Thursday, June 2, 2016

Student Profile: Seth Gilpin

Name: Seth Gilpin
Program/Class: MIPP/2016

When considering graduate school, what was appealing about SAIS?
One reason was the diverse student body arriving from campuses in Nanjing and Bologna.  My classes have been filled with students from around the globe.  The perspective that US students gained by studying at these campuses along with the perspective shared from students coming from the overseas campuses have created classroom environments where discussions are rich with deeply considered, practically-centered ideas.  Another reason was SAIS' location in the heart of the US policy making and shaping.  Proximity to key think thanks provides an incredible opportunity to learn from academics and practitioners by merely walking down the street or seeing the individuals in the classroom leading the discussion.

What has been your favorite class so far, and why?
My international financial markets class with Professor Roger Leeds stands out as an outstanding class as it represents the ideal international-policy focused learning the SAIS community fosters.  First, Professor Leeds balances academic credentials with practical experience.  His expertise in instructing theory of a particular topic was coupled with a powerful practical experience from his days as a market trader.  We would take current topics, read about the historical and academic background to the topic, and then discuss in class the possible solutions to advancing an issue while keeping in mind all stakeholders. Second, Professor Leeds cares deeply about the SAIS community built through class after class of students who gone before mine that rose to the challenges of international policy-making.  He would always make a point to highlight how SAISers are leading influential change after graduation.

Can you tell us about your concentration, and why you chose it?
I chose to learn something about which I had little expertise when I came to SAIS because I was on an organizationally-sponsored year of study.  I have had an enormously successfully career as an Air Force Officer and was selectively-chosen for an opportunity to study at a non-military institution.  That chance has opened the door for me to explore different approaches to solving problems.  I chose to study international economics as I thought I could look at a problem my organization has been grappling with from a different perspective.  My professional work has been influenced by the impact of "big data", i.e., receiving enormous amounts of data from disparate sources.  I believe that the economics profession has been addressing the issue of big data in the markets for decades and getting the opportunity to learn how international economics has built models transform data into actionable information is something I enjoy learning about in my classes.

What are some other activities you're involved in at SAIS?
As a mid-career professional, I have been part of a cohort of similar individuals.  We have a weekly meet up to network and discuss what we are learning in class.  Our cohort also benefits from an amazing professional staff at SAIS who programs various professional development activities like how to use social media for job searching or professional etiquette classes.  These practical courses are a fun way to learn new things.  I am also active as a SAIS interviewer for new students.  I enjoy getting to know the applicants from around the world who are applying to SAIS.

Where are you interning/working, and what type of work do you do?
I'm an Air Force Officer who is essentially on a year sabbatical from my professional career conducting intelligence analysis tailored for US Air Force requirements.  In my previous work, I have lead individuals who take data from multiple sources, translate that data if required, put the data into context, and then use the information derived from that data to help create operational effects to advance US interests in various areas of the world.  The US Air Force uses air and space superiority; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; rapid global mobility; global strike; and command & control to create global vigilance, reach, and power for the nation.

What do you hope to do after graduation?
After graduating from SAIS, I will return to the US Air Force to continue my active duty service.  SAIS has given me an outstanding network of internationally-focused professionals who will be instrumental to solving problems together from our various positions within and outside of government.  I have heard the term "interagency" and "multi-national/multi-lateral" solutions before, but I believe SAIS has given me the professional skills and network to understand how to implement those solutions along with the talented group of people who will make those solutions a reality.

What is some advice you would give to someone considering applying to a program like SAIS?
Take time to reflect on what is important in an academic setting and what that setting means for how you learn.  For me, I think that much of the learning at SAIS comes from the in classroom discussions facilitated by the incredible faculty SAIS is able to leverage based on its location in DC.  Reflecting about whether a demanding studying requirement along with a challenging classroom wherein one's ideas will be tested, critiqued, corrected, and honed is truly what you want from an academic experience.  One can easily survey the ideas and theory of international policy by reading relevant literature; what makes going to SAIS different is familiarity with the ideas and theory are merely the starting point to a deeper understanding of those concepts from exceptional interactions with fellow students and faculty.

What advice would you give to applicants coming from outside the U.S.?
Be ready to immerse yourself into the multiculturalism that is the SAIS community!  I love the pride fellow students demonstrate about their nationality or culture.  Students are always willing to share how a Korean tea ceremony works or why different cultural values exist in a particular country.  SAISers learn a lot about the different regions of the world based on the fellow students who come from those regions.  Sharing those experiences with others will be a vital part of studying in the US.  Also, taking a break from SAIS to explore other areas of the US is important too.  Students are organizing trips to national parks, cultural sites, and foodie favorites to experience the US first hand.