Field I: International Relations

Nov 11 2021
By Jack McCaslin, MPA '22

My name is Jack McCaslin, and I am the Princeton University Policy Student Government representative for Field I (International Relations) at SPIA. I organize social events and work with the administration to improve the Field I experience. My interest in international relations came from my dad, who was in the U.S. Foreign Service. Before coming to SPIA, I worked at a foreign policy think tank in Washington, DC researching and writing about U.S. policy toward Africa. Field I attracts students with a wide range of backgrounds. My classmates include veterans of journalism, city government, environmental NGOs, the White House, the U.S. Senate, and radio broadcasting, as well as active-duty U.S. military officers. Despite our diverse backgrounds, we all came to Field I with a commitment to public service and the desire to understand how state and non-state actors interact on the global stage and how as policymakers we can shape that behavior.

In their first semester, all Field I students take Professor John Ikenberry’s International Politics class, which covers the major schools of thought in international relations. For those with IR backgrounds from undergrad, some of the material is review; for others, it may be the first time you are learning about Waltz, Walt, and Wendt. These new and old IR perspectives, together with the diverse life experiences of not only first year MPAs but also of seasoned MPP students, make for a fascinating and thought-provoking class.

With a solid theoretical framework in tow, all second-year MPAs start taking electives taught by scholars and policy practitioners. A highlight of any MPA’s experience is the policy workshop, led by a practitioner and taken in the fall semester of your second year. My workshop focuses broadly on protracted conflicts and the role diplomacy can play in addressing them. It benefits from the leadership and experience of Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt, who underscores his lessons in diplomacy and conflict resolution with personal stories from his time representing the U.S. in the Middle East. This year, my class will recommend policy to the U.S. Special Envoy to Yemen. While we were unable to travel to the region due to COVID (but would have otherwise), we journeyed to the faraway lands known as Washington, DC and New York City. There, we conducted over a dozen interviews with high-level U.S. government officials, professional staff members in Congress, the NGO community, Yemeni activists, journalists, and political officials, and representatives of foreign governments. This experience was informative, inspiring, and exhilarating.

Conflict and foreign policy not your thing? That’s OK! As a Field I, you can take any workshop or class you want. Field Is are enrolled in workshops focusing on the national security implications of semiconductor supply chains, coastal resilience in the face of climate change, and vaccine hesitancy. In our other courses, some of us have concentrated on security, strategy, and intelligence; on climate change and the environment; on tech policy, data privacy, and weapons of mass destruction; and some have augmented their SPIA experience with area studies and language courses throughout Princeton.

Outside of the class, SPIA and the broader Princeton community has much to satisfy your interests. For my part, I participated in the Liechtenstein Institute for Self-Determination fellowship program, Center for International Security Studies crisis simulations, and the Journal of Public and International Affairs as an associate editor. These centers and others provide various research opportunities, events, travel, and speakers.

At the end of the day, I am most grateful for the opportunity to take classes, work on group projects, and overall just hang out with all the spectacular people that make up SPIA. They enrich class discussions, make great travel buddies, and then destroy me on the basketball court. I know that once I graduate, I will count many as close friends and future colleagues. After SPIA, we will join a vast alumni network, including Field Is that work on Capitol Hill, in the Defense, State, and Treasury Departments, and at multilateral institutions, think tanks, and NGOs around the world.