SIS’s International Economic Relations Program Retools Degrees for a Competitive Workplace

SIS’s International Economic Relations Program Retools Degrees for a Competitive Workplace

The International Economic Relations program offers two master’s degrees at SIS: the MA in International Economic Relations (MAIER) and the MA in International Economic Relations: Quantitative Methods (MAIER:QM). We spoke with Professor Randall Henning, the faculty chair of the International Economic Relations program, as well as several SIS students and alumni, to learn more about what makes these master’s degrees so unique.

Studying International Economic Relations at SIS

Both master’s degrees provide students with training in international trade and finance, statistics, and econometrics. While the MAIER degree allows students to more deeply study with a substantive policy-oriented concentration—like development or environmental policy; specialized topics in trade, investment, and finance; or a self-designed concentration, such as one that focuses on a region—the new MAIER:QM degree focuses on quantitative measurement and the statistical and mathematical analysis of data.

Because of MAIER:QM’s focus on advanced quantitative methods, it qualifies as a STEM degree under criteria established by the Department of Homeland Security, meaning that international students with the degree are eligible for a 24-month extension of optional practical training (OPT) in the United States. This STEM designation is given to degrees that contain engineering, biological sciences, mathematics, physical sciences, or a related field.

“A number of schools offer master’s degrees in international economics, but our program combines the work of political science and international political economy with work in international economics to train students for professional jobs,” says Henning. “This combination of expertise gives students not just the economics, but also awareness and sophistication about how to navigate these institutions and the politics of international trade and finance.”

Along with preparing students for careers in their field of interest, the two master’s degrees offer students the opportunities to develop topical expertise, take a flexible and interdisciplinary approach, gain professional experience, and develop quantitative skills during their time at SIS.

Developing Topical Expertise

Rochelle Osei-Tutu, SIS/MA ‘16, came to SIS with an interest in international affairs and economics. The International Economic Relations program stood out to her because of its focus on both quantitative methods and the theory and history around foreign policy and economic development.

“One of the main benefits of the program is that it gave me a lot of the context in regard to international trade history and theory,” says Osei-Tutu. “Those types of courses helped me understand some of the policy decisions that the US government makes by exploring how it positions itself in its engagement with foreign countries or in multilateral fora.”

During her time in the program, she applied for and received a Presidential Management Fellowship, the flagship leadership development program for graduate students who wish to enter government service. While looking for positions in the fellowship, she set her sights on government agencies with a focus on international trade. She got a job at the International Trade Administration, where she gets to directly apply and use her expertise in international trade and economics.

“I think the unique experience that's offered through the IER program is that you can focus on the niche that you want to develop,” says Osei-Tutu. “I realized that I was interested in international trade, so I was able to take courses on the political economy as well as digital trade and trade theory. That helped me form the foundation that I needed for my job at the International Trade Administration.”

A Flexible and Interdisciplinary Approach

After completing his undergraduate degree in economics, Emilio Urteaga, SIS/MA ’22, came to the IER program at SIS interested in the intersection of economics, policy, and international relations. The main aspect that drew him to SIS was the flexibility of the program and its interdisciplinary nature.

“I already had a decently strong economics background, so I was really interested in pursuing that a little further with some classes while having that flexibility to pursue international relations classes, finance classes, or development classes,” says Urteaga. “You can take classes in the AU economics department, you can take classes at SIS, you can take classes at the business school—I'm taking a blockchain class right now, for example.”

Urteaga explains that this interdisciplinary approach led him to a concentration in development, noting that his focus before SIS was on trade and migration. The flexibility in the curriculum allowed this exploration of other subject areas and allowed him to see how they all are correlated and interwoven.

According to Urteaga, the skills he’s developed so far—and his relationships with his peers in the IER program—have already benefitted his career. He recently started a job at the World Bank, and he learned about that position from a friend in the program.

Gaining Professional Experience

Kelsey Ross, SIS/MA ‘17, became interested in an IER degree because she could take classes while gaining real-world experience. After a visit to campus to meet with professors and the career office, she knew SIS was the right fit.

“The professors were a mix of researchers and practitioners, and the IER program was designed in a way so that I could intern during the day and take classes in the evening. The program had this emphasis on quantitative analysis but also the ability to take other classes where I would do more reading and researching,” says Ross. “My visit to campus made me feel like, ‘I can spend the time, money, and energy to do this master's degree and know that I’ll be set up for success when I leave.’”

After graduating, Ross landed a job as a research associate at the Center for Global Development. She credits the skills she learned in the IER program with helping her jumpstart her career: “There’s no way that I’d have gotten the job I have if I hadn’t gone to SIS and found the IER program. I developed a hard skill set of quantitative analysis, econometrics, and the ability to understand Excel and STATA, as well as learning the institutions that work in that space.”

Ross highlights these applied quantitative skills and the applied econometrics experience she gained in the IER program, noting she uses them every day in her current position: “These are all skills that I feel I did not have when I started the IER program and felt like I was quite competent two years later when I graduated.”

The Value of Quantitative Skills

The new MAIER:QM degree trains students more extensively in advanced quantitative methods like advanced statistics, data analytics, and geographic information systems. Henning emphasizes that this degree lends itself especially well to students interested in jobs that involve research and analysis, like those in international institutions, government agencies, or think tanks: “They will have the policy grounding and policy expertise, but their skills would be deepened in econometrics, data analytics, geographic information systems—all of which are critical parts of the research enterprise in economic globalization.”

Tetyana Sydorenko, SIS/MA ‘16, is currently a research analyst at the International Finance Corporation (IFC). Like Ross, she also uses quantitative skills at her job: “Because I work in the global macroeconomics research department at IFC, we use a lot of quantitative methods like modeling for forecasting, stress testing, and scenario analysis. This is what a lot of the IER classes did for me—I could understand little things, like how to construct and clean a dataset, to much more complicated concepts, like econometric models and coding.”

During her time at SIS, Sydorenko took a number of econometrics courses and also learned how to use statistical packages like STATA and R. She took a weekend course to learn how to use Tableau, and she also learned the Bloomberg Terminal in an international finance class, which is something she now uses at her job every day.

“I think if you want to get a job in DC, a master's degree is a prerequisite—and having a master's degree is extremely important when you're competing for jobs in international relations,” says Sydorenko. “In my case, they really wanted that quantitative background, so having a concentration in quantitative methods is something that I was able to leverage when I was looking for jobs right out of the program.”

According to Sydorenko, these quantitative skills are especially important for certain jobs that now require an understanding of coding and programming, and as Ross also notes: “Everyone needs a quantitative background, it’s just what you need to succeed.”

Waging Peace in International Economic Relations

For Osei-Tutu, Ross, Sydorenko, and Urteaga, the location, curriculum, and networks they have gained from their IER degrees have given them a step up in their careers—whether they are working at the World Bank, the International Trade Administration, the IFC, or the Center for Global Development. Both degrees—MAIER and MAIER:QM— allow students and alumni to explore careers in these types of international organizations, government agencies, nonprofits, and the private sector while fulfilling the school’s mission to wage peace in international affairs.

“International economic cooperation is at the heart of what the international political economy does and examines,” explains Henning. “In this field, students are trained to look for opportunities for international economic cooperation and how to build and maintain multilateral institutions and agreements, which help countries reach their goals—especially developing and emerging market economies. That is the cosmopolitan mission at the core of this program—that's waging peace in the economic field.”