Meet the Foreign Policy Leaders of Tomorrow

Grantees in this story

For several days this February at Tufts University, the sudden influx of international students, military uniforms, and important looking dignitaries and academics said something big was underway. The occasion was a conference organized by the extraordinary undergraduates at The Institute for Global Leadership (IGL), a Carnegie Corporation grantee. This year’s topic was The Future of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

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Student delegations from eight countries tour Tufts University in Medford, MA during the EPIIC MENA Symposium, February 26 through March 2, 2014.

For sophomore Ryan Youkilis, the highpoint was presenting his field research on relations between Iraqi Kurdistan and Israel:

“We were able to go to the regional parliament in Kurdistan, to several ministries in the region, and we were able to meet a former member of the Mossad while in Israel.”

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Rebecca Varley and Max Fathy presented “The Turkish Model: Perception vs. Reality” based on research conducted in Turkey about the country’s role as a model for emerging states in MENA.

Traveling to remote and troubled areas of the world for high-level access and field research qualifies as a typical winter break for the fifty students chosen as part of IGL’s year-long colloquium, EPIIC: Education for Public Inquiry and International Citizenship. Founded in 1985, the program is one of the most intensive of its type for undergraduates. Bradley Friedman, who traveled to Tunisia to research entrepreneurship, describes his experience:

“The biggest thing that EPIIC has given me is the realization that my previous ceiling of what I thought that I could do with my life was gone. What you think you can accomplish is completely changed.”

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Sarah Butterfield (left) and Isabel Weiner presented “Arrogance of Power” based on their research in Egypt after the fall of the Morsi regime. Jackie Faselt (right) researched “The Effect of International Military Education on Civil Military Relations.”

Each year, students organize a four-to-five day conference known as the EPIIC Symposium. For this year’s MENA theme, they invited more than eighty noted practitioners from government, military, academic, and journalism circles with many traveling from the Middle East—a logistical feat in itself. The bigger names included Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns and former US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, who had stepped down only a week earlier. All represent the vast network of EPIIC devotees cultivated by IGL founding director Sherman Teichman, a supreme motivator for thousands of Tufts graduates working in the global policy space:

“This is an intellectual community. If you enter, we won’t want you to ever leave. Students are mentored, they are sought after, and they themselves recognize that they have a limitless future.”

Patricia Moore Nicholas, program manager with Carnegie Corporation’s International Program, considers EPIIC a model for grooming the next generation of foreign policy experts:

“We are talent scout for individuals who can drive social change, and I am consistently impressed by the talent and the potential that the students and participants in EPIIC have.”

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The Institute for Global Leadership’s founder, Sherman Teichman, speaking with panelist Brigadier General Rami Ben Efraim, Special Assistant, J5 Commander, Israeli Defense Forces.

One of the panelists is former journalist Ahmed Benchemsi who published a news magazine for ten years under hostile conditions in Morocco:

“I have a history of pushing a lot of causes and being the target of government harassment. I want to give students a perspective that is from the ground. Less ideological and more practical.”

EPIIC is one of nearly thirty programs offered by IGL. Throughout its teachings, the Institute’s stated goal is to promote the intergenerational passage of knowledge. For example, an organization called ALLIES that fosters civilian and military relations. During the EPIIC Symposium, government and military officials met with undergraduates from Tufts, the US Naval Academy, and the US Military Academy for exercises such as a “Diplomatic Crisis Simulation in Algeria.” 

Through another program, Voices from the Field, ten mid-career alumni came back to IGL for frank discussions about their real-world experiences in MENA. Oleg Svett talked about working in communications at the US Embassy in Iraq:

“My advice—be more curious about the people you are going to meet, and try to learn from them instead of trying to teach them what you’ve learned in the United States.”

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During a working session, EPIIC alumni discuss “US Policies: From Oil to Refugees.” Rachel Brandenburg with the US Institute of Peace (left), Gabriel Koehler-Derrick with US Military Academy, and Oleg Svett, a PhD candidate at Kings College, Lonon

EPIIC students also invited delegations from universities in eight different countries to the Symposium. A twenty-year-old international relations major from China, who asked not to be identified, said she has never heard the perspective of a Middle Eastern student before because you don’t meet them in her country. Vladimir Poluektov with Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) says he spent a lot of time at the conference refuting stereotypes on topics ranging from vodka to Russia’s positions on Ukraine and Syria:

“I'm trying to must make sure that everyone will get to know Russia’s opinion on many issues so that they shall not be afraid of Russia. We have our own values, our own views, and that is why we have to respect every other country.”

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Vladimir Poluektov from Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) had questions for the panel, “The Unraveling of Syria.”

Vladimir also asked questions including one for Ambassador Ford about the top three skills needed to be a successful diplomat. The answer? Courage, integrity and context. Vladimir, an aspiring attaché, promised a return trip next year when the EPIIC Symposium will focus on Russia.