ESIA Dean Is Developing a Curriculum for Tomorrow’s Global Affairs Leaders

In his first state of the school address, Dean Reuben Brigety II recounts accomplishments of the past year and shares his vision for the school.

Dean Brigety II
October 31, 2016

By B. L. Wilson

In nearly every part of the world, wherever you look, Dean Reuben Brigety II of the Elliott School of International Affairs sees a challenge requiring strong leadership, whether it’s the ongoing crisis in Syria, Europe after Brexit, the ongoing wars in South Sudan and Libya, or domestic terrorism in the United States and Europe.

“We are in an increasingly disruptive world and an increasingly diverse world, a world of rising inequality and complexity,” he said. “And while there is no doubt that we are living in an era of new and unpredictable challenges, my response to this challenge is that the world needs leaders.”

In his first state of the school address Thursday night to faculty, students and alumni in the Elliott School’s main lecture hall, Dr. Brigety spoke of his vision for the school and the progress in the past year toward a goal of making ESIA a leader among professional schools of international affairs.

That vision is guided by an overarching philosophy he calls STEP, which stands for scholarship, teaching, ethics and practice.

He acknowledged the achievements of ESIA faculty and researchers. More than $11 million was awarded to the school’s faculty and researchers for a wide range of projects that included urban sustainability in the Arctic, U.S. policy toward China, public opinion in the Ukraine and applying political science to the Middle East.

“By focusing on rigorous scholarship, innovative teaching, ethical thinking and practical skills,” he said, “we build leaders that are equipped to handle” the challenges of complex and dangerous times.

He has created a faculty task force to expand the ESIA curriculum and activilties related to ethics and international affairs. Another group, he said, is working to enhance the skills courses ESIA offers to ensure the school's graduates have the tools they need to start quickly upon graduation.

Elliott School graduates “will be able to tell future employers not only what they know, but also what they know how to do,” he said.

Following through on a commitment he made to create regional studies programs when he first arrived at George Washington University, Dr. Brigety noted that several institutes have been inaugurated or are in the planning stages.

The Institute for African Studies was launched this summer. In the spring, it will work with Howard University to host a conference on the 50th anniversary of the Biafran War.

A new Institute for Korean Studies under the leadership of Professor Jisoo Kim was formerly chartered the day the dean gave his state of the school presentation. It will focus on the history, politics, culture and language of Korea with a grant from the South Korean Department of Education.

Dr. Brigety expressed hopes for regional institutes for all parts of the world, including one that will build upon and expand the Latin America program.

As part of a curriculum that balances the theoretical with the practical, he said he plans to invite a series of “courage-in-action” speakers, featuring individuals such as Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch and Pastor Evan Mawarire who was arrested after engaging in protests against the Zimbabwean government. The Elliott School hosted 300 public events in the past year.

The dean has been able to draw on extensive contacts from a wide-ranging career in humanitarian and U.S. foreign affairs as deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration and ambassador to the African Union.

He described how the creation of the Elliott School’s new Initiative for International Disaster Resilience and Humanitarian Affairs formerly instituted at Tulane University grew out of a chance meeting with a friend who happened to be in town and stopped by his office for coffee.

“For anybody just watching the global landscape, these humanitarian problems are real, and they are enduring,” the dean explained. “If we wanted to create a program from scratch like the one we just imported from Tulane, it would take a decade.”

Following the dean’s presentation, Alexandra Hale, an undergraduate student in the Elliott School, moderated a discussion with the audience that touched on receptivity to incorporating ethics into the curriculum, initiatives for race and ethnic diversity and services for helping students begin their careers.

Dr. Brigety said while he has no specific plans for race and ethnic programs in the near future, he is “obsessed with student accessibility and diversity and broadening and diversifying the foreign affairs establishment to the widest extent possible,” explaining that by diversity, he means intellectual, gender, and racial and ethnic diversity.

“Students are the reason we are here,” Dr. Brigety said.  “That is the fundamental raison d’etre for everything we do.”