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David Wade '97, Brown in Washington Program

Brown in Washington Program Offers Students a Deep Dive into Foreign Policy

February 26, 2020

Tapping into his extensive policy experience, David Wade ’97, brings theory and practice to Brown’s semester-long program in Washington D.C. A fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a public affairs strategist, Wade has held senior positions in the State Department, on Capitol Hill, and with two national presidential campaigns. Wade spoke recently with us about the Brown in Washington experience, a program run through the Watson Institute and Swearer Center. 


WI: What drew you to study at Brown and how did it impact your career goals? 

DW: Brown was exactly the right fit for me. It opened my eyes to parts of the world I’d never considered before. I thought I wanted to be a fiction writer and, to this day, I love writing. But I remember standing under the arch at Faunce House seeing a handbill that read “Rally – Indonesia Get Out of East Timor!” I was 17, and I didn’t know where East Timor was. At Brown, activists talking about injustice and human rights made me think hard for the first time about America’s role in the world. Twenty-three years later, I visited a free Timor Leste.

WI: Have your diverse professional opportunities informed your teaching in the Brown in Washington program?

DW: I’ve marveled at how much there is to learn from the next professional opportunity, and this is no different. I’m realistic about my value-added here; I hope to share with my students the good and the bad, the ups and the downs that I learned on my journey. I hope they leave seeing the complexity of the foreign policy-making process, and still are inspired to want to participate someday. I want to take them inside the process and the institutions, and to introduce them to people who have good stories and lessons to share, people who bring the reading and the books to life. The most important quality I offer them is candor. 

WI: What makes the Brown in Washington program so relevant and dynamic?

DW: I only wish we’d had this program when I was a Brown undergraduate.  Even if none of my students choose a career in politics, public policy or international relations, we’re all lifelong participants in a democracy and consumers of news and facts, which is inseparable from being active, informed, astute citizens. So, it’s invaluable to understand how foreign policy gets made or unmade, so that you’re empowered to look more critically, more discernably, at what’s unfolding in front of you, and make choices about it. Foreign policy is like an iceberg: Look at it with the naked eye, and you’re missing most of what lies beneath the surface. I hope we spend this semester diving beneath the surface for different perspectives. 

WI: Who are the program’s ideal candidates?

DW: Absolutely everyone. Everything we discuss each week is applicable wherever you go, whatever you do. My English and writing seminars at Brown didn’t lead to my vocation, but I use those skills and those internalized lessons every day in politics, foreign policy and business. I think this class is similar; no matter where we all journey afterwards, the class offers lasting benefits. We immerse our students in learning how imperfect actors make foreign policy, by trying their best in an imperfect and very complicated world to get big decisions right.

WI: What’s on the upcoming agenda?

DW: We’re going to have fun! I’ve been so impressed by students’ remarkable responses to this recent assignment: Give me one page of advocacy and analysis to sell the next Secretary of State on one major reform or one good idea.

Guest speakers include former United States ambassadors, ambassadors from developing countries, veterans, regional experts, former State Department spokespeople, you name it. In addition to observing – from an insider’s perspective – how Washington works in a complicated and vexing world, students grill public servants who have chosen public policy, either for a lifetime or a single tour of duty. As a Brown undergraduate, I was sometimes hesitant to speak up in discussion groups. That shapes how I, as an instructor, measure participation, so I want students to feel comfortable finding and expressing their voices and viewpoints when they have something to say. I care most that they’ve put thought and reflection into the question.

WI: What excites you about teaching?

DW: It’s a gift! For three hours each week, I get out of my own bubble and hear my students’ thoughts and world perspectives. Students’ fresh ideas make me rethink issues and perceptions and make me better in my professional life. I come from a family of teachers, so being able to share what I’ve learned along the way with students is an incredible gift to me.                                                                  

Applications for the Fall 2020 Brown in Washington program are due March 6; apply here.

Nancy Kirsch