RFG Fellows, Olivia Parker (UMD 2024) and Jackson Rice (UCSD 2025), had the incredible opportunity to reconnect in Taiwan this quarter. Olivia traveled to Taiwan this spring to conduct research as part of her University of Maryland graduate capstone research project, which she is doing in collaboration with U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance (CFE-DM). Conversely, Jackson has been living and studying in Taiwan for the past eight months as part of a Boren Fellowship designed to advance his fluency in Mandarin. 

This is not the first time their paths have crossed. Last summer, both Olivia and Jackson completed summer internships in Honolulu, Hawaii with the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. As part of that internship, Jackson completed a research project with U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s CFE-DM, titled “The Resilience of Taiwan’s Energy and Food Systems to Blockade.” The report is part of a multipart research initiative, which Olivia’s current capstone research project will contribute to upon its completion.

In recent years, RFG Fellows at Syracuse University’s (SU) Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs have been leveraging the School’s Washington, DC program to accelerate not only their academic efforts, but their professional development as well. Headquartered at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the Maxwell-in-Washington Program is an opportunity for students to take graduate courses in their respective degree programs all while living in Washington, DC and learning from practitioners and scholars in the international and domestic policy fields. Participants in the program also have the chance to complete DC-based internships as part of the program and to network with the largest Maxwell alumni community outside of the state of New York. This quarter we connected with RFG Alum and current Foreign Service Officer, Jacob Emont (Maxwell 2023), who participated in the Maxwell-in-Washington Program during his second year of study. We also connected with current RFG Fellows, Melissa Alvisi (Maxwell 2024) and Andrew Gasparini (Maxwell 2024), who are both currently in the program, to learn more about the program’s initiatives, opportunities, and potential challenges. Jacob, Melissa, and Andrew all spoke highly of the program and offered the following recommendations as to why future RFG Fellows at the Maxwell School should consider this program for their own academic and professional advancement.

Benefits and Drawbacks of the Program

A common theme among those who have participated in the program is wanting to take advantage of the professional and academic opportunities available in Washington, DC while also taking steps towards the completion of their graduate degree programs. Jacob spoke primarily of the academic benefits, stating “I found their course offerings very appealing and wanted to augment what I had learned from professors at SU with the mostly practitioner-taught courses offered in DC.” He also brought up an interesting benefit related to his classmates in the DC program. “Many of your classmates are in Maxwell’s executive degree programs, meaning that they are often at a more advanced stage in their career when compared with classmates up in Syracuse,” Jacob explained. “This has led to interesting class discussions and connections with classmates.”

Melissa and Andrew focused on the professional benefits of the program, such as the chance to network with Maxwell alumni, other young professionals in Washington, DC, and RFG Fellows and Alumni living and working in the area. They also discussed the benefit of interning in DC while completing courses related to their degree programs. “I wanted to settle in DC prior to graduation to ease the transition from attending school to working full-time,” Melissa shared. “In fact, I ended up getting a great internship opportunity for the spring 2024 semester that could lead to a full-time opportunity after graduation.” Andrew seconded Melissa’s opinion. “I wanted to gain more internship experience while completing my degree program and most of the offices I was interested in were only taking interns in-person,” he explained.

The biggest drawback of the program was missing out on specific on-campus opportunities and missing the chance to deepen relationships with members of their academic cohort. When asked about specific opportunities they would have enjoyed being on campus for, Melissa discussed how her position with the Syracuse University Graduate Student Organization is now done remotely, rather than in-person, as a result of her being in DC. Andrew shared the challenges of having to grow a new network of friends in DC and Jacob mentioned a specific event he would have liked to have been on campus for. “There was a unionization campaign going on among graduate workers on campus last year while I was in DC,” he explained. “They won and had I been on campus, I would have loved the opportunity to be more involved in the effort, especially given my interest in labor rights.” Despite these drawbacks, each of them underscored that the opportunities in DC outweighed any missed chances for engagement on campus.

Application and Costs of the Program

Applying for the Maxwell-in-Washington program is fairly straightforward with simple application forms that need to be filled out. However, Jacob, Melissa, and Andrew emphasized that it is extremely important that prior to applying for the program, potential applicants should discuss the opportunity with their academic advisor to ensure that all of their academic requirements will be met when factoring in time in the program.

They shared that the costs of the program can be prohibitive for some. “My rent in DC was quadruple what it was at Syracuse and unfortunately, Syracuse offers no specific financial assistance to accommodate this significant difference in cost of living,” Jacob stated, explaining that he covered the gap in costs with his savings. He further explained that while some location-specific charges such as the fee students pay to use the gym at Syracuse are waived for those spending the semester in Washington, DC, others are not. There is also an additional $500 administrative fee for those taking classes in DC. Andrew discussed how he is living with others to minimize the high costs of living and how the fact that his fall and spring internships in DC have been paid has helped to alleviate some of the financial burden. Overall, Jacob, Melissa, and Andrew stated that it is important to plan ahead financially for this program, whether that be through savings, paid internships, or strategies for better affording the costs of living in DC.

Maxwell-in-Washington Program Classes & Internships

Jacob, Melissa, and Andrew each took different classes when participating in the program, demonstrating the versatility of course options. “I am taking U.S. Defense Strategy remotely because it is part of my required courses for my certificate of Advanced Studies in Security,” Melissa states. She adds that she is also an Intelligence Community Center for Academic Excellence Research Fellow, which means that as part of her engagement in the program, she is dedicating a portion of her time to do research on U.S. engagement with ASEAN, an idea she acquired from her summer 2023 internship with the U.S. Commercial Service in Singapore. Andrew is taking a mixture of in-person and virtual classes. He explained that last semester he took two in-person evening classes at CSIS and one independent study online. This semester, he is taking a remote class with SU Professor Robert Murrett, who is teaching in-person at Syracuse but allowing virtual students to join. All of Jacob’s classes were in-person except for one. These in-person classes were actually all electives for his degree program. “I had structured my course of study in anticipation of my time in DC to allow for these electives, which included China’s Role in the World Order, Economic Statecraft, Climate Policy, and more,” Jacob shared. He added that “the DC course offerings are much more limited than those offered in Syracuse, but for many RFG students interested in federal service, the DC courses tend to be decently well-aligned with our interests.”

Since starting the Maxwell-in-Washington Program in the Fall of 2023, Andrew has interned with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and is now working with the White House Council of Economic Advisors (CEA). He shared how networking connections he made during his internship with USTR actually helped him to land his current internship with CEA. Melissa is currently interning with the Government Accountability Office in an international relations division focused on strategic planning and external liaison work. She spoke of how this internship may convert into a full-time position, which is one of the reasons she wanted to participate in the Maxwell-in-Washington program, enabling her the make the most out of this internship experience. Finally, Jacob interned with the Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum. He states that his internship gave him the chance to approach labor rights issues from a more legal and policy-focused lens, which differed from his previous professional experiences.

When reflecting back on how they best juggled their internships and courses, Jacob emphasized that the timing of the classes was designed with a work schedule in mind. “I did not find that professors, who themselves had other full-time jobs, asked students to complete an unreasonable amount of coursework,” Jacob stated. While the nature of the program facilitates interning and studying at the same time, Melissa shared some of the struggles associated with cultivating your academic and professional goals simultaneously. “It is not for everyone, as it is not sustainable to most,” she explained. “Getting off work at 5 PM and getting back on after dinner for schoolwork and research is definitely a different kind of routine.” Melissa offered this piece of advice, “having motivation and the knowledge of the impact that your work is having on programs, people, and colleagues is essential and it’s what sold me on moving to DC so I could work, study, and conduct research all at the same time.” Andrew supported Melissa’s statements, saying “completing coursework and internships at the same time is hard, but understanding that it’s temporary and having professors that know you’re working on things outside of class is very helpful.”

Final Considerations

Despite the higher costs associated with participating in the Maxwell-in-Washington Program and the potential for missed opportunities on campus, Jacob, Melissa, and Andrew all agreed on how impactful this program has been not only for their academic growth, but for their professional success as well. “By allowing me to take high-level, specialized courses while pursuing an internship specific to my interests and career goals, the semester in DC program significantly contributed to my academic development,” Jacob concluded.

“I wouldn’t have been able to complete my internships, which have made me more competitive when applying for jobs and distinguishing myself from other candidates,” Andrew shared. He added that through this program he has built a network of not just civil servants and colleagues, but also of other interns that he met throughout his internships. The benefits of this program have been threefold, Andrew summarized: “I have a better understanding of the actual work that takes place in my field of interest. Also, I’ve built a network that’s meaningful to what I want to do, and I’ve been able to put into practice what I learned during my first year in Syracuse.”

Thinking about her engagement in the program and her future, Melissa shared the following: “Professionally, I would like to be based in DC for the next 5 to 10 years, so moving here has helped me get used to the area. DC is so rich in history, events, attractions, and professional opportunities. I am excited to have had the chance to participate in this program and encourage any other RFG Fellows at the Maxwell School interested in this program to apply.”

Having graduated from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) in 2016, Patricia Weng now serves as an Associate Economic Affairs Officer under the United Nations Secretariat. Specifically, she works for the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), which is one of several agencies and organizations that falls beneath the purview of the UN Secretariat. When we connected with Patricia this quarter, she shared a great deal about the technical aspects of her work and how she has adapted to life in Latin America, including learning Spanish. She also shared how she was able to secure her current position through the UN’s Young Professionals Programme (YPP), an initiative that she encourages any eligible RFG Fellows and Alumni to consider when applying for work with the UN.

In 2019, Patricia applied for an economic affairs position with the UN YPP. Looking back, she remembers that the application process was quite long. “I submitted my application in 2019 and arrived at my first assignment in 2022,” Patricia shares. “I even know a couple of people who took five years to place, so anyone going through the process needs to be patient.” She recounts how taking a position through the YPP also meant that she had to accept the first job offer that came her way. This offer ended up being in Santiago, Chile with the UN ECLAC. “I accepted it without knowing much about Latin America or the Caribbean,” Patricia admits. “However, I decided to accept the office’s confidence that I could and would still bring value to ECLAC.” When thinking about why she was chosen for this role, Patricia states that her previous experience as an Economist for the Bureau of Economic Analysis, a position she held for more than three years, made her competitive for the Economic Development Division. She also believes that her ability to learn multiple languages contributed to her selection for this role. As a result of her work with ECLAC, Patricia is now learning Spanish, but when she was hired, she already possessed fluency in Mandarin, Korean, English, and American Sign Language.

Since beginning her work with ECLAC in 2022, Patricia has engaged in a series of technical research projects, which require her to run numbers and proofread documents to support the countries of the region in reaching agreements, developing standards, and addressing international issues together. When asked what skills she uses in her day-to-day work, Patricia commented that she regularly employs her knowledge of Spanish, economic analysis, econometrics, machine learning, and coding. She also shared that perseverance, communication, the ability to make friends, and her fluency in English have been extremely helpful in accomplishing her work. Overall, she greatly enjoys her job, stating “it has been a good experience ever since I joined.” In particular, Patricia enjoys the skill development she has gained in this position. “I’ve been able to learn a bit more about machine learning and Python coding,” she shares. “I’ve also poured myself into studying Spanish and have worked on various publications.” 

Throughout her career, Patricia has served in various public service roles, including with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and now the UN. When asked about why she chose a career in public service, Patricia responded, “I have received benefits and opportunities from several public, private, and nonprofit institutions, including RFG, who believed in my right to a decent life and in my potential to give back, so it was clear to me early on that I wanted to join public service to help others in the same way that I was helped.” Looking forward, Patricia aims to reach full professional proficiency in Spanish by the end of 2025 and begin learning a new language once she has accomplished that goal. She also plans to continue her career with the UN, stating that she expects to be assigned to a new location with the UN YPP in the near future and that she would enjoy having the opportunity to work on new topics or regions.

When considering her career with the UN thus far, Patricia is nothing but encouraging to others who are interested in working for the United Nations, advertising the YPP as a potential pathway. “If anyone is interested in working for the UN, is under the age of 32, fluent in English (or French), and is a national of an underrepresented or unrepresented country, they should definitely consider applying for the YPP,” Patricia underscores. “It is a gateway to a rewarding career focused on reinforcing economic and political ties among countries with other nations of the world.”

RFG is proud to recognize Melissa Alvisi (Maxwell 2024) as the winner of the Dr. Michael Schneider Professional Writing Award for the first quarter of 2024. Her award-winning piece is titled, “The Biden Administration and the First Executive Order on Artificial Intelligence: An Assessment on AI Watermarking Regulations.” Please note that the views expressed in this publication are entirely those of the author and do not reflect the views, policy, or position of the United States Government, the Government Accountability Office, or the U.S. Department of Commerce.


The Executive Order on the Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence (October 2023) offers items of discussion and solutions through regulations and establishments of taskforces related to AI, engaging a wide range of government agencies and entities collaborating with the latter.

The tradeoffs and requirements to mitigate issues raised are many and make watermarking as a technique to regulate AI more complex. The EO is clear with its purpose to address the irresponsible use of AI by realizing that, although there are benefits, it may also lead to risks that need to be mitigated appropriately and with proper timing before damages such as fraud, discrimination, bias, and disinformation take place. As such, AI-policy now gains importance as we get closer to the 2024 election, and many political events take place in the world.

Finally, this piece assesses that (1) watermarking may be used as a tool rather than a solution to tackle disinformation, and that, before studying it further, (2) the U.S. Department of Commerce and affiliated agencies will need to elaborate on the concept of voluntary cooperation, the collaboration with tech companies, as well as the cost effects on small and medium-sized enterprises.


  • With the executive order (EO) establishing safety and security when using artificial intelligence (AI), labeling and watermarking are introduced as tools to combat disinformation and enforce security. Although the EO tasks the Department of Commerce to report on standards, methods, and practices to authenticate, label, audit synthetic content, and detect watermarking, some legal issues and policy implications are raised and explored further in this piece.
  • Watermarking is a technique with potential to manage disinformation by giving accountability to synthetic and non-synthetic content produced by the Federal Government (or on its behalf). In the context of the EO, watermarking would verify the authenticity and the origin of the output created by AI.
  • The EO’s focus on watermarking and its introduction two days before the UK AI Safety Summit in London may have played a crucial role in designing the USG’s position concerning AI – raising its benefits while acknowledging the importance of risk mitigation, also considering the 2024 presidential campaign approaching. Watermarking is also a tool used by tech companies in the US, showing that addressing disinformation is on the agenda for both the private and public sectors. This is pivotal step to strengthen public-private cooperation in the United States.
  • Although AI-focused policy development is picking up steam, research on watermarking is still a work in progress, and the study of standards, tools and methods may not be as reliable as policy makers have forecasted. Studies on false positives and negatives also demonstrate vulnerabilities around watermarking, creating additional costs and investments in security systems that small and medium-sized companies may not be able to afford.


According to the EO on the Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence, the Biden Administration defines content as “images, videos, audio clips, and texts modified or generated by algorithms, including by AI,” and watermarking as “the act of embedding information into outputs created by AI for the purposes of verifying the authenticity of the output or the identity of its provenance, modifications, or conveyance.” Watermarking is an important process when it comes to copyright protections and marketing of digital work.

In practical terms, with this executive order, federal agencies producing AI-generated or AI-enabled content will need to watermark media and text to provide the source and authenticity of the product. To achieve the latter, the EO highlights the need to study existing methods and tools to detect and level such content.

In addition, to establish the authenticity and origin of digital content, the Secretary of Commerce and other relevant agencies “shall submit a report to the Director of OMB and the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs identifying methods and practices and potential development of further science-backed standards and techniques for using watermarks.” Secretary Raimondo will have eight months to dedicate to this task.


  1. The EO is the first of its kind. Not only does it assume a pivotal role by introducing the concept of regulating AI in the US government, but it also aims to send a message to foreign governments as well as the tech sector. The EO was strategically announced on October 30, two days before the UK AI Safety summit, where Vice President Harris emphasized the Administration welcomes tech companies to “create new tools to help consumers discern if audio and visual content is AI-generated.” Ultimately, the EO represents one of the first official stances from the USG pertaining to AI regulations, considering actions that will be taken in the next year by the Administration.
  2. The order allows the USG to build a solid base for a positive relationship with its developed tech companies. For instance, OpenAI’s marking on DALL-E images and Google’s beta version of SynthID, introducing a watermark directly inserted into the pixels of an image, show how leading enterprises in the market understand the importance of this practice and how it can be useful to identify what is AI-sponsored and what is not.
  3. The timing of the release is pivotal. Watermarking is one of the first regulations that will challenge deepfake tech and set a higher bar for tech companies and government agencies and it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the next few months. It does so with the 2024 presidential election approaching, as there is fair concern that AI-generated images may be used to spread false information. The coalition of tech companies in the attempt to find ways to create digital watermarks solely legible by a computer and hard to detect by the human eye may be a new tool that the Department of Commerce should explore as they fulfill the tasks given under the EO.
  4. There are costs and security implications related to watermarking that are a “black box” to some. While big tech companies can afford the costs related to studying false positives and reads, speed, and adopting the most robust and reliable security system related to watermarking and labeling, such practices may hurt emerging start-ups and small to medium sized tech companies. Moreover, the Department of Commerce and its strategic planning team have the task to explore how such implementations will affect domestic economic development organizations (EDOs) investing in smaller companies, as they might not be able to afford such changes and abide by the new regulations.

Issues and Limitations

Watermarking is a vulnerable technique. As investigated by a research team at the University of Maryland, there is a risk of finding watermarks that are false positives or negatives. When the images are harmless this may not be an overwhelming issue, but they may be when used for dis- or misinformation (again, as we approach a new presidential election in the United States). This is one of the biggest concerns that the EO has not specifically mentioned, requiring the invested stakeholders to investigate further.

Watermarking and labeling synthetic content cannot be perceived as a one-size-fits-all solution. The Administration needs to carefully evaluate tools and methods studied before applying them and acknowledge that watermarking and content authentication operate on an opt-in model. In addition, cases show there are no fully reliable ways to investigate whether content was machine generated, suggesting the need to re-evaluate watermarking as a supplemental tool, rather than a solution.

The EO is indirectly addressing all future commercial AI models in the United States and implies reliance on voluntary cooperation by tech companies. Voluntary cooperation is one of the gray areas in policy-making that does not allow certainty. Although major tech companies such as Google and Adobe have expressed excitement and proactiveness in creating a framework for responsible AI practices, the Department of Commerce will need to go beyond identifying existing standards and tools. It is also imperative for the agency’s taskforce to focus its research on all AI models, including the ones already in use, and go from there.

The Robertson Foundation for Government (RFG) is proud to recognize seven Robertson Fellows and Alumni who have been selected as Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Class of 2024 Finalists! Congratulations to Andrew Gasparini (Maxwell 2024), Aurora Guild (UCSD 2022), Elisabeth Earley (UCSD 2023), McKenzie Hartman (UCSD 2024), Colleen McRann (UMD 2024), Grace Pettey (UMD 2024), and Cate Pollock (UCSD 2022) for this outstanding achievement! 

The PMF Program is the Federal Government’s premier leadership development program for advanced degree holders. As Finalists, they will have the opportunity to be appointed to a two-year, full-time Federal position with salary and benefits, where they will apply their skills while engaging in leadership development training that includes experiential learning, cohort-based interactive training, and optional rotational experiences.

Each of these Fellows had to undergo a rigorous application process, including an online, multi-part assessment and a panel interview. Of the 7,000 individuals who applied for the PMF Program this year, they are among the 825 selected  Finalists. They join a network of more than 40 Robertson Fellows, who have also been selected as PMF Finalists since 2011. RFG congratulates these Fellows on their accomplishment and looks forward to following their public service careers in the U.S. Government.