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.

Starting in 1987, USIP challenged students to think critically about global issues of conflict and peace through the National Peace Essay Contest (NPEC). Now, USIP is building upon the legacy of the NPEC (which was wrapped up in 2014) by partnering with other organizations on a range of initiatives that inspire students to learn more about global peacebuilding and to put their own good ideas into action.

Make sure to explore our other resources for students, teachers, and the broader public by visiting the Public Education section. 

Pictured left to right, Nancy Lindborg, George John, Jennifer John, Sec. Mike Pompeo, Amb. Barbara Stephenson, Mike Zoll
Pictured left to right, Nancy Lindborg, George John, Jennifer John, Sec. Mike Pompeo, Amb. Barbara Stephenson, Mike Zoll (Michael Gross/US Department of State)

Academic WorldQuest

Each year, the World Affairs Council of America (WACA) engages more than 4,000 high school students across the U.S. in their signature quiz contest that tests their knowledge of global issues and foreign policy in 10 categories. Since 2016, USIP has been a co-sponsor of this national contest, ensuring the inclusion of a peace and conflict category in Academic WorldQuest.

In 2018, the students studied “The Peacebuilding Toolkit” to learn how proven skills, projects, and activities are applied to prevent and resolve violent international conflict.  Students from Plano West Senior High School in Texas took first place at the national competition after attending a welcoming reception at USIP in April 2018. 

Throughout the competition, the Plano West team and students from 43 other schools in 27 states were challenged to answer multiple choice question like:

  • What concept is increasingly resonating in foreign policy circles because of its explanatory power for why and how interventions in fragile states must evolve?
  • Per the 2017 Global Peace Index, how much can each dollar invested in peacebuilding reduce the cost of violent conflict?
  • On the Spectrum of Peacebuilding Tools used by USIP’s Global Campus, which tools epitomize the concept of local ownership?

To find the answers to these questions, explore the resources for “The Peacebuilding Toolkit” category, and to find more information on the competition, check out our Academic WorldQuest page!

National High School Essay Contest

As a successor to USIP’s own National Peace Essay Contest, USIP has since 2015 partnered with the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) on its annual National High School Essay Contest. The contest engages high school students in learning and writing about issues of peace and conflict, and encourages appreciation for diplomacy’s role in building partnerships that can advance peacebuilding and protect national security. 

The winner of the contest receives a $2,500 cash prize, an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. to meet leadership at the U.S. Department of State and USIP, and a full-tuition paid voyage with Semester at Sea upon the student’s enrollment at an accredited university. The runner-up receives a $1,250 cash prize and a full scholarship to participate in the International Diplomacy Program of the National Student Leadership Conference. 

Jennifer John, the 2018 essay contest winner, is a rising senior in Redwood City, CA. Jennifer’s essay compared U.S. interagency cooperation in Bosnia and Iraq. At a reception in her honor at USIP, Jennifer spoke about how, as a student focused on STEM subjects, she was daunted by the question at first, but ultimately was “captivated by the unparalleled capacity of the United States to transform war-torn nations into places of peace and prosperity.”

Explore the 2018 topic and learn more about the essay contest.  

National History Day

Each year, 500,000 thousand students representing every state in the U.S. engage in original research about a specific theme in history through National History Day (NHD). Since 2016, USIP has sponsored a special award at the national level as part of NHD. The Global Peace Prize is awarded annually to the top middle and high school entries that demonstrate America’s commitment to peace, including the role that individuals, organizations and/or the U.S. government have played in advancing the cause of global peace.” Students can present their research through essays, exhibits, documentaries, performances, and websites. 

With the theme “Conflict and Compromise in History,” the work of peacebuilders was highlighted across many of the projects for the 2018 competition.  The junior division Global Peace Prize was won by Alan Zhou and Kyler Wang from Stoller Middle School in Oregon. Their documentary, “The Pig War: Confrontation, Escalation, Arbitration,” highlighted the important role that international arbitration played in resolving a territorial dispute between the U.S. and Great Britain without resorting to war. In the senior division, the winner was a website created by Forest Hill Eastern High School students Claire Parish and Kyle Korte. They highlighted the evolution in the views of Senator Arthur Vandenberg from isolationism to multilateralism, and the policy consequences as he sought to promote and protect U.S. interests. 

Learn more about USIP and the Global Peace Prize, including articles written for the annual NHD Theme Book.

National Peace Essay Contest

For 27 years, the National Peace Essay Contest promoted serious discussion among high school students, teachers, and national leaders about international peace and conflict resolution today and in the future. 

Archived information on the contests is available:

Past NPEC national and state winners should submit scholarship requests to essaycontest@usip.org.