IROnline Alumni Profile: Betsy Henderson

Meet Betsy, an International Relations Online student in South Carolina who is excited about the opportunities for development, job creation, and security improvements in emerging markets, especially Sub-Saharan Africa.

Current Location: Charleston, South Carolina

What is your field of study and what line of work are you in?

I am in the Master of Arts in International Relations (MAIR) program with a concentration in International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution. I currently work for a government contractor in the tech industry (cyber security and software development) based in South Carolina, but I look forward to transitioning back to working in emerging markets in the future and applying what I’ve learned through this degree.

Why did you choose International Relations Online?

After working with development and investment partnerships in East Africa for several years, I felt there was more I needed to learn to take my career to the next level. I was interested in studying negotiation and better understanding international economics, which played an important role in the public-private partnership work I was doing at the time. I wanted a master’s program that was practitioner-focused and that I could directly apply in my career. I also knew that I wanted to study international relations, and I was familiar with the School of International Service. The online program turned out to be a perfect fit—the concentrations and course content were exactly what I wanted to pursue, and the program allowed me to keep working and traveling abroad while pursuing my studies. I’m glad to have found the MAIR online program! 

How do you see yourself making a difference in the world?

I get excited by the possibilities of new ways to increase development, create jobs, and address security concerns in countries that have faced challenges in growth and/or conflict in the past. I enjoy studying foreign policy but believe that the private sector is an integral partner in advancing policy interests in emerging markets, and I would like to be a part of fostering and advancing those relationships. In addition, I see myself continuing to build upon my eight years of experience working in Sub-Saharan Africa and to meaningfully give back in Kenya, a country that has been like a second home to me.

How is the School of International Service (SIS) making a difference in your world?

The School of International Service has made a difference in my world through connecting me with professionals who are carrying out cutting-edge work in the fields of international relations and negotiation, and by giving me an opportunity to learn from them in real time. SIS has also given me the opportunity to better understand and contextualize the situations that I have observed while working in the field in Africa and beyond, and it has equipped me with the tools to meaningfully contribute at a new level in the future.

What makes the School of International Service special?

I think the School of International Service is an institution of excellence, and this holds true throughout the faculty, courses offered, and overall programming. The people who make up the School of International Service—students, staff, and faculty—are here because they want to be, and share passions about the topics that they pursue. As a result, there is a strong focus at SIS on contributing to current affairs in the U.S. and around the world, and I think this leads others to recognize the School of International Service as a place of excellence as well.

What does the word “service” mean to you?

To me, service means giving the best you have to help others and to be a part of something greater than yourself.

What world issue or current event is of interest to you?

I’m very interested in East African affairs. There is so much happening there right now: counter-terrorism efforts (against Al-Shabaab); refugee inflows from regional conflicts, currently Burundi, South Sudan, and Somalia; massive infrastructure projects; new technological innovations and underground high-speed internet cable; large-scale energy investments; regional trade initiatives; a boom in youth populations; new constitutions; elections; innovations in agricultural production; creative approaches to job creation; and so much more. This region is not always in the news as much as other parts of the world, but I believe it remains critical to U.S. interests and will play a larger role in security and development paradigms in the future.

Who is your professional role model?

My professional role model is the Honorable Dr. Phoebe M. Asiyo of Kenya. In additional to being one of the first female members of parliament in Kenya and a UN Goodwill Ambassador, Dr. Asiyo has dedicated her life to advancing women’s rights in Africa and around the world. She has been successful throughout her career and has used that success to uplift and inspire others—all while still raising a family, staying true to her faith, and giving back to her local community. I admire Dr. Asiyo for these reasons and many others, but I am most grateful to her for sharing her love of Kenya with me and encouraging me to pursue a career in international relations. She demonstrates leadership by example with strength and humility, and as one of my first mentors, remains an active presence in my life today.

What is your favorite class?

It’s hard to choose—there are so many great classes! I would have to say the course The Art of International Negotiation, led by Professor Anthony Wanis-St. John, remains one of the most impactful courses I have ever taken in my life. Professor Wanis-St. John’s knowledge of conflict resolution and belief that anyone—with enough study, practice, and commitment—can become a successful negotiator are both incredibly inspiring. I remember that there was one instance when he taught from Turkey for several class sessions, because he was based there to lead negotiations with Syrian opposition groups. In my mind, it doesn’t get any more directly “from the field” than that! It is also one of the courses I have been able to most rapidly apply in my current work and day-to-day life. 

How has the program helped you to achieve your career goals? What is your next step?

Simply by earning my master’s degree in international relations, I feel that this program has helped me take a significant step in my career. Many roles in international development and policy organizations increasingly require a master’s degree in order to serve, and previously I felt that I was missing out on professional opportunities because I had the field and firsthand experience but not the necessary academic qualifications. I now feel much more equipped to pursue my long-term career goal of furthering U.S.-Africa relations in development, trade, and foreign policy. In the short term, I am planning to gain more industry experience in the private sector, in order to combine this with my policy knowledge and more significantly contribute to public-private partnership formation. In the next several years, I would also like to take the steps necessary to one day serve as an economic officer in the U.S. Foreign Service.

About the Immersion

What did you enjoy the most about your immersion experience?

It was a tie between meeting classmates in person for the first time and hearing the stories about serving in the U.S. Foreign Service from our immersion course professor, Ambassador Anthony Quainton. It was amazing to hear about his experiences, and it opened my eyes to aspects of the foreign service that I had never contemplated before, such as the full responsibilities of the ambassador or challenging approaches to diplomacy and policy.

What was it like to finally connect with your classmates face to face?

Phenomenal! It was like meeting with a bunch of old friends—only this time we also got to talk about things outside of solely class-related topics, such as job interests, family life, and travel stories. In most cases, everyone was at a different place in the program, so it was also helpful to share experiences about class selections and what to expect about various aspects of the program. Participating in an immersion session certainly further enriched my overall experience in the online MAIR program.

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