Georgetown University, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service

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Next Generation Faculty, Engaging Students in DC

Kathleen R. McNamara

Kathleen R. McNamara
Associate Professor of Government and Director of the
Mortara Center for International Studies
Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service
Georgetown University


Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service (SFS), founded in 1919, is a premier school of international affairs. Home to eight interdisciplinary master’s degree programs, SFS provides a rigorous education combining theory and practice and instills the values of service.

You direct the Mortara Center for International Studies, which fosters debate and discussion on international issues among prominent scholars and practitioners. How do you approach your mission?

The Mortara Center has an important role to play in the evolution of the School of Foreign Service. What I’ve tried to do is make sure that Georgetown, which has always had a very strong reputation for policy orientation and for having experts who have served in the “real world,” also bridges to the academic world. It really is what the future of international affairs is in an academic sense: working to have first-rate scholarship that is informed by and speaks to the real problems that we face internationally.

How do students benefit from this kind of convening?

Let’s say, for example, that we’re holding a seminar on the “resource curse.” We will bring in World Bank policymakers as well as academic experts; students can hear from people who are on the front lines, dealing with questions of how states develop stable political and economic systems.

One of the most important things for us at SFS is ensuring that students not only consume information, but also develop themselves as creators and generators of knowledge and information. So a centerpiece of Mortara’s development now is the Mortara Undergraduate Research Fellows program. This has been very much supported by Dean Carol Lancaster and we see it as a way to expand the student intellectual experience and really develop mentorship relationships with faculty.

What do you think characterizes the “next generation” of international affairs faculty?

The most successful scholars and faculty are able to develop very sophisticated academic and research expertise, but also constantly try to be in touch with and communicate with people who are actually practitioners and who are actually struggling with the issues at hand. We have people like Victor Cha, who was on the National Security Council, and Daniel Nexon, who worked in the Department of Defense.

Professor Nexon’s work, for example, deals with power transitions. Working in the trenches gives him a much better real-time sense of what is going on. I think that SFS has always been very well placed to do that—physically being in Washington and being very supportive of our faculty interacting with the policy world.

Location matters, then.

There’s a certain edge and advantage to being located in Washington that helps me as a scholar and is also very important to the experience that the students have. I interact regularly with policymakers at the State Department, from the European Union delegation, from the embassies. We can also call on practitioners to come to our classes and speak or to serve as adjunct professors. That would simply not be possible unless we were located in Washington, DC.

Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service
Georgetown University
Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service
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