GW’s alumni global leaders shared #OnlyAtGW moments and how the university can prepare students to be leaders in the world.
By Tatyana Hopkins
Before beginning a distinguished, nearly four decades-long, career in the U.S. Foreign Service as the U.S. Ambassador to Jordan, Australia and Kuwait, among other positions, Edward Gnehm, had the opportunity to engage with and learn from global leaders as an undergraduate student at the George Washington University.
“I got a call one day from the then-leader of the Republicans in the House of Representatives by the name of Gerald Ford, and he said, ‘I’m calling on behalf of Sen. Dirksen in the Senate,’” Mr. Gnehm said. “I was the president of the student body...and they said they wanted to put together a student leadership seminar, would [I] be interested in helping put together students from all the universities in the Washington area.”
Enthused, Mr. Gnehm, B.A. ’66, M.A. ’68, reached out to the presidents of the student organizations at American, Georgetown, Catholic and George Mason universities to participate in a program that allowed them to attend a leadership conference in the chambers of Congress.
When the conference was over, Mr. Ford offered to have coffee with Mr. Gnehm before giving him a ride back to campus.
“I thought to myself, you know, here’s a man in a very important position—this is, of course, before he became president—and yet he had time to sit with me and talk,” Mr. Gnehm said. “That was an only at GW and only in Washington kind of experience.”
Mr. Gnehm, who has served as the Elliott School Kuwait Professor of Gulf and Arabian Peninsula Affairs since 2006, shared his #OnlyAtGW moment as he moderated a discussion with other GW alumni global leaders about how the university’s location in the heart of the nation’s capital has long provided a unique advantage in educating and preparing students to solve the world’s largest challenges and place them at the forefront of global leadership.
The panel discussion, which was a GW bicentennial event, included David Burt, Bermuda’s youngest premier; Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to United Arab Emirates President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan; and Rose Gottemoeller, Payne Distinguished Lecturer at Stanford University’s Institute for International Studies and Center for International Security and Cooperation.
They spoke about how their experiences at GW helped them address issues on the world stage, preparing the next generation of citizen leaders and the university’s global alumni network.
Mr. Burt, B.B.A. ’01, M.S. ’03, shared how his GW education helped him to divert a potential public relations crisis in his early days in office.
About a year after the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released the explosive Panama Papers, a massive leak of financial files that detailed largely illegal offshore business practices, the consortium contacted Mr. Burt’s office about a potential expose´ following a data leak from a law firm with locations in Bermuda.
“When the expose´ was launched, we were just waiting to see what the title was, and when it was titled the Paradise Papers and not Bermuda Papers, we all cheered a sigh of relief,” he said about the report, which revealed the absence of overt illegality in Bermuda off-shore practices. “I never thought an information systems development degree would assist me in a role of political leadership. But one of the most important things that the information systems degree actually taught us was how to deconstruct problems, and the skill to deconstruct problems is something that is essential in political leadership.”
Ms. Gottemoeller, M.A. ’81, former deputy secretary general of NATO, touted GW’s commitment to expanding opportunities for interdisciplinary studies, particularly those that marry the study of emerging technologies and policy.
“Nowadays, people are going to have to be able to move throughout their careers, and that means they have to be able to reach across disciplines and be flexible and always ready to learn,” she said, “and that's [something] that GW is always, always encouraging.”
Dr. Gargash, B.A. ’81, M.A. ’84, agreed, advising students interested in foreign policy to pursue interdisciplinary studies to be prepared for and competitive in the future job market.
“Today, climate change, for example, is very much international relations,” he said. “Humanitarian work is very much international relations, so clearly, I think international relations is in need of expertise in many areas that have become part and parcel of the work of international relations. Look into an area where the expertise in international relations is needed.”
This is the first event in a series hosted by the GW Alumni Association as part of GW's Bicentennial Celebration. The next event "GW's Legacy of Public Service" will take place on Thursday, April 15 at 5pm ET.