Student Spotlight

A look at our program through the eyes of students and alums

Melinda Haring '10

1. Why did you choose the DG program? 

After graduation I landed a job at the height of the democracy boom – in 2005 – and wanted to understand the intellectual debates behind the day-to-day work. I’d always wanted to study at Georgetown, so it was a simple choice. I liked the flexibility of the program – I could geek out on Russia while studying comparative politics. I also liked that the program could be completed in three semesters if you took extra courses. And, of course, the opportunity to study with top professors was appealing.     

 

2. What are the most helpful things you gained from the program?

I’m glad that I did the Democracy and Governance Program rather than a regional studies program because a comparative perspective forces one to think more deeply about hard questions. A theory about democratic change might make sense in one region but not in another.  I also enjoyed studying with activists from Egypt and Zimbabwe who had been on the frontlines of the fight. How to improve a society isn’t just a theoretical exercise, and my fellow students, some of whom had suffered at the hands of truly evil regimes, were constant reminders of that reality.   

The professors were also phenomenal. I got to study with top experts on democracy and top Russia experts. I’ve kept in touch with Larry Diamond, who taught an incredible course at Georgetown – Building Democracy After Conflict – while he was teaching at Stanford in Washington. I now work with Anders Åslund, another one of my favorite professors. And a third professor, Daniel Burghart, has become a dear friend and mentor.

Georgetown also helped me improve my writing. Burghart painstakingly marked our midterms and long essays by hand.     

3. What are you doing now, and how has the program helped you get to where you are?

I’m the editor of UkraineAlert at the Atlantic Council and a Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. The Democracy and Governance program at Georgetown gave me options. I’ve worked for a number of NGOs and think tanks, and it’s not easy to go between them. After working for a few NGOs, I wanted to do more analytical work and write about how to improve the delivery of US democracy assistance, so a think tank was a natural place to go. At FPRI, I joined a team that specializes in democratic transitions.

4. What's your upcoming book about, and how did you decide to write a book?

My book, DJ, Publisher, Soldier, Spy, is about the unsung heroes of the Cold War. Despite the vast literature on the Cold War, surprisingly little has been written about the extraordinary foot soldiers who fought the thousands of battles, most unrecorded and unrecognized to this day. Roman Kupchinsky, Edward Kline, Carl and Ellendea Proffer, Willis Conover and George C. Minden were six such individuals. Kupchinsky and Minden were operatives from a world of shadows, Kline and the Proffers intellectuals, and Conover an entertainer, but together their efforts helped to bring down Communism. Roman Kupchinsky, a patriotic Ukrainian American, smuggled ink into Poland during the height of the Solidarity movement. His covert influence operations sowed national divisions in Ukraine. Edward Kline published human rights literature in New York City that was smuggled into the Soviet Union. His journal The Chronicle of Human Rights in the USSR united the scattered human rights community in the Soviet Union into a cohesive, effective movement. Carl R. Proffer and Ellendea Proffer Teasley – a husband and wife team of academics from the University of Michigan – published incendiary books that, though banned in the Soviet Union, were spirited over the border to restore the silenced voices of modern Russian writers. Willis Conover, a disk jockey at the Voice of America for more than 40 years, introduced 30 million Soviet citizens to Gershwin and the blues and, more importantly, to Western attitudes and values. George C. Minden’s “Marshall Plan for the mind” put 10 million Western books and periodicals in the hands of elites across Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

My book will weave the individual efforts of these six individuals into a single narrative, focusing on the pivotal period between 1970 and 1991. Their operations were a mix of the open and covert, the organizations where they worked were sometimes public and sometimes private, the materials they used were both indigenous and foreign, and the audiences they targeted were varied in every case. Nevertheless, their efforts had a single objective: to defeat Soviet Communism by striking at its weakest point – the ideas it feared, and the cultural influences it strove to keep from its citizens. The book will also examine the degree of coordination between their efforts, the extent to which their efforts were improvisational or strategic, and whether a single overarching objective ultimately contributed to a coherent, organic campaign. The lessons of the Cold War remain relevant to the challenges the United States faces today.

I decided to write a book because I found a story that needs to be told. The exciting part of journalism is chasing a story and then sharing what you’ve discovered with your reader.

5. What would you like to be doing 5-10 years from now?

In 10 years, I would like to spearhead an effort to reform USAID – or work for the Office of the Inspector General that audits AID. I hope to have finished my book on the Cold War and another book on how to reform US democracy assistance by that point.   

 

Marin Ping '16

1. Why did you choose this program? 

Politics, both domestic and international, have always been of great interest to me – even more so where the two intersect. Following work abroad in semi- or authoritarian countries in both Latin America and Asia, I decided that democratic governance was a political puzzle I was committed to figuring out. This program trains students to make judgements to improve governance systems based on a balance of theory and fact - a critical technical skill that underpins any work in the foreign policy sector. On a practical level, the course work is very flexible within the requirements, and allows for focus on specific regions or themes. I have also maintained my job in the sector, allowing for simultaneous transfer of ideas and solutions between the classroom and the office, to test concepts in ‘real life.’ In some ways, my job is an experiment in Levitsky and Way (scholars worth checking out if you are interested in the democracy promotion field). More details on that below.

2. What are the most helpful things you've gained from the program so far?

For me, the most important goal of taking on this course of study is to craft cogent practical arguments from dynamic political concepts. There are a lot of ways to make a good point, and if you’ve ever binged on C-SPAN (guilty), you will no doubt have seen some questionable graphics used in an attempt to do this. Though a departure from the more heavy-hitting political science classes I’ve taken, a course in Political Data Visualization taught me to use software to represent political data for public or expert consumption. Graphics force a certain entrepreneurial acumen to translate the political into the practical. This was a surprisingly difficult task, but helped me think through how to construct and present data sets to support an argument, and quickly make the point. Of course, this wouldn’t be possible without courses in Political Development, and Research Methods: both shaped the argument I made in my final graphic portfolio which made the case for increased US funding to the Democracy and Governance sector. Next semester, I’ll take a Political Data Analysis class to up my quant skills.

3. What has been your favorite class and why?

Democracy is a term that permeates domestic and international political discourse, and is accompanied by an alarming multitude of qualifiers and caveats. Conversely, authoritarianism is thrown around as a blanket term for non-democracy. The Hybrid Regimes class I took during my first year cuts through the jargon, analyzing how non-democratic regimes use ‘democratic’ tools like elections and legislatures to control power structures. Understanding the complexity of these systems has equipped me to assertively draw lines of argumentation for policy solutions tailored to specific political regimes, while also situating arguments within a broader comparative context – obviously, this is important if you care about China and geopolitics of the Asia-Pacific, or prospects for democracy in the Middle East or Africa.

4. What do you do in your current job, and how has the program helped you in this?

At Freedom House, I work on the Lifeline: Embattled Civil Society Fund, a multilateral initiative of 17 Donor Governments led by the U.S. to protect freedom of assembly, association and expression across the globe. Our office sits at the cross-section of civil society and the diplomatic corps to rapidly respond to a host of threats to these fundamental freedoms, primarily through short-term financial support to vetted local watchdogs. My work entails identifying and investing in civil society-generated advocacy initiatives to push back against these threats, ranging from repressive legislation to digital or physical security risks to civil society operational capacity. My coursework focuses the lens we apply in considering how to leverage these resources to make a positive difference for ‘the third sector’ – especially in deciding whether or not a proposed intervention seems feasible within a given political context. In the end, local civil society must press for improved governance. This program is designed to strategically support those efforts, and it’s been an honor to participate in it.

5. What do would you like to be doing in 5-10 years?

I am interested in the cross-section of business and governance, given my time working in social enterprise in China. I may take my regional knowledge and language skills into the private sector to do something along the lines of political risk analysis or anti-corruption reform. I’d like to be able to see policy through the lens of U.S. business interests, and figure out how to make governance reform more of a priority for that sector. With 2016 quickly approaching, I have also considered getting involved in campaign work, to contribute directly to the democratic tradition here at home, possibly in a communications role. In the long run, I would like to bring an entrepreneurial approach to the DG space, to address some of the challenges facing a nearly 30 year industry that was formed in the post-Cold War era, and faces drastically different barriers to improving governance today.

 

Catherine LaRoque '15

1. Why did you choose this program?

I chose this program because of its unique combination of courses on international development and political theory. After serving as Peace Corps Volunteer, I knew that I wanted to continue to work in development, and this program provides excellent training for those interested in working in the field of democracy assistance. The Georgetown DG program also has a great alumni network, and I have found them to be an incredibly helpful resource when searching for jobs and internships.

 2. What are the most helpful things you've gained from the program so far?

One of the things I value most in this program is the way in which it complements my professional goals and experience. I began interning during my second semester at the International Republican Institute’s Office of Monitoring and Evaluation, and right away I was able to connect what I learned in the classroom to the work I was doing. Not only does the Georgetown DG program offer plenty of excellent theory courses, it also offers several skills-based classes that look great on a resume and come handy when working on democracy assistance programs. Since accepting a full-time position at IRI, I continue to appreciate the ways in which this program reinforces the work I do and enables me to critically evaluate the DG field as a whole.

3. What has been your favorite class and why?

All the professors I’ve taken classes with in this program have been brilliant, but my favorite professors so far have been Daniel Calingaert, who teaches a very interesting introductory class on the world of democracy assistance, and Daniel Brumberg. Professor Brumberg’s course “Theories of Political Development” provided an excellent overview of foundational texts in the democracy studies field. Having worked as practitioners in the field of democracy assistance, both professors challenged us to consider the ways democracy promotion interacts with these theories in practice. If you get the chance, I recommend taking them both!

4. What do you do in your current job, and what did you do in your recent trip to Ukraine and Georgia?

Currently, I work at the International Republican Institute as a Program Assistant on the Ukraine program. My responsibilities range from writing proposals and reports for donors to managing administrative tasks that keep our field offices in Ukraine functioning smoothly. This past year, I was able to participate in two election observation missions with IRI, the first to Georgia to observe their local elections, and the second to Ukraine for their parliamentary elections. These two trips provided a unique opportunity to experience a critical component of democracy assistance programming firsthand.

  

5. What do you want to be doing in 5-10 years?

While I’m content in my position currently, at some point in the next 5-10 years, I’d like to live abroad and implement these democracy assistance programs from the field. As much as I enjoy living in DC, I’ve always loved living overseas and would like to pursue this sort of work from there.