Are you interested in international relations, like SPIA graduate student Dawn Cutler? “The worst thing you can do is surround yourself with people who are just like you. You want to encourage debates and share opinions with a network of colleagues from different countries.”
Ms. Cutler’s graduate education certainly reflects this approach: through SPIA’s “Two Capitals, Two Masters” program, she’s deliberately sought varied connections. Dawn will complete a Master of Arts (MA) from the University of Kent, Brussels and a Master of Public and International Affairs (MPIA) from Virginia Tech – both in fewer than 24 months. While the average duration of one master’s degree is two years, in that timeframe, she will receive two graduate degrees.
Dawn studied in Belgium during the 2015-16 academic year, where she experienced British-style higher education and enrolled for three trimesters. She is currently fulfilling her MPIA course requirements at Virginia Tech in the National Capital Region. “Classes are small and discussion-based, so you can easily bring up your own interests, but my classmates are also incredibly diverse. I’ve had the chance to study with employees from the Departments of State, Homeland Security and Defense as well as military officers. They’ve given me all these different perspectives to apply in my own work.”
Ms. Cutler serves as a graduate assistant for Government and International Affairs (GIA) Professor and Chair Dr. Joel Peters, supporting research and expanding use of web-based tools such as WordPress. She also works as a student intern with the Department of State – where she observes and experiences the practical applications of theories she studied in Brussels as well as Washington, D.C. This practicum will inform her capstone MPIA project, a policy paper likely to focus on refugee migration issues.
Dawn’s personal passion for refugee concerns was stimulated by SPIA and the dual masters program, which opened her eyes to the human toll and political complexity of the global refugee crisis. She traveled through six countries in Europe last summer during the height of the crisis, witnessing the attitudes and actions of individuals, media and government throughout the region. She subsequently completed a course on the topic while a student at the University of Kent, and interned at the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants upon her return to the States.
Ms. Cutler’s degree from the University of Kent, Brussels is a Master of Arts in International Conflict and Security, with a Specialization in Human Rights Law. She wrote a 14,000-word dissertation on “Regime Change in a Globalized World: A Comparative Case Study on Tunisia, Egypt and Libya,” showcasing the strengths and weaknesses of contemporary international theory on regime change. “Middle Eastern countries like these three present a spectrum of international involvement – varying degrees of low, medium and high intervention. My thesis concept was democratization: how you study it, and how it affects the outcomes of foreign involvement.”
While in Belgium, Dawn also co-organized the Brussels School of International Studies Annual International Conference, which examined the after-effects of conflict and factors that lead to conflict recurrence. Download the post-conference report for highlights, speaker perspectives and multidisciplinary analysis of post-conflict societies.
Home to NATO and UN headquarters, Brussels’ residents enjoy a cultural scene unlike any other. “It’s a big city, but with a community feeling and a very accessible city center. I met many people who weren’t in my program, but who worked in parliament or at embassies, and now I have friends from all over: Poland, Russia, Greece, Italy. A lot of the learning I did was outside of class, especially since only one of my roommates was also American.”
Ms. Cutler’s undergraduate degree, also from Virginia Tech, is in political science with a focus in national security. With one master’s degree down and one to go, she aspires to work in a federal or international agency in the human rights sector. Applying professional degrees from European as well as American universities to her career, she will be uniquely suited to apply leverage expertise from conflict security to global governance.