With the help of a partnership with General Dynamics, the Elliott School’s Bachelor of Science program prepares students to use science and technology to address the world’s most pressing policy problems.
By Tatyana Hopkins
Designed to prepare students to tackle a range of global challenges ranging from cybersecurity to space policy, the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs’ Bachelor of Science in International Affairs (BSIA) degree program allows students to integrate higher-level STEM credits into the study of their core international affairs curriculum.
Launched in fall 2019 in response to student requests, the BSIA program is now the impetus for a new partnership with General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT), a business unit of the global aerospace and defense General Dynamics Corporation with a portfolio that spans aerospace, combat systems, information technology, mission systems and marine systems.
"Building on the same core curriculum found in our bachelor of arts program, a bachelor of science in international affairs demonstrates the university's understanding that the successful integration of STEM fields and international affairs is a critical need to preparing students for the increasingly science and technology dependent landscape of 21st century global affairs,” said Ilana Feldman, Elliott School interim dean.
Nearly 80 students have enrolled in the BSIA program since its launch, and more than 80 percent have double majored across 14 other programs including economics, finance, geography and public health.
Benjamin Heidloff, a senior earning the BSIA with a minor in geographic information systems, said he would recommend the program to other students interested in cross-disciplinary careers.
Mr. Heidloff said he was able to use advanced programming courses from his minor during an internship with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, where he mapped mutual fund trends across the country. Prior to the development of the BSIA program, those courses would not have fulfilled the existing bachelor of arts program’s graduation requirements.
“This program emphasizes and incentivizes the importance of finding your niche, the thing you are interested in in international affairs,” he said.
Dr. Feldman said faculty expertise, public events and scholarship related to the new BSIA program over the past year has placed the Elliott School in the vanguard of schools where international affairs and STEM are converging to solve major global policy issues.
Since the launch of the program last year, the Elliott School has hosted 25 events related to economics, the most popular BSIA STEM-adjacent program, and has seen more than 50 faculty media mentions in the area and has launched four ongoing research projects.
Elliott School faculty have also been active in the areas of data and online information governance, cybersecurity, climate change, nuclear energy and space policy.
“I am delighted that the Elliott School faculty and leadership moved so quickly to create the BSIA and to continue to strengthen the program,” President Thomas LeBlanc said. “As a result, our students will be especially well prepared to be leaders in their fields and have a positive impact on communities around the globe.”
The BSIA caught the attention of a long-time partner of the Elliott School—the U.S. State Department—and its technology provider, General Dynamics Information Technology, which saw the potential in students with technical skills and a passion for international affairs.
More than 1,000 GDIT employees directly support the Department of State (DOS) in its missions across the globe by applying computer science and engineering principles to the department’s technical and supply chain needs. They also serve as subject matter experts in data analytics and socio-economic integration of U.S. populations to advise the State Department on issues vital to national security.
As part of the partnership, GDIT will leverage its relationship with DOS to provide opportunities for GW students to gain practical experience and perspective in their chosen fields of expertise. These opportunities include internships across various technical and international affairs topic areas relevant to the BSIA curriculum. In 2019, four GW students held summer internships at GDIT.
Students who are not working as interns looking to pursue credited independent study opportunities, practical application projects and other individualized academic projects supervised by a faculty adviser also will have the opportunity to work alongside GDIT staff and sponsors on relevant, real world challenges.
In addition, GDIT will draw from its local DOS support staff to provide career mentors and coaching to GW students while also sponsoring professional development events such as networking panels and site visits at the Elliott School as well as offering subject matter experts in pertinent fields as class guest lecturers.
The collaboration with GDIT also aims to enhance the nation’s diplomatic mission through fostering thought leadership and dialogue via the Elliott School’s new Technology and Diplomacy lecture series. The lecture series brings together leaders from industry, academia and government to discuss important transnational issues that impact national security and vital U.S. diplomatic interests.
The series’ first event, hosted in November, invited industry leaders from GDIT, the GW Cyber Security and Privacy Research Institute and the U.S. Cyberspace Solarium Commission to discuss the proliferation of technology and its impact on nation states and security in a discussion called “Cybersecurity Beyond Borders.”
This is just one example of academic innovation in response to student feedback. The business school also recently converted its Bachelor of Business Administration degree into a Bachelor of Science degree in response to student requests to be able to double major in business and a STEM discipline.
“We are listening to student feedback and taking action to remove barriers to pursuing academic majors across disciplines,” said Dr. LeBlanc. “This is an important part of our comprehensive efforts to improve the student experience.”