Alum Spotlight: Sophia Simmons ’14

Sophia graduated from Maine Coast Waldorf School in 2014 and is currently a Multilateral Diplomacy Trainee for the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) in Geneva, Switzerland. Recently I had the honor to talk with Sophia and learn how her Waldorf education prepared her for a career on the international stage.  

Q:  Can you describe your role as a Multilateral Diplomacy Trainee? 

A: Absolutely, multilateral diplomacy is diplomacy on a global rather than national level. I work with institutions, governments, and to a lesser degree individuals to broker agreements on the world stage.  The United Nations currently has 191 member states.  It can be quite complicated to try to juggle everyone’s different desires and objectives. As a uniter, I work with new member states that are joining the Security Council.  For member states that are not part of the P5 (permanent members of the Security Council), they may not necessarily have the training they need to enter negotiations or understand the protocol. I try to bolster and train up the delegates, the ambassadors, who will be representing their country for a period of time. That being said, because I am in my yearlong traineeship, I get to do a lot of different things and try to test out different programs that I’m interested in. Right now, I’m working on a science diplomacy partnership with higher education research institutions like Harvard, MIT, Boston University and other Swiss-based consultancies to develop a training program for ambassadors of member states.

Q: How did your education at MCWS influence and/or help you prepare for a career in International Relations?

A: I’m a Waldorf “lifer”. I started (then Merriconeag) when I was three-years old and went all the way through high school. My Waldorf friends are still my core community. The Sloans (David and Christine) and Mr. Barham (David) were my first mentors. When thinking about how I ended up in Geneva, it was definitely a combination of Mr. Barham, who was always encouraging me to embrace my more political side and step out of my comfort zone and Madame (Régine) Whittlesey who worked very hard to make sure we had a foreign language program. Additionally, her husband (David) started a Model U.N. club that I competed in and really enjoyed the process. Because of Régine, I ended up spending a semester in Paris for a study abroad program.

Even more influential was the fact that our then tiny school had international students coming from France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and even Italy. I absolutely loved becoming friends with the exchange students and engaging with people from other cultures. 

The last four years have been such an incredible experience and education. Often being the only American in the room or on a team, I’ve learned so much from hearing the opinions of others. I don’t think I would have ever appreciated it the same way if it wasn’t for the foreign language exchange program. 

Q: What do you see yourself doing in the next 5-10 years?

The next step for me would be a consultancy. Last year I got to go to Davos and work a short contract with the World Economic Forum. There is a lot of very interesting work happening around the circular economy and climate change initiatives. I think this is an important direction for us (Americans) to be going especially if we want to replace single point solutions with system innovations in our own country.

Q:What would you tell a graduating senior that was thinking of going into politics or interested in International Relations?

Once COVID is over, put on a backpack, start in Finland and see how far down you can go. If you want to get on the international stage, it’s not about getting just the right internship; it’s about exploring different countries, meeting people along the way, and having unique experiences. We (Waldorf students) are so creative and resourceful, trust that within yourself. Get off LinkedIn and tap into your creative resourceful self.