Don’t just take classes. Do something!

Rwandan President Paul Kagame shakes hands with master’s degree student Sarah Van Vliet.

Michael McFaul, director of the Ford Dorsey Program in International Policy Studies and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, explains Stanford’s master’s degree in international policy.

At Stanford University, we know that training the next generation of leaders doesn’t just happen in the classroom. Our faculty have worked in government as ambassadors, cabinet members and more. The master’s degree in international policy gives students real-world experience, so they graduate ready to make a difference in their field. Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who directs the program, explains the Stanford difference and what students can expect after graduation.

What differentiates the master’s degree in international policy studies from other programs?

Stanford has a strong tradition of collaborating across disciplines, which creates a truly interdisciplinary learning environment. Students can fulfill program requirements at other Stanford professional schools, including business, law, education, design and even medicine. Over the next few years, we will be rolling out more joint-degree programs to take greater advantage of these opportunities. This interdisciplinary spirit is heavily influenced by Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial and innovative ethos. Unique courses such as Hacking for Defense and Hacking for Diplomacy afford our students opportunities to approach national security issues from a tech perspective. Courses that combine technology and international policy are unique to Stanford.

The program recently underwent a reorganization, moving into the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI). What changes are on the way?

With its diverse faculty, FSI creates greater opportunities for students to work across disciplines and to receive an applied education. Over the past few years, we have worked to give students more experience with real clients in our practicum and in other classes. In the autumn quarter of 2018, new curriculum will provide future public service professionals with even greater tools for their careers. Additionally, we will continue to grow the robust career development opportunities available to students.

What skills do students obtain in your program?

Our curriculum prepares students to address problems in diplomacy, governance, security, international economic policy, energy and environmental policies, and development. Our students tell us that they chose our program in order to get a firm grounding in analytical and quantitative skills. Graduates leave with expertise in quantitative analysis, policy writing, decision-making, and negotiation. Since students can take classes in different departments and schools at Stanford, many also obtain skills in finance, computer science, management and other fields.

Our students must also study one of the five areas of programmatic concentration: democracy and development, energy and environment, global health, international political economy and international security. In 2018, we are adding an additional concentration in cyber policy.

What networking and career opportunities can you offer?

Our program is not a traditional policy degree in many respects — we offer far more than that! At Stanford — and FSI in particular — we have a group of people with incredible policy experience. At FSI alone, there are four former ambassadors, while Stanford is home to former U.S. cabinet officials, policymakers from federal and state governments, and, of course, the Silicon Valley community. We also routinely host non-U.S. policymakers in our visiting diplomats programs. There is an increasing demand for tech companies to have effective government and international relations departments, and many of our recent graduates have accepted jobs at some of the valley’s most exciting enterprises.


This article originally appeared in Foreign Affairs.