studied abroad at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, taking courses in one of the best international relations programs in Europe.
“It was an interesting semester,” said Klicker. “The teaching style is very different there. I only had two modules the entire semester, and each module or class met twice a week, once for a lecture and once for a tutorial, which is a smaller group.”
In addition to different course scheduling and teaching styles, Klicker also noticed a different perspective in the international relations courses.
“There was less focus on hard power and realism, and much more of an emphasis on discourse and identity.”
While abroad, Klicker traveled across Europe, taking in the museums and historical sites of Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, Seville and London. He also kept busy putting together a successful application to a summer internship with the United States Mission to NATO in Brussels, Belgium, and preparing to take a leave of absence to spend his spring semester in Washington, D.C.
Having accumulated a number of Advanced Placement (AP) course credits, when Klicker returned to the United States he was able to spend the next semester focused solely on interning for the Henry L. Stimson Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, institution devoted to enhancing international peace and security through analysis and outreach.
As an intern in the Regional Voices Program, Klicker conducted research on the security implications of international land transactions and wrote a policy brief, “International Land Deals: A Destabilizing Trend in the Developing World.”
While interning at the Stimson Center, Klicker was also a part of a whirlwind two-month project to complete the only unclassified report commissioned by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on the Arab Spring and why the intelligence community didn’t predict it.
A few weeks later, with the help of another Reves Center International Internship Scholarship, Klicker was off to Brussels to work as a Public Affairs Intern in the Programs Office of the U.S. Mission to NATO. Upon arrival, he was immediately given the task of arranging a visit for a Taiwanese military delegation.
“It was frightening and thrilling at the same time,” recounted Klicker. “Frightening because you wanted to arrange a nice visit for the officials, but exciting because you’re given that much responsibility.”
Klicker went on to arrange a number of tours for international groups during his internship, gaining an insight into “real, first-hand diplomacy,” as well as took notes on meetings of the North Atlantic Council and other NATO committees, prepared decision memos for U.S. Permanent Representative NATO and wrote a report on the effectiveness of a public affairs tour program in Afghanistan.
He also had the good fortune to meet the then recently-retired Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who had yet to begin serving as Chancellor of the College.
On his return to Williamsburg in fall 2011, Klicker was invited to apply to become a Fellow at the Project on International Peace and Security (PIPS), a highly selective undergraduate think tank based at the Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations, run by professors Dennis Smith and Amy Oakes of the W&M Government Department.
After being named a Fellow, Klicker spent fall 2011 thinking about what he’d like to research and a chance comment at a meeting at Langley Air Force Base sparked his interest.
“My whole project really originated with a conversation between Professor Smith and an individual who works for Air Combat Command,” he said. “I was really interested in what they were saying and ultimately chose to write my policy brief about it.
“That’s exactly how PIPS is supposed to work. The whole thing is basically bridging academic and policy-making communities, and particularly showing that undergrads can make a meaningful contribution.”
Throughout the spring semester, Klicker organized phone interviews with individuals affiliated with the Air Force and aerospace industry and also arranged onsite interviews at the Pentagon and Capitol Hill. Once a week he would meet with the other PIPS Fellows to review the progress of their briefs.
“That’s where it was really the most like a think-tank environment, because you really are all looking at the papers and PowerPoints and giving suggestions,” remembered Klicker. “I really enjoyed that collaborative aspect of it.”
Klicker’s policy brief, “A New ‘Freedom’ Fighter: Building on the T-X Competition,” explored the idea of exporting low-cost jet trainers to promote military-to-military cooperation in the developing world. With the other PIPS Fellows, Klicker presented his work at the 2011-12 PIPS Fellows Symposium at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in April, 2012.
Reflecting on his time at the College, Klicker is quick to point out that his undergraduate career was shaped by taking advantage of an array of unforeseen opportunities.
“This was not planned. There was no way when I came in as a freshman I had this elaborate scheme laid out,” he said. “One thing led to another, and it worked out well. Every semester I basically looked for the most exciting, challenging thing I could do.”
Klicker credits an incredibly active, supportive alumni network as being influential in his education, saying “people are really willing to give back. I benefitted from it personally but the College as a whole benefits from those alumni connections.”
Beginning a career with the federal government over the summer, Klicker is optimistic about the future and his continued involvement with William & Mary.
“I would definitely like to give back, I owe it to the College.”