School of International Affairs celebrates 10th anniversary with alumni in DC

Students and alumni celebrate at the Penn State School of International Affairs' 10th anniversary reunion in Washington, D.C. Credit: Joy BrathwaiteAll Rights Reserved.

WASHINGTON — The Penn State School of International Affairs (SIA) last month celebrated the 10th anniversary of its first graduating class with an alumni reunion in Washington, D.C.

More than 70 guests — a mix of alumni, current and prospective students, faculty, staff, advisory board members, and family — helped the school mark the milestone with a day of special events, which included a panel discussion at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), guided tour of the National Geographic Museum, networking lunch in the city, and celebration dinner. The event kicked off SIA’s new strategic focus to make Washington the center of its alumni activities.

“The majority of our graduates work in the political, military, diplomatic or international development spheres and will settle in D.C for at least part of their career,” said Scott Gartner, SIA director and professor of international affairs. “Our focus at SIA is always on the students, from past to future, and this is about meeting our alumni where they are.”

'This is what 10 years of SIA looks like'

SIA students, alumni, faculty, staff and guests at the celebration dinner in Washington, D.C. Credit: Joy BrathwaiteAll Rights Reserved.

The primary goal of the event was to help alumni and students of all years connect with each other. Among the guests at the celebration dinner were an alumnus of SIA’s first graduating class, the class of 2009; several of its newest alumni from the class of 2019; a handful of current second-years from the class of 2020; and several incoming students from the class of 2021, who will begin the Master of International Affairs program in the fall.

A number of distinguished guests also took part in the anniversary events, including Ambassador Theodore Kattouf, president and CEO of the international nonprofit AMIDEAST, SIA advisory board member, Penn State alumnus, and former ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and Syria; Col. Patrick Duggan, a colonel in the U.S. Special Forces who served until recently as director of cybersecurity in the National Security Council at the White House; Jenifer Smith, director of the Washington, D.C. Department of Forensic Sciences, Penn State alumna, former special agent and section chief at the FBI, and former head of the Biological Technology Center at the CIA; and Alibi Baiturin, head of the Representative Office in the United States and Canada and Center for International Programs at the Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Reflecting on the atmosphere at the dinner — and the sight of recent graduates networking with veteran professionals and alumni reconnecting with SIA professors — Gartner compared it to multiple generations of family members coming together: “This is what 10 years of SIA looks like.”

Brian Cameron, a member of SIA's first graduating class in 2009 and currently an officer at the U.S. Department of Defense, said he enjoyed meeting the new students and speaking to them about their career interests, and appreciated the opportunity to network with other alumni.

“I was astounded by the number of alumni and their accomplishments since graduating from SIA,” Cameron said. “I would like to stay connected with SIA because of the significant impact the program will have on developing future national and international leaders and influencers.”

SIA alumnus Brian Cameron, class of 2009, at the anniversary reunion in Washington, D.C. Credit: Joy BrathwaiteAll Rights Reserved.

Several other students and alumni also spoke about the importance of staying connected.

“I want to stay connected to SIA because, as a student of the program, I could not have gotten by without the help of my classmates and those before me,” said Selena M. Duvivier, a 2018 graduate and AmeriCorps VISTA worker for the Resident Services Program at the National Housing Trust. “I believe it's reassuring and incredibly empowering to know those before you have utilized their experiences at SIA to be successful. It not only strengthens the bond Penn Staters already have, but also adds increased value to the SIA experience that you get the academic degree with the real-world experience and real-time assistance.”

SIA alumna Selena Duvivier, class of 2018, speaks with other guests at the anniversary reunion. Credit: Joy BrathwaiteAll Rights Reserved.

“It was such a great experience meeting other SIA alumni and connecting with them,” said Shirin Bouzari, a member of the class of 2019. “For me, who just graduated, it was great to see where the former students are in their lives and hearing their stories and learning from their experiences.”

For current students who will soon be entering the job market, the event also was valuable as a career-building opportunity.

“It was really exciting for me, personally, to be able to visit the IMF and meet people who work at places that I hope to be at in the future,” said Anushka Thachil, who will graduate from the program in spring 2020. “I am really thankful to all the alumni and faculty who took time off to come to the reunion, and I look forward to attending more SIA reunions.”

Honoring founding faculty

From left: SIA Director Scott Gartner, Professor Flynt Leverett, Professor John Kelmelis, and Ambassador Dennis Jett. Credit: Joy BrathwaiteAll Rights Reserved.

As part of the celebration dinner, SIA recognized several of its founding faculty members, including Ambassador Dennis Jett, Professor John Kelmelis — who retired in 2016 — and Professor Flynt Leverett.

“For those of us who have been on the SIA faculty since the school opened its doors in 2008, it is an ongoing source of satisfaction to see how much SIA has grown, by just about any quantitative or qualitative measure one cares to cite,” Leverett said. “The founding faculty award is a tangible reminder of this growth — and of SIA's enormous potential to keep growing."

Jett, who served in the U.S. Foreign Service for 28 years before joining SIA, has the added distinction of having taught every single SIA student since the beginning of the program. Many past and current students have fond memories of their time in Jett’s courses, receiving valuable advice during office hours and laughing at his dry sense of humor — which he exhibited while reflecting on the recognition.

“It was a special honor to receive a large, blue, crystal bowl in recognition of my having taught every student who has attended SIA. The only challenge is what to do with a bowl that holds seven pints of liquid," Jett said. "Yes, I measured. I'm a social scientist, remember. So it's too small for a bird bath and too big for a cocktail glass. ...It is a beautiful reminder of all the great students I have had over the years, however, and I look forward to meeting the new incoming class in August.”

Ambassador Dennis Jett received special recognition and an award for having taught every single SIA student since the beginning of the program. Credit: Joy BrathwaiteAll Rights Reserved.

The celebration dinner, Jett added, was a great opportunity to reconnect with SIA alumni and hear about their career success and future plans.

“And as for the bowl," he said, "suggestions for what to do with it would be welcome.”

New alumni leadership group

SIA students, alumni, faculty, staff and guests visited the International Monetary Fund as part of the anniversary reunion celebration. Credit: Anita BaumannAll Rights Reserved.

The founding faculty awards were emblematic of SIA’s success, accomplishments and growth over the past 10 years. But the anniversary reunion was also an opportunity to look ahead to the future of the program.

During the celebration dinner, SIA announced plans for the creation of a new alumni leadership group — the SIA Affiliate Program Group (APG). The school envisions the APG as a way to unite alumni; facilitate more networking among alumni, faculty and students; and empower them with a more active role in building the stature and effectiveness of SIA.

Initial feedback has been positive.

“SIA is tremendously lucky to have dedicated alumni who are always willing to support the school,” said Rod Schultz, director of development and alumni relations. “The Affiliate Program Group will serve to organize and energize their efforts, especially in the areas of outreach, networking and engagement with fellow alumni.”

The creation of the APG, along with the decision to make Washington, D.C., the center of alumni activities, reflects a core principle: It is the people — students, alumni, faculty and staff — who make SIA a special program.

“I love the environment Penn State students, alumni and friends create at any event and how easy it is to talk with such decorated professionals and scholars,” said Matthew Detrick, a member of the class of 2019. “You can tell they live with great humility and are truly willing to help current students and recent alumni in their career endeavors. This is why I want to stay connected to SIA, because of the people — current and past.”

Last Updated March 08, 2021