Sunday, September 22, 2013

Student Spotlight: Sara O’Rourke

For our spotlight this week, we’ve interviewed Sara O'Rourke, a second-year M.A. student concentrating in Conflict Management.  She received her A.B. in Social Studies and French from Harvard in 2009.  Prior to enrolling in SAIS, Sara worked as a teacher and as a travel researcher/writer.
What made you decide to pursue a career in international relations?
As a junior in college, I became fascinated with international affairs while studying abroad in Paris and researching my thesis on the political representation of Muslims in France. I also had the chance to travel in both Morocco and Egypt, where I became interested in the challenges facing women in Muslim countries. After graduation, I decided to move to the U.A.E., where I taught social studies and history at an international school, and coached the Varsity boys’ and girls’ soccer teams. While I was living in Dubai, Arab Spring erupted, and I saw the impact it had on my students and their families. I became passionate about the role of women in post-conflict societies, as well as within broader economic and political development. While at SAIS, I have been drawn in particular to the power of the private sector to empower women—and societies—economically. 
Can you tell us about your concentration and why you chose it?
Conflict Management focuses on the functions and tools to necessary to address conflict, from successful negotiation techniques to effective approaches to reconstruction. I chose the concentration because I believed it would equip me with the skills and knowledge I needed to contribute to post-conflict economic and political development, particularly in the Middle East. I was lucky enough to be selected as a first-year to participate in the Conflict Management Field Trip to Tunisia, where we spent 10 days on the ground interviewing influential politicians, diplomats, professors, activists, and students about the Tunisian Revolution and its aftermath. I was responsible for reporting on the role of discussions about women’s rights, as well as the role of women, in post-revolution Tunisia. In our capstone course, Professor Zartman’s Negotiation Practicum, we have weekly guest lectures from some of the most talented negotiators in the field, and then participate in negotiation simulations of our own. We will all then produce a term paper exploring the purpose and effectiveness of a particular negotiation tool.
What are some of the courses you’ve taken and specific skills you’ve learned that will help you in your career?
I have designed my curriculum mostly around those economics courses that will best prepare me for a career in international business and finance, with a focus on private sector development and post-conflict reconstruction.
The foundational economics and finance courses I have taken—Micro, Macro, Trade, Monetary, and International Financial Markets—have given me a strong base from which to evaluate general macroeconomic trends and with which to analyze evolving financial institutions. The business-focused courses I have taken—Private Equity in Emerging Markets; Corporate Finance; Multinational Corporate Finance; Enterprise, Regulation and Development; and Business and Human Rights—have not only equipped me with the tools (e.g., financial modeling) necessary to quantitatively evaluate new business projects, but also the exposure needed to analyze the social, political and economic impact of private sector initiatives in developing countries. Finally, I believe the negotiation techniques I have learned in the Practicum will serve me well as I embark on a career in consulting.
Can you tell us about SAIS Global Women in Leadership and how it was started?
I started SAIS Global Women in Leadership in the fall of 2012 because I believed that SAIS was uniquely positioned to contribute to the growing conversation on the increasingly important role of women in leadership, both at home and abroad. As an institution, SAIS–as a global thought leader–has been at the forefront of the next big issue, whether it be economic development or food security, and its strategic partnerships with all institutions in sectors–private, public, and social–have allowed SAIS to adapt to the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of international relations.  I thought it only natural that SAIS should take the lead on discussions regarding the role of women in leadership in both developing countries as well as developed societies.
To that end, SAIS Global Women in Leadership will host the first annual Global Women in Leadership Conference, titled “A New Economic Landscape: Promoting Women in Emerging Markets,” on Friday, April 12th. The conference will explore the role of women in emerging markets, facilitate a better understanding of the key issues that women face around the world, and expand the personal and professional networks of our next generation of leaders. It will be the first SAIS conference on women and leadership developed and managed by current SAIS students. It is also the first event to welcome over 150 students from schools in the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs (APSIA) network, which includes 30 graduate schools nationwide, as well as business and law programs on the East Coast.
Further, SWGL hosts a bi-monthly Luncheon Series, which are organized around substantive themes such as women and health, women and entrepreneurship, and women in international security, and invite experienced speakers from all sectors to comment on new solutions to challenges facing women globally, as well as new strategies for professional and personal success. Our hope is that by interacting with accomplished and engaging speakers, attendees will not only come away from events more informed, but also more inspired to take action in their careers and their communities.
What are your plans after graduation?
After graduation, I will be joining McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm, as an Associate in their Chicago office. I was a Summer Associate with them this past summer, and absolutely loved my time working on corporate strategy for a major health care player. I will be returning as a generalist, so will get the chance to work on diverse function areas in a variety of industries. I look forward to developing the private sector skills and exposure necessary to one day contribute to private sector development and women’s empowerment in developing countries.
Thanks for reading!
– Erin Skelly Cameron, Associate Director of Admissions
To read previous entries in our Student Spotlight series, please click here.