IST/SHC course offers aspiring leaders real-world experience in policy making

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- In today’s interconnected global society, individuals who aspire for careers in international affairs must possess a broad knowledge of policy issues. William Schreyer, the benefactor of Penn State’s Schreyer Honors College (SHC), understood that obtaining that knowledge requires more than classroom learning. To implement his vision of educating future leaders, he funded a course at the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) that provides students with hands-on experience in diplomacy and policy-making.

“(The class) grew out of Mr. Schreyer’s conviction that we need to be globally engaged,” said Christian Brady, dean of the Schreyer Honors College.

According to Brady, the SHC established the course shortly after the college was founded in 1997. The course, “Globalization and World Trends,” is a partnership with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a prominent think tank based in Washington, D.C. The center conducts policy studies and strategic analyses on political, economic and security issues throughout the world, with a specific focus on issues concerning international relations, trade, technology, finance, energy and geostrategy.

“The class focuses on the big forces in globalization, such as technological and economic changes” said Andrea Tapia, an associate professor at the College of IST, who has taught the course for the past five years. “Mr. Schreyer wanted to establish a pipeline between Penn State students and the policy makers in Washington, D.C. He wanted Penn State students to see themselves working in D.C. at the highest levels of government.”

Carleen Maitland, another associate professor at the College of IST who originally taught the “Globalization and World Trends” course, said that the class grew out of mutual interests between the SHC, IST and CSIS. Cheryl Achterburg, the founding dean of the SHC, developed the course and established the relationship based on advice from Schreyer with CSIS.

“Schreyer funded a chair at CSIS and as these two entities benefited from his philanthropy, he thought it was a good idea to help Penn State students benefit from his mutual interests,” Maitland said.

Jim Thomas, currently the William Elliot Professor of Risk and Management at Penn State's Smeal College of Business and former dean of Smeal, who served as dean of the College of IST from 1999 to 2006, served as an intermediary between SHC and IST in launching the course, Maitland said. He convinced Achterburg that “issues of globalization were near and dear to the hearts of some IST faculty and that he likely had people who would be interested in taking over the course."

“We had to submit a course proposal to have it formally serve as an IST course and that established a long and productive relationship between the Schreyer Honors College and IST,” said Maitland, who stepped up to teach the course, which she taught for several years.

In the University of Pennsylvania’s 2012 “Global Go To Think Tanks Report,” CSIS is ranked the number one think tank in the world for security and international affairs. It was also ranked as the fifth best overall think tank in the world. The SHC underwrites the course each year to enable the students in the class to spend two days at the center, meet leaders and policy makers, as well as participate in seminars and a simulation on international policy issues. In addition, students who are enrolled in the course are eligible to apply to an internship program at CSIS.

“His effort and his money helped to open doors to establish a permanent relationship between Penn State, the College of IST and CSIS,” Tapia said.

The “Globalization and World Trends” class, which is held in the fall semester, typically has 12 to 15 students. In November, members of the fall 2013 class traveled to Washington, D.C., to visit CSIS, where they role-played members of the U.S. Congress and Cabinet in a simulated transnational crisis involving kidnapped journalists in Venezuela. The students had a few hours to decide how they would advise the U.S. President to handle the situation, and by practicing “digital diplomacy” through social media, learned how the Internet has shaped economic development and cyberwarfare.

“The students outperformed my expectations completely,” Tapia said.

Many students who have taken the “Globalization and World Trends” class have gone into global service, Brady said. Former students are currently working in the U.S. State Department and the intelligence community, and are playing a role in formulating public policy and environmental issues.

“The course helps students see the complexity of policy development,” Brady said, adding that he has used the course as a model for the Presidential Leadership Program. “Frequently, solutions require reaching out to different parties.”

“The course prepares students for careers in national and international affairs in numerous ways,” Tapia said.

Students who take the class “learn how to translate academic research into information that is needed by government policy makers” and gain practice in making persuasive public arguments about policy change. In addition, she said, “students learn the role that think tanks play in policy development”.

One of the greatest benefits of the class, Tapia said, is that it prepares students to be “futurists” in their careers and overall outlook.

“They think about big global trends and learn to take preemptive action to shape the future the way they want it to be,” she said.

Last Updated February 07, 2014