Lily Windholz ’23 Earns Prestigious Internship at Brookings Institution

Social Sciences3 MIN READ

Experience at think tank furthers international policy dialogue and capacity for action

By Linzy Rosen ’22Photography by Gregory Rec
December 20, 2021

Too many opinions, not enough facts. For Lily Windholz ’23, this is a serious disconnect afflicting foreign-policy conversations, especially among young people. 

“With social media,” she said, “people post about what’s going on, but they don’t know what it means.” 

But Windholz is charting another course.

Determined to increase her literacy on ​​foreign policy and contribute to the national dialogue, Windholz secured a coveted internship at the Brookings Institution last summer. She was one of only two students selected as a research assistant to Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow and director of foreign policy research.  

In the wake of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Windholz and O’Hanlon co-authored an article reflecting on the legacy of the “war on terror.” In August, their piece was published in the respected National Interest magazine and on the Brookings website. 

Windholz’s ability to provide new insights was helpful to O’Hanlon, an expert on U.S. defense strategy and a prolific author and TV commentator. “One of the best things,” he said, “is the curiosity and enthusiasm of a young scholar as they continue to learn and analyze a subject with fresh eyes.” 

The Brookings Institution, an internationally renowned think tank in Washington, D.C.,  conducts rigorous research on a range of topics that inform public policy at the local, national, and global levels. 

Each summer, Brookings hosts a select cohort of students for its highly competitive internship program. Windholz used Colby’s alumni network to find the opportunity. Her acceptance to Brookings was lauded by her faculty advisor, Guilain Denoeux, professor of government. 

“She doesn’t cut corners,” he said. “She’s not looking for the easy path.” In his more than 30 years at Colby, Windholz is his first student to land a position at Brookings. 

Throughout the three courses Windholz has taken with Denoeux, her attention to detail has been especially notable. “She wants to get the big picture, but she also understands the importance of a fact,” Denoeux added. 

Coming to Colby from San Francisco, Windholz is double majoring in government and biology, an unlikely pairing. Yet it introduced Windholz to the field of global health. “It was a great way to find a place where my biology could be applicable and also tie in this passion I found for politics, specifically in the Middle East.”

To deepen her understanding of the region’s conflicts, Windholz collaborated with O’Hanlon on his forthcoming book on American wars, helping to edit sections on U.S. involvement in the Middle East. She analyzed thousands of pages from several texts to answer specific questions for O’Hanlon and established areas for further research. She also drafted detailed summaries on numerous complex military interventions, such as the Suez Crisis of 1956 and the 1967 Six-Day War. 

Throughout the summer, Windholz gained significant insights from O’Hanlon’s rich background in international policy and conflict. O’Hanlon frequently shared personal stories of policy negotiations and meetings abroad, Windholz said. She benefited immensely from those conversations, absorbing his knowledge and hearing firsthand about his lived experiences.

Windholz cites Colby’s Farnham Writers’ Center and her outstanding professors for her preparedness for the role at Brookings. “Through my education here, I’ve made a transition to being more confident in writing, reading, and literary analysis.” 

With rigorous research now under her belt, Windholz plans to enhance her understanding of international issues and global health through field-based work at NGOs in the future.

“I’m interested in being on the ground and seeing that perspective,” she said. “Where does that research collide with action on the ground?”