Preparing Students for Competent, Compelling, and Compassionate Careers

Preparing Students for Competent, Compelling, and Compassionate Careers

This post, written by Laila Sorurbakhsh, Associate Director of the Master of International Policy and Practice Program, is a companion piece for her article Translating Social Science Skill Sets for Careers Beyond Academic.

Students of international affairs learn quickly that inclusive approaches to policymaking are often the most successful.  Deriving skills from anthropological studies, political science, economics, geography, and history provides a well-rounded toolkit to not only assess policy from a pragmatic viewpoint, but also to consider potential impacts to target populations.  By cultivating competency from a holistic and compassionate mindset, the next generation of social scientists in the workforce are better equipped to make positive change that includes, rather than excludes, traditionally marginalized people and perspectives.

Below are a few reflections of recent graduates from the George Washington University’s Master of Policy and Practice program (MIPP) on how they have been able to incorporate communication, leadership, and data analysis skills into their careers beyond academia, with a view to leaving the world better off than how they found it. We conclude with a final note from a recent graduate on how building inclusive and transformational skills influences not only the student’s own journey, but the broader social community.


Asmik Arutyunyan smiles, wearing a blue dress
Asmik Arutyunyan, MIPP ‘21

Asmik Arutyunyan is a Senior Program Specialist at the United States Institute for Peace. Her research focuses on the intersection of gender, development, and security, as reflected in her Capstone project, “Gender-Transformative Work in Armenia: Including Men and Boys in Gender Equality Efforts” which advocates for gender-inclusive training in post-conflict zones.

Asmik describes how she was able to cultivate strategic communication skills through collaboration in her current role:

“As I transferred into a role in my career that required managing projects and leading people, I was able to fall back on the knowledge I gained through the MIPP program. I knew how to approach writing a Statement of Interest in response to the US Department of State’s (DOS) request for proposals. Coalition building was a major element in the process – I needed to work with other teams to make sure the proposal had a high chance of receiving funding from the DOS. The experts I engaged in the project design did not report to me directly. Hence, collaborating with them was a great exercise in lateral leadership. Anticipating challenges, practicing inclusion, building coalitions, processing and presenting diverse and, sometimes, paradoxical findings are all skills required for the ‘next generation of leaders’.”


Natalia Ambrosio smiles, wearing a white collared shirt.
Natalia Ambrosio, MIPP ‘22

Natalia Ambrosio is a mid-career professional from Buenos Aires, Argentina, with a background in international trade. She has previously served as a United Nations Association (UNA-NCA) Graduate Fellow, and is currently working at Bayer AG as an SDG Fellow, assisting with their Sustainable Development 2030 Agenda.  Her Capstone project, entitled “Gender Equality in Argentina: Supporting Women’s Career Advancement in the Private Sector” focuses on key initiatives to enhance women’s leadership development.

Natalia describes how she has effectively practiced the skill of public engagement in her post-graduate internship:

“As part of the International Organizations Team in Bayer AG, I support Bayer’s participation in major global conferences such as COP27 and Davos. In this role, I assist the company’s public engagement strategy by providing reports on the latest policy proposals and data regarding the impacts of the war in Ukraine on global food security. It is rewarding to see that your work is shared with the rest of the company. I feel I am walking the right path towards reaching my career goals.”

Data Analysis

Kevin Lustig smiles with a child on his shoulders.
Kevin Lustig, MIPP ‘20

Kevin Lustig, VP of Technology at Outright, is a digital technologist and strategist with over 13 years of experience. Kevin was previously the Online Communications Manager for the Climate & Energy program at the World Resources Institute and Technical Director at Graphicacy, a DC-based digital data visualization firm. He holds a Master of International Policy and Practice from George Washington University, where he successfully completed his Capstone project, “Comprehensive Climate Resilience: Avoiding forced displacement due to climate change,” and is currently a candidate for a Master of Information & Data Science from the University of California, Berkeley.

Building on his strong foundation in data and technology, Kevin has been able to translate some of his “hard” skills into “soft” skills, using data for effective consensus-building:

“The ability to gather, formulate tests for, and analyze data is a bedrock skill from my social science training. Among other uses, it enables me to build evidence-based project strategies upon analytics about audience behavior to understand what is likely to convince and motivate people, and measure what has been effective (or not) in reaching and moving them in the past.  I frequently call upon the skills of a social science education that taught me how and, more importantly, when to deploy a variety of communications strategies: from a thoroughly researched academic paper to a one-page brief, from a well-tailored visualization to a comprehensive presentation.”

Closing Thoughts

Applying Inclusive and Transformational Skills Beyond Academia:

Reflections from a “warrior” to a “healer”

Sam Zasadny MIPP ‘21

Sam Zasadny is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and helicopter pilot who pursued graduate school for career enhancement, but discovered a calling for the suffering and underserved along the way. Sam holds a Master of International Policy and Practice degree, and he begins his doctoral studies in Clinical Psychology at Wheaton College in August 2022. His Capstone project, “Long Range Helicopter Aviation Service: A Food and Healthcare Scarcity Solution,” combines his military experience with his passion for poverty alleviation.

“The MIPP program at the George Washington University welcomes non-traditional students, creating opportunities for mid-career practitioners to develop and deepen skills that enhance their personal growth and professional craft. The program enriches leadership and communication skills that are sorely lacking in many professional spaces through the teaching and practice of active listening, clear and concise written communication, and public speaking. Further, the MIPP program teaches the importance of issue research in a social context, and the imperative of leveraging rigorous data analysis when guiding projects and policy. Most importantly, the cadre of MIPP professors represents a diverse cross-section of academics and practitioners, providing students multidisciplinary mentorship during and after the program. Such mentorship is critical as graduate study is often a catalyst for personal change that empowers future career steps or for some, career pivots to entirely new vocations.”

Laila Sorurbakhsh received her Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Houston with specializations in Comparative Politics, American Politics and Quantitative Methods. Her dissertation, entitled “Feedback in the EU Advocacy System,” studies how institutional, environmental, and structural changes to the European Union have impacted interest group populations via their levels of competitiveness and survivability. She is currently an Assistant Professor of International Affairs at George Washington University’s Elliott School, where she also holds positions as Associate Director of the Master of International Policy and Practice program, and Director of Online Education.

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The #ElliottExpert series is managed by the Elliott School Office of Graduate Admissions and highlights current professors and alumni. For more information on this series or to submit questions, e-mail the Office of Graduate Admissions at views expressed by students profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs.