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IAPA in-person event

IAPA Concentration Day Event, April 2021

Flexibility, opportunity and community: juniors weigh in on Watson’s new concentration

April 13, 2021

Even before he got to Brown, Felipe Felix Mendez ’22 knew he wanted to study something related to international development. 

“For me, a central question that I wanted to work on in my time at Brown was, ‘What are some of the most effective ways of improving the standards of living of people over time?’” he says. While he had been leaning toward Development Studies, the announcement of the new International and Public Affairs concentration caught his eye—particularly the flexibility of the curriculum.

“You can choose from a wide variety of electives that are spread across many different departments,” he says. “That has enabled me to make choices about which lenses I want to use to examine questions of development. It’s been very exciting.” 

Mendez, who plans to delve more deeply next year into narratives of race and their role in political culture and development in his native Panama, says he also appreciates the sense of community in the program. Because all students must take the Track Foundational Course that is common to their chosen track (Development, Policy and Governance, or Security), he says, “people who are thinking about how to make policy more effective, for example, or how to improve the standards of living in the Global South — they go into these courses together. That leads to a ‘cohort’ feeling.”

It’s a feeling that Emily Rockwell ’22, as a DUG leader, tries to cultivate. 

“For a newer concentration, like IAPA, it’s really important to foster a sense of community, especially during the pandemic, because it can be really hard to meet other people studying the same things that you are,” she says. “Having really enjoyed the concentration so far, I wanted to give back and help build that community.” 

And that community is set to grow: 80 concentrators are set to graduate next year, and 60 students in the class of ’23 have declared IAPA as their concentration — a number that will continue to grow, according to Anita Nester, manager of academic programs.

Like Mendez, Rockwell also appreciates the program’s flexibility. 

“I enjoy studying topics from a variety of perspectives — anthropology, sociology, a whole range of disciplines. IAPA allows me to do that,” she says. “Many of my classes — and the concentration itself — have led me to reconsider my worldview, which I really appreciate.”

An intimate learning environment

In addition to classes taught by faculty from Watson and a wide range of departments, a popular component of IAPA is the junior seminars, which are intended to help students hone their critical analysis and argumentation skills. 

“Through the IAPA junior seminars, we ensure that concentrators have the opportunity to study – especially in small group settings — with some of the world’s most creative and original thinkers,” says Edward Steinfeld, director of the Institute. “The Watson Postdoctoral Fellows program attracts precisely these kinds of scholars: people whose research challenges conventional wisdom, defies rigid disciplinary boundaries, and opens up new avenues of understanding for the great societal challenges of our time. Our postdoctoral fellows play a critical educational role in teaching some of our most popular and meaningful IAPA junior seminars.”         

For Daviana Perez ’22, one of her favorite classes was the junior seminar Punishment in School: Historical Insights of the School-to-Prison Pipeline. Taught by Watson Postdoctoral Fellow Mahasan Offutt-Chaney (who is also a postdoctoral research associate in race and ethnicity and, starting next year, will be an assistant professor of education at Brown), the seminar dug into problems such as disproportionate punishment of Black girls and policing of motherhood. It enabled Perez, who has worked in public schools, to put her experiences into an academic context. “I realized there were names for the things I had been seeing,” she says. 

Carla Balvaneda ’22 especially appreciated Offutt-Chaney’s intersectional lens. 

“Professor Chaney really encouraged us to challenge the systems in place while providing additional resources, like optional readings, or talks that we could attend, to gain a strong fundamental understanding of the historical and present nature of the school-to-prison pipeline,” she says. “The seminar expanded the issue of education beyond schools, into a more social policy perspective.”

For Leonardo Moraveg ’22, the seminar he’s currently taking with Watson Postdoctoral Fellow Madga Boutros, Policing in Global Perspective, has deeply informed his understanding of Latin America — and other parts of the world as well. 

“It's been really helpful to understand how police and security forces respond to the rise of illicit markets and illicit substances being traded and smuggled,” Moraveg says. “We focus a lot on cases in Latin America, but also cases in the Middle East as well as Eastern and Western Europe.”

Another stand-out course for him was The Politics of Crime and Violence in Latin America, taught by political scientist Hannah Baron: “That course was engaging and really well thought out. It’s been my favorite class so far.”

Balvaneda, a first-generation college student, says, “IAPA fulfilled the vast educational experience I was looking for when I came to Brown.”

-- Sarah C. Baldwin