School of International Affairs Class of 2025 begins graduate school journey

Orientation on August 18 prepared students for success at SIA and beyond.

SIA students mingling during 2023 orientation
SIA students interacting during orientation on August 18. Credit: Emma Kappel/Penn State SIA

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The Penn State School of International Affairs (SIA) welcomed the Class of 2025 to campus on Friday, August 18, with an in-depth orientation at the Lewis Katz Building. The day was designed to prepare students for success in their academic journey at SIA and beyond.

Some of the students are returning Penn Staters, but many of them are new to the University, State College, and the United States. The global aspect of the cohort was underscored by Victor Romero, interim dean of the School of International Affairs and Penn State Law, Maureen B. Cavanaugh Distinguished Faculty Scholar, and professor of law.

“As a Filipino immigrant who has made the U.S. his home, I am excited for this diverse group of fledgling scholars as they learn more about themselves and each other by diving deeply into our increasingly interconnected world through the interdisciplinary study of international affairs,” Romero said.

Throughout the day, the incoming students were engaged and excited to meet their new colleagues and future professors.

SIA Director Mitchell Smith speaking during orientation
SIA Director Mitchell Smith addresses students during orientation. Credit: Emma Kappel/Penn State SIA

“It was wonderful seeing the diverse membership of our new SIA class begin to come together at our orientation events,” said Dr. Mitchell Smith, director of SIA and professor of international affairs. “As I underscored in my Convocation remarks, I am excited to expand opportunities for our students to engage in the intellectual life of the School of International Affairs.”

Meet the SIA Class of 2025

SIA Class of 2025
SIA Class of 2025 with Director Smith (front row, far left). Credit: Emma Kappel/Penn State SIA

The incoming SIA class is diverse in every sense of the word, coming from all over the world and with a wide array of interests and accomplishments. Some fast facts about the Class of 2025:

  • 50 total students
  • 11 countries represented, including residents of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Egypt, Ghana, Iraq, Liberia, Nigeria, United Arab Emirates, and the United States
  • U.S. students represent 15 states plus Puerto Rico
  • Backgrounds in 29 different undergraduate majors
  • Collectively speak 18 languages
  • 21% identify as part of an underrepresented racial/ethnic group
  • 21% are first-generation college students
  • Six are current or former members of the U.S. military, including three from the Air Force, two from the Army, and one from the Army ROTC program
  • Three recipients of Fulbright scholarships
  • One recipient of the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Graduate Fellowship
  • One recipient of the USAID Donald M. Payne International Development Graduate Fellowship
  • Two students are NCAA athletes at Penn State

While their interests and career paths vary significantly, the students are united as members of the SIA community and in their enthusiasm to make a positive impact across the world.

Building community, preparing for success

SIA students at university resource fair
SIA students learned about opportunities across campus during the University Resource Fair as part of orientation. Credit: Andy Gabriel/Penn State SIA

During orientation, incoming students were able to build community with their peers and prepare for success in graduate school and in their future careers.

The day included welcome and convocation sessions with the dean and director; informative sessions on academic and student affairs, internships, capstone experiences, and professional development; workshops on gender equity and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB); a University Resource Fair promoting opportunities across campus; tours of the Lewis Katz Building; as well as individual headshots and a class photo.

At every opportunity, students eagerly chatted with one another—the excitement and energy carried through the day.

“What I’m most excited about is just getting a feel for the program initially and then meeting so many people with diverse perspectives,” said first-year master’s student Kaylin Butler. “I’ve networked a lot and met a bunch of my peers, and that’s the goal.”

The sense of community permeates through SIA staff and faculty as well, and the school prides itself on fostering a tight-knit group within the larger Penn State ecosystem.

SIA students in the Black Student Association
Second-year SIA students Tyrone Williams (left) and Rayan Mama Amadou promoted the Black Student Association (BSA) during the resource fair at orientation. Credit: Andy Gabriel/Penn State SIA

“From my conversations with students, it is clear that there is a strong desire for community. And my door is always open to our students and their ideas,” Director Smith said.

For those who have already been part of Penn State, they are looking forward to building on their success. A great example is Dara Hadighi, who is part of the Integrated Undergraduate-Graduate (IUG) Program at SIA, which combines bachelor’s and master’s degrees into one five-year course of study.

“It’s a really great way for me to continue undergraduate and get a way better, in-depth knowledge of international affairs,” said Hadighi, who is a triple-major in French, philosophy, and international politics. “It’s been nice getting to meet everyone and getting a feel for the school and the staff who are here to support us.”

Insight from seasoned Penn Staters like Hadighi proved valuable for the students who are new to the University and the area.

SIA student Elias Stowell
First-year SIA student Elias Stowell at the DEIB workshop during orientation. Credit: Andy Gabriel/Penn State SIA

“Some of the students already went here for undergrad, so really getting to feed off their energy that they have towards this university, it’s contagious,” said first-year master’s student Elias Stowell. “I’m definitely most excited about the opportunities to network, so just being able to access so many different people that love Penn State, it’s going to be a huge plus on my career journey.”

Beyond general networking, the students’ conversations—not surprisingly given the nature of the program—frequently turned toward politics and global affairs.

“It’s nice to just be in a room with different people that have different mindsets within the political sphere,” said first-year master’s student Kéren Masangu. “Getting knowledge on someone else’s perspective can enlighten my own knowledge on what I want to do in the future.”

Masangu, like many other SIA students, wants to launch a career to make a positive impact.

“I am originally from Congo, and my country has been in a war-torn conflict for the past couple of decades now, so my focus is on African development, human rights, and international security because I want to bring change to my country,” Masangu said. “Many have tried, and they’ve been shut down. And I want to be someone who at least brings it a step closer to a better future for the next generation.”