The 24 members of the Ford Dorsey Master’s in International Policy (MIP) Class of 2022 began their orientation “bootcamp” about two weeks before the beginning of one of the most unusual fall semesters in Stanford’s history. Many eventually arrived on a campus with few undergraduates, a mandatory mask policy, and daily health checks, while others will take courses remotely.
Nonetheless, all 24 are coalescing as a single cohort. Altogether, the 14 women and ten men represent ten different countries, including Germany, Republic of Korea, Kosovo, Ukraine, Chile, Estonia, Israel, Myanmar, Peru and the United States. Some have prior work experience, while others have served in the military or just completed their undergraduate degrees. Their academic interests range from disinformation and deepfakes, to humanitarian aid and natural resource management, to the link between failures of economic and political development and conflict.
During the first week of classes, first-year students took part in virtual meet-and-greets with FSI faculty and the returning MIP Class of 2021, and some students attended Francis Fukuyama’s “International Policy Speaker Series” course in one of Stanford’s new outdoor classrooms.
The Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies spoke to five of the first-year students about their backgrounds, passions, and dreams for the future. These are their stories.
Mikk Raud, 28 (Pärnu, Estonia)
I’m from Estonia, a small country in Northern Europe. Life was comfortable growing up, but I always wanted to spend time abroad to fully experience the world. I moved to Hong Kong after high school and military service to obtain a bachelor’s degree there, then moved to Beijing to pursue a master’s program in China studies.
Before I began at Stanford, I spent three years working in Hong Kong as a cybersecurity consultant — it was a good exposure in terms of building my technical capabilities within cybersecurity. But I would sometimes question my work and think, “What’s the bigger impact of my work on people and society?” In the private sector, you're helping companies save money, or helping them protect their data better. But I think in the policy and the academic world, the impact may be bigger, and it is possible to reach a wider audience.
During my time in the MIP program, I hope to be able to explore the policy and the regulatory side of cybersecurity, while continuing to develop my technical skill set. I’m looking forward to being able to go in-depth on some of the topics, like disinformation and deepfakes, and to try to cultivate my own core passion within the cybersecurity sphere.
Eventually, I really want to go back to my country after complementing my China experience with that from the U.S. While being one of the most digitally advanced nations in the world, Estonia remains a small country, and has to navigate between bigger powers. Hence, we need to be very careful about how we interact with them, especially amid the ongoing technology confrontation and increasing polarization. History has shown that we can’t not take a side. We always have to go with someone, because otherwise we'll just be too small to survive.
Calli Obern, 26. (Madison, Wisconsin)
I went to Occidental college in Los Angeles for my bachelor’s degree and studied international relations and Mandarin. I developed an interest in climate policy while I was studying abroad in China. I had the opportunity to intern at the UN for a semester, and was able to attend some of the Paris Climate Agreement negotiations, which was fascinating.
I had been working at the Aspen Institute in Washington, DC, since I graduated from Occidental, and knew I wanted to eventually leave DC for graduate school. Being in Washington is incredibly valuable, but people there tend to develop an “inside the Beltway” mindset, and forget about all the incredible things that are happening outside of the area. I really liked the fact that MIP offers a specialization in energy, natural resources and the environment. I’ll be able to merge the international policy courses with the climate interests that I have, and I will be able to develop some quantitative skills here.
At Stanford, I’d like to learn more about the foundation of how energy systems work and how to facilitate climate negotiations. I want to have a stronger expertise in climate policy, and to be able to recommend ways to combat climate change from both a mitigation and adaptation point of view.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke at Aspen earlier this year, and she was talking a lot about current threats to U.S. security, and one of them was climate change — how we are responding, and what it means for our alliances and for stability around the world. I think climate change is becoming increasingly more intertwined with security and international relations, and I’m excited to be able to combine those two interests at MIP. It feels like a very nascent area, but I think it's going to become increasingly more important.
Daniel Gajardo, 28. (Santiago, Chile)
I was born and raised in Santiago. It’s a huge, spread-out city, and I studied civil engineering there. After I earned a master’s of science in engineering, I started looking for ways to get myself involved in environmental issues and sustainability. My specialization is in hydraulics — I really love water and understanding water, and how that resource impacts lives, and environments and ecosystems.
I got a job at a company called Tres Ciclos, which is a B corporation, meaning that it looks for social and environmental impacts in addition to economic impacts. And outside of work, I'm a co-founder and on the board of directors of the Chilean chapter of the nonprofit Engineers Without Borders. We've grown a lot in the past four years, and we're really making an impact in communities — developing engineering projects in underserved areas.
I’m planning to specialize in governance and development at MIP and do a dual degree with the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program of Environment and Resources, which is a program at Stanford Earth that specializes in environmental issues. I have a strong interest in poverty alleviation and policy governance, so I'm trying to mix both worlds — I want to stand in the middle of environment and society and social issues and policy. I've been doing it from an engineering perspective so far, and at MIP I hope to expand my skills, language, and networks more into the social sciences.
I think the only way of solving something as complex as the environmental problems we have now is to have all of the sectors working together — private, public, nonprofit. That would be my dream objective, to see them working together, because I've already seen the private sector trying to do its own thing and public sector trying to do its own thing. It's hard to work that way. So hopefully I can be part of that collaboration.
Sarah Baran, 28. (Independence, Ohio)
I went to Georgetown University for undergrad, where I majored in government with a minor in education. I studied abroad in Chile and took part in a program that was centered around social justice and immersive education. It was the first time I had left the country, and the second time I was on a flight in my entire life. That experience really set the groundwork for what started as an interest in international development, and now is in the humanitarian sector.
I moved to Nairobi, Kenya, after graduating, and worked in international development and humanitarian crises in Africa for five years. I spent two of those years working on a drought response in Somalia, then spent the last year in Bangladesh in a small town called Teknaf, working on the Rohingya refugee crisis.
Up to this point in my career I've been working on direct service provision or coordination among organizations that are providing direct services in emergencies and disasters. I would like to continue to work in that space, but I’d like to have more of a policy perspective — I want to be able to bring some of the traditional policy training that MIP offers, especially on the quantitative side. And in a lot of these humanitarian crises, a very strong element that is present in all of them is around natural resource management, so the specialization in energy, natural resources, and the environment seemed like a great fit for me.
For example, in Somalia we're dealing with a drought, and looking at more sustainable approaches in these kinds of crises. In places where communities are repeatedly facing disasters, we can work with them to help build their capacities to respond to disasters without as much external support, and a big component of that is the ability to look at it from the natural resource management and environment perspective.
Kyle Smith, 34, (Seattle, Washington)
Before coming to MIP, I served for nine years in the US Navy as a SEAL officer until I separated this summer. After graduating from Colby College in Maine with a degree in economics and government, I started a job with an economic consulting firm. Ever since my time in college, though, I had thought about joining the military to give back and to be a part of something larger than myself. I finally made the decision to go for it and I was accepted into Navy Officer Candidate School in 2010.
In my military career, I deployed several times to the Middle East and Asia. Throughout those deployments, one of the things that I saw as a consistent theme was the link between failures of economic and political development and conflict. On my deployments, we would go into a country and largely focus on targeting violent extremists or training our local partners to that same end. In my next career, I’d like to focus more on the underlying drivers of conflict.
I left the Navy this summer to pursue a dual degree between MIP and the Graduate School of Business, and I’m hoping to use my education at Stanford to launch a career focused on international development and impact investing. The Governance and Development concentration at MIP will help me to better understand development challenges and policy interventions to address them, while the MBA will help me learn to approach these issues from a private sector perspective. I’m mindful that these are difficult and sometimes intractable challenges, but I’m hopeful I can use what I learn here to make a contribution.
I feel very fortunate to have this time at Stanford to move into a new field. Not just the curriculum, but the people are what makes this place special – both students and faculty. I'm excited to get started.