#WeAreElliott: Sara Wolverson

#WeAreElliott: Sara Wolverson

Sara Wolverson, wearing a black shirt and blue pants, sits near the water with trees and the blue sky in the background. Sara Wolverson, Master of International Policy and Practice, 2023, #WeAreElliott

Sara Wolverson graduated magna cum laude from Yale University with a dual bachelor’s degree in English and Theater and then completed a Master of Fine Arts degree in Acting at the University of Wisconsin. As an actor, film producer and teacher, she has collaborated with artists from numerous countries in Asia, Latin America and Europe to communicate with diverse, international audiences. These experiences have solidified her belief that cultural exchange must work with foreign policy to have a lasting impact. In the MIPP program, Sara’s studies focus on conflict resolution, security and diplomacy, with particular attention to the Middle East. She currently researches how best to combine methods of diplomacy with sanctions to achieve U.S. foreign policy goals. Sara has continued to progress with her Persian language skills as a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellow at the University of Maryland’s Roshan Institute, and through ongoing study at Yale University. She serves on the Student Advisory Council for the Leadership, Ethics, and Practice (LEAP) Initiative and volunteers as a mentor in the IRC Family Mentor Program for Afghan refugees.

What inspired you to select the Master of International Policy and Practice (MIPP) – Online program at the Elliott School?

A conversation with Dr. Laila Sorurbakhsh inspired me to select MIPP.  Starting a second career when you are already settled into a path and have a family and other significant responsibilities can be extremely daunting. I was looking at various programs in international relations, and I wanted to understand how each program would regard my atypical background. I have a great deal of experience in cultural diplomacy as an actor, producer and teacher, which doesn’t always match expectations for students of international relations.  When I spoke to Dr. Sorurbakhsh she expressed such enthusiasm for how those experiences could serve me well in International Relations. Dr. Sorurbakhsh was refreshingly supportive of my aspirations, and her enthusiasm gave me a boost of confidence to take the leap. After speaking with her, I knew that the MIPP program was exactly the place I needed to be. She continues to be a source of support and inspiration as I go through this journey at the Elliott School.

What has been your favorite course at the Elliott School so far and why?

I am currently taking Cybersecurity with Dr. Rhea Siers, and I find it absolutely fascinating. I think the actor in me really connects to the attribution process in Cybersecurity: the motivation, given circumstances, and thought processes that are involved in executing a cyber plot follow a very similar pattern to those one would use to break down and understand a character when rendering a performance. I think when people hear “Cybersecurity,” they envision dark rooms and people sitting in front of computers executing complex data analysis (at least I did!). Of course, the data analysis is a critical component of the field, but I love that Dr. Siers makes the material so accessible to students from all backgrounds and encourages us to consider the psychological aspects as equally important. This aspect of intelligence is something that I am interested in pursuing further, and thanks to Dr. Siers, I am excited and motivated to do so.

What has been your most rewarding work, intern, or volunteer experience?

I currently mentor for the International Rescue Committee’s resettlement program. I spent the summer in Maryland on a FLAS fellowship studying Persian at UMD, and this was a wonderful opportunity to utilize my language skills to benefit the recently relocated Afghan community in College Park. I have been working with one family in particular to help them acclimate, find employment and learn English.  On one of my initial visits with them this summer, a terrible storm hit. We spent the evening in darkness, I read stories to their five children by flashlight to help relieve their fears. The family began to share memories of Afghanistan and their terrifying escape. I listened with empathy and exchanged stories with the wife about mothering through crises. We laughed over our trials. The husband and I rehearsed for an upcoming job interview, highlighting his strengths and refining his English. If he did not know an English word, I switched to Persian to explain. After five hours, the eldest daughter smiled shyly and asked if she could call me, “amei,” the Persian word for “aunty.” Weeks later, the father confided that I gave the family a sense of hope and purpose that night. He reminded me that kindness and empathy are two of the most powerful tools we have for connecting with other cultures. I continue my relationship with them to this day.

What advice do you have for students who are considering pursuing the MIPP – Online program?

The online classes for MIPP are well-formatted, and the professors do a great job facilitating online discussions and keeping the classes small and engaged.  I think the challenge of online study is finding ways to feel connected to the larger student body.  I try to get involved in groups that interest me and find opportunities to meet in-person.  I serve on the LEAP Initiative Student Advisory Council, headed by Professor Chris Kojm, which has allowed me to engage other students from different programs.  We discuss issues of Leaderships, Ethics and Practice as we arrange events for prominent leaders and practitioners in International Affairs to speak with the Elliott School community.  This summer I met friends from my Strategy and Leadership course in DC. It was wonderful to see my peers face to face after having had such an intense online experience with them. I also want to participate in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council this year because I believe the international affairs community will be more successful when it fully represents the breadth and depth of our country’s backgrounds and experiences. I plan to commute during future semesters for some on-campus classes as well.  All these opportunities solidify relationships and help me feel part of an intellectual and social community. The MIPP program is wonderfully flexible in allowing for both online and on-campus study, and for providing opportunities for people to network both online and in person. The more you can research and take advantage of these opportunities, the richer your learning experience will be.

What three music albums should everybody listen to and why?

Three Feet High and Rising, De La Soul: It’s where poetry, sampling and dance come together and elevate all three.

Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, Lucinda Williams: Every song expresses a lifetime of experience.

Cuz I Love You, Lizzo: Lizzo is a classically trained musician who represents artistic virtuosity, female empowerment and finesse.  Her lyrics make me laugh and feel on top of the world.

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The #WeAreElliott profile series is managed by the Elliott School Office of Graduate Admissions and highlights current students to answer common questions posed by prospective, incoming, and current students. For more information on this series or to submit questions, e-mail the Office of Graduate Admissions at esiagrad@gwu.edu.The 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.