Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Researching commercial networks in China as a Research Analyst at Kharon

MAIS alumna Morgan Brown '20 reflects on the value of her experience at the HNC and how the skills she acquired at the HNC apply to her career as a Research Analyst at Kharon.

Tell us a bit more about your career and your current role.
I am currently a Research Analyst on the China Team at Kharon, a research and analytics firm focused on sanctions and financial crime. As a member of the China team, my research has specifically focused on commercial networks related to military end-users in China and human rights violations in Xinjiang. 
 
How often do you use Chinese in your current position and/or other skills you gained while studying at the HNC?
Looking back, I didn't fully appreciate how applicable the skills I picked up at the HNC would be to my future career. As a China Analyst, I use Chinese for the majority of my workday, every day. Learning how to digest and sift through large amounts of information for my classes has helped me now that I need to sift through Chinese websites and stock disclosures every day.
 
Additionally, going through the process of writing and defending a master’s thesis helped both my language skills and my understanding of the full research processes. The process of formulating a question, executing and writing, and finally acknowledging the shortcomings in my own research during a defense have been indispensable to completing research in a non-academic environment.

What is a favorite memory of yours from your time at the HNC?
Other than hanging out in the lounge or going to KTV with my classmates, one of my favorite memories was traveling to Ruili in Yunnan for one of my HNC classes. In addition to the amazing food and memories with my classmates, one day we traveled to the border between Burma and China to better understand the flow of people and items between the two countries. While walking around the side of the border checkpoint – where only a fence divided the two countries – we noticed a number of stands set up on the Burmese side facing us. We were extremely confused as to their purpose until we noticed Chinese citizens casually walking up to the fence and slipping cash through the barrier in exchange for items. It was an absolutely crazy moment that I’ll never forget! 

What is one piece of advice you have for future HNC students?
Don’t forget to go outside and experience life in Nanjing! Although with homework piling up and deadlines looming, it’s tempting to stay in the library and work, it’s the memories with your classmates that you’ll never forget. Take advantage of all of the opportunities the HNC provides like the wall walk, racing in a dragon boat race, and going to explore the city! 

The HNC is now 35 years old. What do you see as the value of the HNC in the next 35 years?
With the heightening of tensions between China and the US under the previous and current administration, the HNC will only continue to become more valuable. People who understand both cultures and languages will continue to be pivotal in understanding and shaping the relationship between our two countries. The HNC not only provides valuable academic information, but a place for students from both countries to learn how to grow and solve problems together. The HNC has remained steadfast through the high and low points of Sino-US relations and will remain a place of mutual understanding and growth.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

From Dhaka to Guangzhou: HNC alumnus prepares to serve as Public Diplomacy Officer with U.S. Foreign Service

Jeffrey wearing a Shalwar Kameez for the 
Embassy Dhaka’s Pohela Falgun celebration.
Jeffrey A. Wood, HNC Certificate ’16 + SAIS MA(IR) '17, is a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. Department of State preparing to serve as a Public Diplomacy Officer at the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, China.

Tell us a bit more about your career and your current role.
I have been a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. Department of State since March 2018. I just completed my first tour at U.S. Embassy Dhaka, Bangladesh where I was Vice Consul and assisted U.S. citizens abroad and issued visas to Bangladeshi nationals. Soon, I will be headed to the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, China where I will be a Public Diplomacy Officer.

How often do you use Chinese in your current position and/or other skills you gained while studying at the HNC?
I believe I will use my Chinese language skills at my next post quite often. During my tenure at the HNC, I gained critical thinking and advocacy skills. I gained self-confidence to express my opinions in an impactful way in class discussions. I also improved my oral presentation skills in Chinese through detailed research of our academic topics selected.

What is a favorite memory of yours from your time at the HNC?

My favorite memory of mine was the Halloween party. At that time, many of us were adjusting to life in Nanjing and the coursework. The party was the first time I felt that I could truly get to know my colleagues in a meaningful way and as a result, I was able to formulate solid friendships and gain cross-cultural understanding.

What is one piece of advice you have for current or future HNC students?
Plan ahead, especially for those considering SAIS MAIR afterwards. I diversified my coursework my first semester at the HNC to understand what my interests were. It's also critical to utilize office hours and not be afraid to speak up when something is unclear.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

The Inside Scoop on HNC/SAIS Career Treks

HNC Career Services Manager Michael Hoffman, HNC '15, shares the inside scoop on a valuable networking and professional development tool at the HNC/SAIS known as the Career Trek.

Could you first tell us a bit about your history with the Hopkins-Nanjing Center and your current role as Career Services Manager?
I attended the HNC Certificate program from 2014-2015 after serving on a Fulbright Fellowship in Taiwan. The HNC program had always been something I knew I wanted to do and even today I am struck by the reputation and influence it holds in the China field. When I got the chance to come back in 2019 and manage Career Services for the HNC, I was really excited. While a good portion of my time since starting has been remote, it nevertheless has been a great experience and I really enjoy the opportunity to work with so many exceptional students and alumni who share a similar professional interest and skill set. I also rely a lot on my experience as an HNC student to inform how we run Career Services programming and to make sure we are best serving the needs of a very unique group of students and young professionals. 

What are Career Treks? Does the Career Services team take a different approach to career treks for our Hopkins-Nanjing Center students?
Career treks at the HNC and SAIS are essentially the same. They tend to differ only by geographic region. The HNC takes the lead on all Asia treks while my colleagues in DC lead our North American Treks and SAIS Europe hosts our European treks. In general though, I think career treks are some of the most valuable programming we do in Career Services. They are great learning opportunities that allow students to not only travel to different cities and countries but to also meet with alumni and professionals working in so many interesting roles. They are really helpful to learn about the different options out there, and how to leverage your HNC/SAIS education in the workplace and network with alumni and potential future employers. I strongly encourage all students to participate in as many career treks at the HNC and SAIS as they can during their time with us. 

How have career treks evolved over the last year to account for the pandemic?
Like almost everything, we have had to hold career treks virtually since the start of the pandemic. While this has changed the experience in some ways, and we do intend to go back to in-person career treks for the most part as soon as the situation allows, there have been some upsides to going virtual. The biggest plus of virtual career treks has been accessibility for students. In the past, it was difficult to attend career treks held by other SAIS campuses due to the need for extensive travel, but this past year all career treks have been open to all SAIS/HNC students regardless of campus. For the HNC, it also has allowed us to do career treks that might have been more difficult in-person, such as our Singapore and South East Asia career treks. 

What would you say is the greatest benefit of participating in a career trek? Do you have one or two career trek student success stories that you could share?
The two main reasons to attend career treks are to learn about different career options and to network. I can't stress enough how helpful this is for professional development. I often hear from students who have gone on career treks with me how, as a result, they are now interested in a whole new career path that they previously did not even know was an option. I think that is the biggest success of our career treks. In more concrete terms though, many students use what they learn about companies and industries on the trek to give them a competitive edge when applying for jobs and to leverage the connections they make on treks in a really positive way. We often have students who, after meeting alumni on a career trek, go ahead and apply for roles at that organization. It goes a long way in expressing interest in an organization if you can tell them you visited and enjoyed learning about the organization. 

How do students sign up for a career trek and what is the best way for them to prepare?
Career trek sign-ups are run through the Handshake platform for all SAIS campuses, including the HNC. You should look for them in events postings as well as in the jobs section of Handshake. The best way though to make sure you are staying on top of what career treks are happening is to read all email and WeChat correspondence from HNC Career Services and SAIS Global Careers. The best way to prepare for career treks is to do your homework. Research each company on the trek, make a list of alumni working there, and jot down a list of well-thought-out questions that you can ask the hosts.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Alumnus applies HNC education to a career in blockchain and sustainability

Recent alumus Nick Manthey, MAIS ‘19, shares how he applies his Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC) education to his work as Head of Business Development at Qianyuhui Investment (QYH) & Synergy Blockchain.

For Nick Manthey, MAIS ‘19, the work done in HNC classrooms has closely connected with the environmental work he does in China. As a MAIS student who studied Energy Resources and the Environment (ERE) primarily in Mandarin Chinese, his research focused on startups that worked in voluntary carbon trading utilizing emerging technology. “One of the companies I interviewed with, is the current company that I’m with now,” he said, “I did an interview with the CEO.”

Manthey had visited his current company, QYH Investment, with HNC Professor Roger Raufer in April of his last semester at the HNC because, “we were really interested in how you could use things like blockchain to improve carbon trading and power markets.” Searching for next steps after graduation, he landed a job at QYH Investment.

Looking back on his time at the HNC, Manthey sees aspects of his education applied to his current job. “Something that I didn’t expect to be so relevant to the work I do now was the Politics of Rural Development class with [HNC Co-Director] Adam Webb,” he said, “as part of the field research we did for that course, I focused on how water resources were being governed.” Although he did not realize it at the time, environmentally focused trips to rural areas would become a key component of his work, stating, “part of my job now is to go visit these rural areas to tour carbon offset projects and meet with local stakeholders.” 

Manthey also remembers reading the book The Retreat of the Elephants in his Environmental History class. The book relies on ancient texts and descriptions to investigate China’s environmental state more than a thousand years ago. “Maybe there aren’t records or environmental data, but you can tell from the poems and writings from 2,000 years ago, what the climate was like and what kind of animals and trees were there…there’s all this evidence that there were a lot more trees and animals, like elephants, in central China than other records would indicate,” he said.

Manthey recalls what he learned in that class as he travels around China. He is currently working on an afforestation project in Henan, a region that has hosted several ancient capitals and has been an essential part of Chinese history. “If you want to pinpoint where Han culture started, it’s in that area, more or less,” he said. In his work Manthey considers the long environmental history of Henan, which has gone through sizeable changes over the millennia. He reflects on his work’s role in restoring the natural environment of this storied region, “there’s this massive connection through time, thinking about how there were forests there during the Zhou and Han dynasties, and now almost 3,000 years after they were cut down, we’re doing reforestation projects there... Just this connection through history and time is pretty powerful,” he said, “when I go down to Henan, I’m thinking about what I learned in the Environmental History class.” 

Settled into his work, Manthey has found value in the things he learned and the connections he made at the Center. “My time at the HNC allowed me acquire skills and meet like-minded students and alums who helped me think about what to do next with my career,” he said. He points to the professors and classes he took and his internship experience as instrumental in providing him with guidance and skills needed for his career. The HNC gave Manthey a solid academic and China-focused grounding in the environment to pursue his career objectives. “Doing this work in China specifically,” he said, “I don’t think I could have gotten the jobs I got, working in the carbon markets now, without going to the HNC."

Written by Nick Kaufman, Certificate '21 + SAIS MAIR '22.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Letter to Prospective Students: Reflecting on my HNC and SAIS DC Experience

Dear Prospective Student,

You're trying to decide where to go for graduate school. Trust me, I understand the stress! I had to choose between nine of the top policy programs in the country. It was not an easy decision, and I didn't know what to expect from the Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC) Certificate + SAIS MA(IR) program, but I got exactly what I was looking for: a top-notch education in the Chinese language, a large network across sectors, and deeper quantitative and policy writing skills. The only unforeseen circumstance was the coronavirus pandemic. But even in those uncertain times, the HNC helped along the way. Ultimately, it was up to me to make the experience everything that I wanted it to be...so I did! Here's how.

I attended the HNC both before the pandemic hit the world and during, so for the first semester I lived in Nanjing and for the second I attended the HNC virtually. The city of Nanjing's moderate size (in comparison to other Chinese cities) made it the perfect place to practice Mandarin and learn Chinese culture on a daily basis. In one instance, I remember walking down the street back to campus when all of a sudden, every car stopped on the street and started beeping their horn. It was the anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre. Nanjing holds so much history, both positive and painful, so my deepest regret was not exploring Nanjing more before the pandemic hit. I highly suggest visiting the Nanjing Massacre Museum, Sun Yatsen's Mausoleum, and Xuanwu Lake at least once during your time in Nanjing to learn more about Chinese history and culture, and to snag some great pics. 

Student picture at Xuanwu Lake

The virtual experience certainly presented its challenges, but my cohort took advantage of its opportunities. If your cohort experiences the HNC virtually, you all should own the experience too. Even though I found it difficult to transition from English to Mandarin throughout the day, virtual classes held the same rigor as in-person classes, which helped me maintain my Chinese proficiency. I even started my Chinese teaching business during this time! Speaking Chinese outside of the classroom while attending the HNC virtually from Chicago helped immensely, especially because I live in a non-Chinese speaking household. The HNC’s Banwei planned regular events to maintain interaction within the community, such as assigning language partners to interested students and bringing the student lounge to Zoom every week. From the U.S., I also retained the valuable relationships I made in the HNC community. I kept in contact with HNC alumni, who were incredibly helpful during my job search. The advice given by HNC alumni is top-tier and I'm extremely grateful to be a part of that distinguished network now. You never know, I could be a resource for you one day!

HNC Student Lounge on Zoom

After starting the SAIS MA(IR) portion of my program last year, I wrote a blog for a more in-depth discussion of my transition from the HNC to SAIS DC. Now, as a graduate, I realize how perfectly the two programs complement each other. At SAIS DC, I honed in more on the quantitative skills and policy writing. My (mostly) virtual classes were filled with field-experienced professors and interesting students who came from all walks of life and with a real-world understanding of diverse regions, subject areas, and sectors. Having arrived at SAIS DC with a solid background in Sino-global relations from my HNC Certificate studies, I expanded what I learned at the HNC in my SAIS DC class research papers. For instance, I wrote a final paper on Chinese ethnic minorities based on topics discussed in the HNC's Ethnic Minorities in China course that I wanted to explore further. Especially since I am not a native Chinese speaker, it was nice to explore these topics in English and to be able express myself more deeply in my native tongue. 

The SAIS DC population added to my existing HNC network. I spoke with professors, students, and alumni to understand sectors of interest and steps I should take to succeed in those field. In the process, I strengthened my friendships with HNC classmates who, like me, transitioned from the HNC to SAIS DC. I'm so happy to have made lifelong friends! I met other students outside of class through virtual happy hours, events through clubs and centers, and group projects. The easiest place for a former HNC student to start making friends at SAIS DC is through the China Studies department. Whether or not you choose to focus on China at SAIS DC, the China Studies department boasts a large number of China scholars and can provide an extended HNC experience. 

HNC Students meet as DC opens up (far left: Brandy Darling)

Through this hybrid experience in the HNC Certificate + SAIS MA(IR) program, I gained a wealth of skills—quantitative, language, and writing—and I'm now ready to use them to advise companies, governments, and even individuals on how to interact with China. The HNC gave me first-hand experience with Chinese scholars, and SAIS DC taught me hard skills to be competitive both in and out of the so called "China space." I hope that my experience has given you a better idea of what to look for in a graduate program and how the Hopkins-Nanjing Center’s programs could help you meet your academic and professional goals.

Good luck!
Brandy Darling

Written by Brandy Darling, HNC Certificate ‘20 + SAIS MA ‘21

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Wordless Wednesday: HNC Boren Fellows Bike Taipei to Jiufen

While it certainly wasn't where our current cohort of HNC Boren Fellows expected to be spending their spring semester, Grace Faerber (MAIS '22), Nick Henderson (MAIS '21), and Daniel Brooks (MAIS '21) are taking advantage of their time in Taiwan. The three of them recently embarked on a 20mi bike ride from Taipei to Jiufena mountain village with a gold mining history that now draws in tourists for its beautiful views and Old Street packed with tea houses, restaurants, and souvenir shops. After renting bikes in Taipei, Grace, Nick, and Daniel biked through the city, local towns and villages, and on to Jiufen, where Grace celebrated her 22nd birthday.

(L-R) Nick Henderson, Grace Faerber, and Daniel Brooks kicked off their ride
at a local bike rental shop in Taipei.

Grace Faerber with her rental bike.

Nick Henderson navigates the journey from Taipei to Jiufen.

Nick Henderson with his rental bike.

Jiufen, Taiwan.

Grace Faerber (pictured), Nick Henderson, and
Daniel Brooks explore the town of Jiufen.

Grace (L) celebrates her birthday in Jiufen with Nick Henderson (R) and Daniel Brooks.

Grace Faerber taking in the views.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Furthering Educational Diplomacy at International School Manila, Philippines

As an international education and educational diplomacy professional, Stephanie Tao, Certificate '13, currently serves as a high school counselor at the International School Manila in the Philippines.
 
How did you become interested in China and end up at the HNC?  

I moved to China after my undergraduate studies in anthropology because of inspiration from a course I took on urban ethnography. In this course, I read a study on the rapid urbanization of Beijing and what it was doing to the preservation of hutongs and the sociocultural communities that came with them. I wanted to see for myself how quickly urban Chinese cities were growing and the impact it had on sociocultural practices.  

When I applied to the HNC, I was living in Wuhan, China working at the China-Canada Student Exchange Center at Wuhan University. This was my initial exposure to the field of higher education, and it gave me insight to educational diplomacy created between two countries and/or international cities through institutional partnerships and student exchange. The HNC was my year of "participant observation" as I was able to experience a truly immersive program that brought together the benefits, rewarding challenges, and politics of US-China education.

How did your experience at the HNC prepare you for the position you have now? 

As an international high school counselor based in Manila, Philippines, I work with students and families that come from 90+ nationalities and backgrounds. A large part of my work is learning about the university admissions process in various countries around the world and walking our students through those admissions processes. Since we send our students to study all over the world after high school, it is important to keep up to date on the political, sociocultural, and economic landscape in those various countries to best support our students and families. My experience at the HNC shaped my continued interest in keeping an analytical eye on those landscapes.   

What was your journey after SAIS to the position you have now and what experiences have you gained overtime that contribute to your success in your position? 
After the HNC, I was offered a position as Assistant Director of International Admissions for East, Central, and Southeast Asia at Loyola University Chicago. At the time, they were looking to expand their recruitment of international students in the region, especially in China. I traveled extensively around the Asia Pacific region, sometimes visiting 15 cities and 110+ education institutions in 7 weeks. Marketing and budgeting were a part of my role. Soft skills were also essential in this position- adaptability: strong listening and communication skills, and the ability to identify students who would be strong applicants for our university. Now that I've jumped to the other side of the admissions table, living abroad as an international high school counselor, those soft skills are exponentially more important. I never have a routine day when I get to school. I work with people from a wide range of backgrounds, problem solve and negotiate, advocate for students, and deeply listen and empathize with individuals. Wearing different hats in my current role has become a rewarding challenge. 

Do you keep in contact with your HNC peers?

Yes I do! Every year (except for 2020 and 2021) since graduating, I've been lucky enough to catch up with at least one HNCer, no matter if it's in East Asia, the US, or Europe. If we know we're in the same location, and have time for a chance to meet, we gather. I keep in touch with people through social media and phone calls too. Our career counselor at the time, Robbie Shields, has kept in touch with our graduating class, and I am grateful for his advice and support even after our time at HNC.  

What is one piece of advice you have for current or future HNC students?
I didn't know that pursuing an opportunity in the field of international higher education could open doors that included extensive travel, diplomacy, and on-the-spot problem solvingall while feeding my interest in staying up to date with current events and learning about human culturebut it has! Be open to jobs outside the government or business sector, as they may have everything you're looking for, just veiled differently. If you're looking towards opportunities in education, please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn if you have questions!

Interview conducted by Brandy Darling, HNC Certificate '20 + SAIS MA '21.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

From HNC Student to Expedition/Polar Guide and Antarctic Ambassador

Alexandra Hansen, Certificate ’18, is an Expedition/Polar Guide, International Studies Lecturer, and Naturalist with Silversea Cruises aboard small expedition ships spanning all seven continents.

What led you to your current job? 
A bizarre set of circumstances! At the beginning of my second semester at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, I reached out to my network for job leads. One afternoon, a previous supervisor sent me an email of a poster. The poster had pictures of tropical reefs, king penguins, and snow-capped mountains. But, most prominently, it had a picture of a guide driving a zodiac (a small rubber inflatable boat) with an arrow that said, “This Could Be You.” The poster explained that the company was hosting an intensive training program aboard one of their expedition ships. The program was to train individuals to work and guide in some of the most remote destinations on the planet. They were particularly looking for mandarin speakers, anthropologists, and biologists. I was intrigued and immediately expressed my interest to the hiring manager. I got into the program, flew to South Africa a few months later, and spent 7 weeks aboard a small ship that sailed across the Indian Ocean (visiting 15 countries in between). Eventually, I graduated from the program and was hired as a professional Lecturer, Expedition Guide, and Zodiac Driver. I’ve been doing it ever since. 

What is the coolest place expedition guiding has taken you?
Definitely, Antarctica. I think that it is the most incredible place on the planet. When I am out in the field, I spend my time sharing my knowledge about Antarctica’s history, governance, exploration, and wildlife. I’m also an Antarctic Ambassador who advocates for its continued protection for international cooperation, conservation, and scientific research. 

What drew you to the HNC?
As an undergraduate student, I had a keen interest in Chinese and international studies. I learned about the Hopkins-Nanjing Center when I was studying abroad in Hangzhou my junior year. I was enamored by the idea that I could take graduate-level courses in mandarin, and live and study in a place that was dedicated to free and open academic and cross-cultural dialogue. 

After completing the Certificate program, I can say with certainty that the HNC provided me with meaningful opportunities to solidify my fluency in Chinese, build my network, and discover all sorts of new passions. I was able to get deeply involved in campus life, conduct research, and establish a multidisciplinary understanding of Sino-global issues. The Hopkins-Nanjing Center is a one-of-a-kind program, and it turned out to be the perfect fit for me.

What was your favorite class at the HNC?
I enjoyed many of the courses I took at the HNC. One of my favorites was China and America: A Cross-Cultural Dialogue (中国与美国:文化对话课). This course was a special co-taught, bilingual and cross-cultural course that delved into the changing perspectives between China and America over the last few centuries. The class enrolled 30 students (15 Chinese students and 15 international students) and was taught by two professors, American professor Joe Renouard and Chinese professor Liu Woyu. I think this course was the epitome of what the HNC strives forthe open exchange of ideas between Chinese and International Students. 

What was your favorite memory of the HNC outside of class?
I have three “big” moments that really stand out:
  1. The Nanjing Wall Walk. This ten-hour marathon-long walk traced what used to be the imperial fortifications of Nanjing. The class of 2018 did the walk at the start of the first semester. It was a great way to get to know our classmates and understand the true scale of Nanjing. I can’t think of a better introduction to the city!  
  2. Spending Spring Break Conducting Research in Yunnan. I was granted an opportunity to join an HNC research team that traveled to Xishaungbanna Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan. On this trip I met incredible people, visited a number of influential organizations, and learned more about the current issues facing Xishuangbanna’s population on the China-Myanmar border.
  3. Hiking in Zhangjiajie and Wulingyuan Scenic Area (Hunan). I went with a few friends and was blown away by how beautiful it was. Take a trip there, it’s worth it!  
Reflecting on my experience, I also want to mention that I have many fond memories of just “ordinary” everyday activities. Outside of class, I enjoyed discovering new restaurants with my friends, going on long runs around Xuanwu Lake, checking out the neighborhood bookstore, and hanging out on the yangtai.
 
What is the value of the HNC to students interested in China?

The HNC curates a unique environment that you can’t find anywhere else. In fact, it’s the only joint program of its kind in China. The campus community is made up of roughly 50% international, and 50% Chinese students and faculty members, all of whom are passionate about Sino-global relations and committed to studying in their target-language. By studying and living at the center, students develop high-level professional target-language skills because they debate issues in class, write analytical papers, read academic articles, and give presentations in front of their peers.

The center also has incredible career development opportunities. The career services team organizes regular career workshops on resumes, applications, and interviewing. It also provides several “career-treks,'' where you can travel to different companies and meet with HNC alumni. By graduating from the HNC, you join a professional network of policymakers, researchers, analysts, diplomats, and business executives who are just as interested in China as you are. 

As the HNC turns 35, what do you think the role of the HNC will be in the future?

As the HNC celebrates 35 years, I think it is valuable to reflect upon its achievements and look towards its future. I hope that over the next 35 years the HNC will continue to strengthen the intellectual bonds that tie its students to beneficial global cooperation.

The Hopkins-Nanjing Center offers its students a unique forum where people with different backgrounds and perspectives can engage in intellectual dialogue, and develop the skills necessary to be important global change-makers. 

Interview conducted by Nick Kaufman, HNC Certificate '21.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Black Lives Matter Mini-Course: All Three SAIS Campuses Working Together

Brandy Darling, HNC Certificate '20 + SAIS MA '21, had the opportunity to interview HNC professor Dr. Paul Dottin, who recently led a mini course on the Black Lives Matter movement. Dr. Dottin’s mini course titled Black Lives Matter in Social Movement Theory explored the origin and organization of the Black Lives Matter movement, important actors and strategies, as well as the movement’s international manifestations and intended outcomes. This extracurricular course engaged students from all three campuses in academic study and critical discussion of this global movement for equality.

Tell me about your journey in crafting this course and its impact across all three SAIS campuses. 

Given the speed and scale of racial unrest sparked by George Floyd’s murder, Dr. Webb [HNC American Co-Director] and I wanted to create a course that would examine the BLM movement critically. What was conceived as a mini-course for HNC students in Nanjing quickly graduated into a four-country affair spanning all SAIS campuses and Australia. The result was Black Lives Matter in Social Movement Theory, which is probably the first HNC course taught across all three campuses. 

My intention from the start was to adopt a “triangulation approach” to the course. The movement’s complexity, speed and scale(s) necessitated an approach that was interdisciplinary, comparative and international. Second, I wanted students to know and assess through the BLM case the merits of influential social movement/collective action concepts and theories. Third, I sought to put some of those social movement perspectives from political science, sociology and psychology into dialogue with perspectives from an interdisciplinary field germane to BLM’s agendas: African-American Studies. My meta-objective was to provide students with theoretical frameworks that could be used to deepen their analysis of other social movements, regardless of composition or politics. So, a pretty ambitious agenda for a three-week course! Thankfully, student feedback on the course was very positive.

“While the Back Lives Matter movement has been a major topic of conversation in the news and across social media, sitting in on this course was the first time I’ve had the chance to engage with the topic in a rigorous academic context. Dr. Dottin instructed the class on how to analyze the different driving forces and reactions to the movement through the application of theoretical frameworks, which I found really valuable and illuminating. It was also very heartening to see how many students were still willing and eager to participate in the mini course despite being in the middle of finals!” - Amanda Bogan, HNC American Program Coordinator 

In your opinion, how has the internationalization of Black Lives Matter helped or harmed the movement’s goals and strength? 

We must recall that BLM as an organization has been international in its vision for some time. “Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation” is its full proper name. If we think of BLM in global network “terms” as a movement wherein each BLM affiliate must attend to its local circumstances yet is affected significantly by what other affiliates (and their opponents) do elsewhere in the world, we can envision BLM as an arena of collective action that can be and is “international” even when this social justice movement is not particularly widespread within a given country. 

Add to this the strong aversion of BLMGNF’s founders to dictating the course of the movement, domestically or abroad. On the one hand, Patrisse Collors, Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza and other organizers have created a movement that cannot be easily derailed, whether its most visible spokespersons are discredited or die. (Think of what happened to the civil rights movement after King was killed.) On the other hand, is there an effective limit to this non-hierarchical decentralized structure when it comes to growing the movement? Can the movement stay “on message” without its actions being strictly directed across the many different public spheres that exist domestically and globally? It will be interesting to see what develops. 

“As someone heavily focused on China, Dr. Dottin’s BLM mini course gave me the opportunity to take an in-depth look at a movement that I’ve always believed to be very important but never had an opportunity to talk about in an academic context. His framing of BLM in social movement theory also meant that everything we learned was applicable in much broader contexts. We were not just analyzing BLM, but developing a useful framework to understand any kind of social movement anywhere in the world. Dr. Dottin even included a section of the course focusing on the impact of BLM in non-American settings, which I found both enlightening and useful when thinking about how social movements differ across borders.”  - Austin Bliss, MAIS '22

What important conclusions were made in your classes? How do those conclusions tie into the lessons of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? 

One conclusion I hoped students to draw is that of continuities rather than discontinuities. It has become somewhat fashionable to mark the civil rights movement as outdated, coopted, and now part of the “Establishment.” Now, there is clear public disagreement between the BLM movement and mainstream African-American leaders such Jim Clyburn, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and even former President Barak Obama. Still, BLM is not divorced from the civil rights movement, though it is a different movement. BLM draws more directly on other, lesser-known, activist thought and practice seen during the heydays of the civil rights and black power movements. From Ella Baker “strong people don’t need strong leaders,” a deep distrust of hierarchy? Definitely. From Demita Frazier, Barbara Smith and Beverly Smith a black lesbian feminist ‘intersectionality’ critique of each of those movements? Certainly.

Yet dethroning King is not the conclusion I wanted my students to reach. Rather, it was for them to think through how King’s dream is being re-envisioned today for all of us by those whom in King’s time were forced so often to the margins of the black freedom tradition. 

Interview conducted by Brandy Darling, HNC Certificate '20 + SAIS MA '21. 

Thursday, March 18, 2021

HNC alumna utilizes SAIS studies in objective, data-driven role at Rhodium Group

Lauren Gloudeman, HNC Certificate '12 + SAIS MA '13, is an Associate Director at Rhodium Group’s China Practice, where she 
focuses on China’s trade dynamics and US-China trade policy, its economic reform agenda and implementation, and its macroeconomy and industrial activity. 

How did you become interested in China and end up at the HNC?
I've always loved language study, and during undergrad, I signed up for Chinese language on a whim. I did an intensive summer course in Shanghai and made Chinese language and literature my second major (the first was philosophy) upon my return. After years of bopping back and forth to China, I received a scholarship to study Chinese linguistics at Nanjing University after college, and was living at the dorms next to the HNC, not realizing that the program existed. When I learned about the HNC, I applied and started studying there the following year.

How did your experience at the HNC and SAIS DC together prepare you for your current position?
SAIS provided the right opportunity to apply my China studies and experience in a critical professional field. Getting the SAIS economics education was necessary for my current position (doing China macroeconomics and policy research) and opened China policy job opportunities in Washington, DC. Doing China economics work is inherently in the political economy field, so both the China/international relations and economics foundations proved useful.

What was your journey after SAIS to the position you have now and what experiences have you gained overtime that contribute to your success?
After SAIS, I worked in different US government roles in US-China policy to understand the most important issues in the field, hone my skills, and build my expertise. However, I found that debates around China's economy and trajectory were often too politicized, so I pursued a more objective and data/economics-driven role at Rhodium Group. Gaining insight into different lenses for thinking about China was important to my career.

Do you keep in contact with people that you went to the HNC with?
I do keep in touch with HNC classmatesmany as good friends, and some as contacts in the field.

What advice would you give to current or future HNC students for success at the HNC and after graduation?
I've found that China-focused opportunities are few. I suggest remaining open-minded and adaptable about working in the China economics/policy field, and building additional skillsets or topical/industry expertise to complement China experience/education.

Interview conducted by Brandy Darling, HNC Certificate '20 + SAIS MA '21