National High School Essay Contest

The U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) is committed to educating the next generation of peacebuilders about the U.S. role in preventing and resolving conflicts around the world, and about the important part that young people can play as engaged global citizens. USIP is proud to partner with the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) on the annual National High School Essay Contest for 2015-2016.

Starting back in 1987, USIP challenged students to think critically about global issues of conflict and peace through the National Peace Essay Contest (NPEC) and expanded its work with young people in more recent years with the creation of the Global Peacebuilding Center in 2011. USIP’s participation in the National High School Essay Contest builds upon the legacy of the NPEC (which was wrapped up in 2014) and is part of the resources and ongoing programs of the Global Peacebuilding Center.

The contest will engage high school students in learning about and writing about issues of peace and conflict, encouraging appreciation for diplomacy’s role in building partnerships that can advance peacebuilding and protect national security. The 2015-16 contest theme, "Building Peace through Diplomacy," challenges students to identify a current threat to U.S. interests abroad and to research and present options via which Foreign Service officers to respond.

The contest is administered by AFSA, with USIP as a core sponsor for 2015-2016. The winner of the contest will receive a $2,500 cash prize, an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., to meet the secretary of state and tour USIP, and a full-tuition paid voyage with Semester at Sea upon the student’s enrollment at an accredited university. The runner-up will receive a $1,250 cash prize and a full scholarship to participate in the International Diplomacy Program of the National Student Leadership Conference.

Students are eligible to participate if they are U.S. citizens, their parents/guardians are not in the Foreign Service, and they are in grades nine through twelve. Previous first-place winners and immediate relatives of directors or staff of the AFSA, USIP, Semester at Sea, or the National Student Leadership Conference are not eligible to participate. Previous honorable mention recipients are eligible to enter. If your parent/guardian is in the Foreign Service please go to AFSA’s Scholarship site for other opportunities. And please see the website of the Global Peacebuilding Center for many other resources and ideas for action tailored for high school students.

2015-2016 Essay Topic

Imagine that you are a member of the U.S. Foreign Service recently assigned to one of the following eight bureaus within the Department of State or the U.S. Agency for International Development:

You have been tasked with seeking peacebuilding solutions to a particular conflict or crisis that threatens U.S. interests abroad. Examples of these include, but are not limited to: ongoing tensions between Israel and the Palestinian Territories, escalating violence in Iraq, destabilizing forces in Mali and sectarian violence in Myanmar. You are welcome to explore conflicts related to economic crises, resource scarcity, refugee influxes or any other topic that interests you.

In an essay between 1000 and 1250 words, answer the following questions:

  • How does the conflict or crisis you selected threaten U.S. interests abroad?
  • What is the official mission of your chosen bureau in general and in your chosen conflict in particular? As a member of the Foreign Service, what is your role in the bureau?
  • How do you propose your chosen bureau might work in partnership with other organizations to address your chosen conflict? Please describe how your efforts will help build peace in this conflict?
    • Consider other U.S. government agencies and organizations, such as the U.S. Institute of Peace, as well as non-governmental organizations, foreign governments, international institutions etc.

Essays must be submitted by 11:59 EST on March 15, 2016.

Questions about the contest should be directed to


Students beginning their research for the 2015-2016 National High School Essay Contest may wish to consider the following resources. Be sure to visit AFSA website to view past winners’ essays, submit your essay, for rules and guidelines and for a helpful writer’s checklist.

About the Foreign Service and Diplomacy

  • Inside a U.S. Embassy, FS Books (a division of the American Foreign Service Association)
    Inside a U.S. Embassy is widely recognized as the essential guide to the Foreign Service. This all-new third edition takes readers to more than 50 U.S. missions around the world, introducing Foreign Service professionals and providing detailed descriptions of their jobs and firsthand accounts of diplomacy in action. Read an excerpt "What is the Foreign Service?" (.pdf) on AFSA’s website.

About Peacebuilding and Conflict Management

  • U.S. Institute of Peace publications provide the latest analysis of international developments and policy recommendations on world affairs, particularly the prevention and resolution of conflict.
  • U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) publications on conflict assessment, management and mitigation.
  • The Council on Foreign Relations’ Global Conflict Tracker and Center for Preventive Action.

Featured USIP Reports

  • "The U.S. Role and Strategy in the Middle East: The Humanitarian Crisis" Congressional Testimony
    USIP President Nancy Lindborg testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations focusing on refugees and social cohesion.
  • "Creating Spaces for Effective CVE Approaches" PeaceBrief
    Unlike other counterterrorism strategies, countering violent extremism (CVE) focuses on preventing individuals from being recruited into or joining violent extremist groups. CVE is a complex endeavor, largely because the reasons individuals become involved in extremist violence are in themselves complex and the dynamics are unique to each conflict. Using Kenya as an example, and drawing on observations from a recent visit, the author explores how promoting a more nuanced understanding of radicalization can help reach those who are at risk of being pushed and pulled into extremist violence.
  • "Pakistan's Power Crisis: The Way Forward" USIP Special Report
    Pakistan’s energy shortages disrupt daily life in the country, and protests and demonstrations against the shortages often turn violent, creating a risk that Pakistan’s energy crisis could threaten peace and stability. Incorporating official and donor perspectives, this report examines the factors in Pakistan’s energy crisis and what can be done to address it.
  • "The Role of Media in Shaping Libya's Security Sector Narratives" Special Report
    During and after Libya’s revolution, national media outlets became known and popular for their balanced reporting. The situation in the few years since has changed, however. The security landscape in Libya today is a confusing array of institutional and non-institutional actors each asserting legitimacy. The country is on the brink of full-scale civil war. Its media has become both polarized and a key tool for many security actors. This report looks at three primary television channels to offer insights into the media’s role in shaping public perceptions and building political constituencies.
  • "Myanmar: Anatomy of a Political Transition" Special Report
    Many countries have attempted to transition from authoritarian governments to democracies, with many false starts. The political transition that began in Myanmar with the elections of 2010 was heavily planned by military leaders to gradually move toward democratization while retaining many of the authoritarian structures of the previous government during the transition. As Myanmar’s success has attracted great interest and support from the international community, this study analyzes the elements that brought the transition about and the issues that threaten to arrest and complicate it in the present, to draw lessons that might apply to other countries undergoing transitions to democracy.