Meet the Ford Dorsey Master's in International Policy Class of 2024

The 2024 class of the Ford Dorsey Master’s in International Policy has arrived at Stanford eager to learn from our scholars and tackle policy challenges ranging from food security to cryptocurrency privacy.
The Ford Dorsey Master's in International Policy Class of 2024 at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. The Ford Dorsey Master's in International Policy Class of 2024 at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. Meghan Moura

The start of the academic year always comes with an exciting rush of new classes, new school supplies, and new faces. At the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI), one of the highlights of Fall Quarter is welcoming a new cohort of students into the Ford Dorsey Master’s of International Policy (MIP) into our research community.

The MIP Class of 2024 is 28 students strong and comes to FSI from 15 different countries around the world, including Brazil, Cambodia, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Germany, India, Indonesia, Libya, Mexico, Norway, Singapore, Thailand, Uganda, United Kingdom, and the United States. 

From working to eliminate food insecurity to dissecting the challenges of privacy for blockchains, this year’s cohort brings an incredible variety of unique experiences to their studies in MIP. To talk more about their journeys to Stanford, seven members of the new MIP class shared their stories of how they came to be interested in policy, and what impacts they are hoping to make on the world.

Keep reading to learn more about Pamella Ahairwe, Sarah Brakebill-Hacke, Poramin Insom, Ibilola Owoyele, Raul Ruiz-Solis, Elliot Stewart, and Ashwini Thakare.


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Pamella Ahairwe; from Kampala, Uganda; studying Governance and Development (GOVDEV); is an aspiring poet exploring ways to merge policy with verse
Pamella Ahairwe Pamella Ahairwe

I was born and grew up in Uganda. I have also been lucky to travel and live in other African countries — Kenya and Botswana — as well as European countries, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. These adventures have helped me understand first-hand the diversities that exist between the Global North and the Global South. They have also taught me that in the journey to advance the socio-economic transformation of the Global South, international development partnerships play a vital role in complementing local development efforts.

Although the economic impediments that developing countries face are many, they are not impossible to address. Tackling them requires that we implement every viable intervention, national or international, big or small, private or public, that creates a positive change on people, systems and institutions. I have always been impact-driven and I would like to continue influencing the positive changes towards sustainable development from the international development perspective. This, in addition to my background career in the international development space, was a driving factor in wanting to join the Stanford community and pursue further studies in International policy.

Like many development economists, I am interested in a series of thematic areas but mostly, technology economics, energy, climate change, development finance, and the political economy aspects of developing countries. For example, I am interested in how we can use safe and secure digital solutions to promote financial inclusion, access to high quality education and health services, reduce inequalities, and create job opportunities in the Global South. This will be possible by bridging the gap between policies and practices, and by learning from the success stories already making an impact.

I am looking forward to both courses on technology policy and being able to observe the innovation ecosystem of Silicon Valley. I hope to learn how ideas in Silicon Valley might apply to developing the African digital economy, especially in supporting the African homemade digital solutions in a practical way.


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Sarah Brakebill-Hacke; from Eyota, Minnesota; studying International Secuirty (ISEC); a proud mom of two who is inspired by her kids every day
Sarah Brakehill-Hacke Sarah Brakehill-Hacke

To understand where I am now and why I’m so passionate about what I’m doing, it’s important to have some context about where I came from. I grew up in a really rough background. I was in foster care for most of my young life, and I only formally completed sixth grade before dropping out. I went to part of ninth grade, but when I was sixteen I became homeless with my young son.

Eventually, I did get my GED and tried going to community college for a while. But the processes for getting financial aid and registration were so difficult and frustrating to navigate that I became disillusioned with the entire system and dropped out. The systems weren’t just unhelpful; they were actively hurting. I got my resources together and got a van, and we went back on the road.

One day, I stopped in a Walmart parking lot to rest, and I saw some people passing out flyers and gathering signatures for a petition. I was so curious; I had never seen anything like that before! They invited me to their meetings to learn more. That lit a fire in me that changed everything. It was so much more than having an income for the first time in my life. It was about representation and having a voice. It was about voting to change things. It was about people having power.

My goals now are focused on food security and creating policies that prioritize basic needs. After my experience with working in canvassing, I went back to community college. Once there, I started to find students who were hungry and struggling with food. After doing some investigating, I learned that almost 60% of the student body had experienced some level of food insecurity in the last 30 days. That realization turned into a campaign to provide $20,000 in emergency food aid and serve hot meals on campus twice a week. The work we started was eventually adopted and transformed into the state-wide Hunger Free Campus initiative in Minnesota.

So many problems facing our societies have their roots in poverty, want, and broken systems that fail to serve people. There’s a real divide between people who need help from systems and the policymakers and people in power who are making the systems and moving things forward. I’ve lived the reality of one side of that equation. Everything I’ve done since at Yale and Cambridge, and what I’m doing now at MIP, is to try and build bridges and bring a different kind of context and perspective to the other side. I’m excited to work and learn from faculty like Marshall Burke and Roz Naylor at the Center for Food, Security, and the Environment, and to keep learning how to make policies and that work for people.
 

It's about so much more than having an income. It's about representation and having a voice. It's about voting to change things. It's about people having power.
Sarah Brakebill-Hacke
Internartional Security (ISEC)


 

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Poramin Insom; from Phana, Thailand; studying Cyber Policy and Security (CYBER); follower of Anapanasati meditation and amateur sommelier
Poramin Insom Poramin Insom

My interest in cyber started where it does for a lot of kids: with video games in high school. I found a coding modification for one of the games I liked playing that allowed me to get unlimited money. It was great for my success in the game, but it also made me really interested in how the software and programming worked. That got me into coding, which gave me the background I needed to eventually co-found Firo, which is a privacy-focused cryptocurrency.

That emphasis on privacy is important. Blockchain technology is very secure, but it still has some privacy issues that we need to think about more. We don’t want to be in a situation where in twenty years, cryptocurrencies and blockchains have the same kind of privacy concerns we’re currently seeing in our social media data.

Most people have probably heard about blockchain in the context of cryptocurrency, but it has the potential for many more other applications. One of the big issues in the world right now is finding ways to make it easier for more people to participate securely in democracy without interference from regimes or with questions over election integrity or voting security. Secure and private blockchains could be used in those situations.

The Stanford MIP program was actually the only program I applied to after I made the decision to come back to school, because of its unique focus on both cyber policy and cybersecurity, which are equally important, but not the same thing. I have technical experience in cyber security from my time in the military and my study at Johns Hopkins. The piece I’m missing is the cyber policy and thinking about how cyber interacts with society and government. MIP felt like the best place to learn about those kinds of issues and decision-making processes.


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Ibilola Owoyele; from Sacramento, California, USA; studying Energy, Natural Reseources, and the Environment (ENRE); is a fashion designer and fabric up-cycler
Ibilola Owoyele Ibilola Owoyele

I’ve been cultivating a focus on West Africa and development in that region for a while now. Before coming back to school, I was working with Chemonics International, USAID’s largest implementing partner, on programs aimed at improving Haiti’s judicial sector, countering violent extremism in Mauritania, and facilitating agribusiness investments in the DRC.
 
Before Chemonics, I was in Benin as a Princeton-in-Africa Fellow, where I worked for the African School of Economics’ Institute for Empirical Research on impact evaluation of donor-funded programs. Being involved with the end results of a project made me more curious about the earlier phases of program development. How do donors choose where and how to intervene? Can programs truly align with both U.S. policy and host countries’ goals and priorities?

As a U.S Pickering Fellow, I am on my way to becoming a Foreign Service Officer (FSO), and I am excited to apply the knowledge I gain from Stanford professors with expertise on policy development and African affairs to obtain answers. I plan to study and work within West Africa’s economic sphere, hopefully collaborating with entrepreneurs, governments, and the private sector to improve the business-enabling environments in various countries, bolster the sustainability of private supply chains, and amplify the voices of women experts working within this realm.

There’s a freshness and flexibility at MIP that really appealed to me, as I wanted to tap into a network of people who have diverse interests and can provide a holistic perspective on these issues. Groups like the Stanford African Entrepreneurship Network have connected me to other like-minded individuals who are working towards Africa’s growth and sustainable development.
 
I’ll be working as an FSO for at least five years after my graduation, and I know I want to keep focusing on West Africa and Haiti. As a Nigerian-American, I am excited to approach my studies at Stanford through a lens that not only reflects African Studies with humility and interconnection, but also amplifies the voices of young continental Africans pushing these questions forward.


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Raul Ruiz-Solis; from Mexico City, Mexico; studying Cyber Policy and Security (CYBER); is an avid Kendo practitioner and salsa dancer
Raul Ruiz-Solis Raul Ruiz-Solis

I had the opportunity to work for about four years at the Embassy of Mexico in the United States. It was while I was in Washington D.C. that I really started to think about and realize what a big topic cyberspace is. It’s so common in our lives, but we still don’t really understand a lot of the specifics about it. If you were to lose your phone, for example, you’d also be losing your bank account information, your email, and your contacts. Everything is so connected, the world is deeply embedded in the cyber domain, and because of this, we need more insight into how intersections between social phenomena and new technologies work.

Cyberspace and technologies come with this duality. On the one side, they are tools for growth and for progress, but on the other side, they can be very dangerous. For example, parallel to the breakout of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw digital platforms become key avenues for political engagement as electoral campaigning went completely online. But all of this misinformation and lies about elections, and the pandemic itself, came out of that space. There’s a gap and a disconnect, sometimes, between what’s happening in the private sector in the companies that are building and running this tech and what’s happening in the public sector with understanding and responding to and regulating. These things evolve so fast that it can be hard for the legislation to keep up.

I’m particularly interested in understanding how online misinformation relates to political participation and influences vaccine hesitancy among minorities, especially Hispanics, Mexican Americans, and Mexicans living in the United States. Because Mexico is a very interconnected country in terms of access to social media, I seek to understand how communication technologies influence public issues in my country. There is already data showing that traditional policy issues like migration, gender violence, healthcare hesitancy, and civic participation are migrating from the physical world and changing and morphing in digital spaces. It is urgent that we understand that a lot better than we do.

There are a few places in the world that do what the Cyber Policy Center here at FSI does. We have these toolkits for traditional policymaking and solution finding, but we’re going to have to develop new toolkits for these new challenges, and places like the Cyber Center are actively trying to do that. To paraphrase Dr. Erin Meyer’s work, in a world that’s ever more connected, you cannot do things just the Mexican way, or the U.S. way; you have to figure out how to lead in a global way. We’re not going to opt out of interconnectedness, so let’s figure out how to work better together in these spaces.
 

We have to figure out how to lead in a global way. We’re not going to opt out of interconnectedness, so let’s figure out how to work better together in these spaces.
Raul Ruiz-Solis
Cyber Policy & Security (CYBER)


 

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Elliot Stewart; from North Dakota, USA; stuyding International Security (ISEC); retired indie rock guitarists and passionate musician
Elliot Stewart Elliot Stewart

I started my undergraduate career later than most, and because of that, I had an outlook to be very purposeful in how I spent my time. I wanted to work on something that was challenging and that I would find endlessly interesting. I chose political science and the Middle East, which led to an internship in Jordan. That turned into six years of work experience with a technology company that was using data and analytics to understand and quantify what was going on in digital spaces.

Through that work, I really started to appreciate the full implications that AI and other emerging technologies have in foreign policy. These technologies aren’t just something we need to contend with as threats and opportunities out there in the world. We need to understand how they’re changing the way we perceive others and ourselves.  

Six hundred years ago, the Gutenberg printing press completely transformed societies. The internet is doing the same thing today, we just don’t have a very clear understanding of what that process is creating. But based on what we’ve seen politically and geopolitically the last few years, it’s obvious we need to get our hands on the reins more and get better answers to these questions. 

I’m particularly interested in how technology is shaping the ways we’re learning to think about China and other emerging geopolitical powers. The international system is changing. It’s becoming less hegemonic and moving toward something much more multi-polar. How actors perceive one another is increasingly consequential. Technology is shaping those perceptions at multiple levels. 

Part of the appeal of coming to MIP was that the leadership and faculty here seem to align a lot with having a cross-disciplinary understanding of the full geopolitical system. And like others have said, being in Silicon Valley and having that proximity was a big draw for me as well. It’s another window into how the bleeding edge of technology is having an impact on policy and other aspects of the world, so coming here seemed like the natural choice.


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Ashwini Thakare; from Nagpur, India; studying Energy, Natural Resources, and the Environment (ENRE); is a lifelong learner and talented home chef
Ashwini Thakare Ashwini Thakare

I’m coming to the Ford Dorsey Master's in International Policy program from the Department of Personnel and Training, Government of India. Even though I’ve been out of university for about ten years, my process of learning has never stopped. I bring a lot of experience through interaction with people in public leadership, using negotiation and leadership skills, but I want to better understand the process of making data-driven policy. The flexibility of the MIP program and the manner it encourages students to learn across disciplines is, therefore, very appealing to me, as it allows to frame my own learning goals.

I’ve always had a great amount of respect for the environment and an interest in natural resources. Energy touches all of our lives in some way. In my culture, we consider the environment and its resources to be divine. These are gifts given by generations after generations to human beings, and as such we need to conserve them and find ways to ensure a more equitable distribution of energy, so that everybody has access to this necessity.

These are global issues that are going to need global participation to address. When I see places like the island nations, they contribute so much less to the greenhouse gasses, but they are most affected by climate change issues. I want to put myself in a position where I can help visualize policies that mitigate these regional disparities and create more equity.

These are big challenges, but it is possible for people to make a difference. There are so many inspiring stories from all over the world of ordinary people taking the initiative to help conserve and preserve their local resources and educate their communities. When we’re thinking about our policies and how to make them, we have to remember that the data and number crunching are only part of it — it’s people that give them life. Many people are already doing the work. It's our responsibility to learn from them and value their experience.
 

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