School of International Affairs celebrates Class of 2023

Group photo of the Class of 2023 along with SIA faculty and staff
The SIA Class of 2023, along with faculty and staff, following the Graduate Recognition Ceremony on May 7. Credit: Matthew Brunetti/Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Family and friends packed the Sutliff Auditorium in the Lewis Katz Building to celebrate the Penn State School of International Affairs (SIA) Class of 2023 at a Graduate Recognition Ceremony on May 7. A reception followed the ceremony, capping off a day filled with pride and recognition of the graduates’ achievements during their time at SIA.

A total of 54 graduates completed their studies this spring, including 52 who earned a Master of International Affairs degree and two who completed an International Affairs Graduate Certificate. In addition, eight SIA students anticipate completing a master’s degree in August 2023.

“I would like to begin by congratulating each member of the graduating class on the extraordinary achievement we are celebrating today—your successful completion of a rigorous and multi-disciplinary professional master’s program,” said Victor Romero, interim dean of Penn State Law in University Park and the School of International Affairs, Maureen B. Cavanaugh Distinguished Faculty Scholar, and professor of law, in his opening remarks to the graduates. “I am confident that you will contribute to the world in positive ways, and that you will make us proud.”

Interim Dean Victor Romero
Interim Dean Victor Romero delivers welcome remarks at the recognition ceremony. Credit: Matthew Brunetti/Penn State

During their time at SIA, the graduates pursued diverse academic concentrations, including international security studies, human rights and humanitarian assistance, crisis management and emergency response, dispute resolution, and international development and health, among many others.

The graduates also completed research projects and internships that addressed serious global concerns such as war crimes violations, Syrian humanitarian relief, human rights issues in South Africa, anti-terrorism strategies, U.S.-China relations, and much more. These experiences are indicative of the strong tradition within SIA of engaging with policymakers and practitioners on some of the world’s most pressing issues.

“For many of you, your experience at SIA was transformative and you leave here with new skills, interests, passions, and goals,” said Dr. Elizabeth Ransom, interim director of SIA and associate professor of international affairs. “You have our respect and our commitment to helping achieve those goals now and in the future. Congratulations to you, the graduating class of 2023.”

The graduates’ diverse interests reflect the global composition of the SIA program, with the 2023 cohort including residents of Antigua and Barbuda, Bangladesh, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Hungary, Japan, Kenya, Mongolia, Nepal, Uganda, United Kingdom, and the United States.

SIA professor honored

During the ceremony, Ambassador Dennis Jett (Ret.), a professor of international affairs and founding faculty member of SIA, was recognized as an honorary alumnus of Penn State. The Honorary Alumni Awards have been given by the Penn State Alumni Association since 1973 to honor people who are not graduates of Penn State but who have made significant contributions toward its welfare, reputation, or prestige.

Jett’s career spanned 28 years and three continents while in the U.S. Foreign Service. He served as the U.S. ambassador to Mozambique (1993-1996) and Peru (1996-1999), as well as deputy chief of mission and charge d’affaires in the U.S. Embassy in Malawi, and deputy chief of mission in the U.S. Embassy in Liberia shortly before the start of the civil war in that country. For his service in Liberia during this tumultuous time, he received the State Department’s Distinguished Honor Award for “exceptional service, superb leadership, keen perception and adroitness in the formulation and execution of U.S. foreign policy.”

He was also special assistant to the president and senior director for African Affairs at the National Security Council during the Clinton Administration.

Dennis Jett (right) and Paul Clifford
Amb. Dennis Jett (right) accepting his award from Paul Clifford during the ceremony. Credit: Matthew Brunetti/Penn State

“Professor Jett has lent his expertise to Penn State students and fellow faculty by laying the building blocks of the School of International Affairs,” said Paul Clifford, chief executive officer of the Penn State Alumni Association and associate vice president for alumni relations for Penn State, who presented Jett with the award. “For his dedication, impact, and many contributions to Penn State University, the Pennsylvania State University Alumni Association is proud to recognize Dennis Jett as an honorary alumnus.”

In addition to being one of SIA’s founding faculty members, Jett has the unique distinction of having taught every SIA student since the school’s creation in 2008.

“It is a great honor to receive this award,” Jett said in his acceptance remarks, noting his pride in being able to join the Class of 2023 as Penn State alumni. Shifting his comments to the graduating cohort and their nascent careers, he added, “Go out and make the world a better place, because my generation has left a whole lot undone.”

A celebration with family and friends

SIA graduates clapping during the ceremony.
SIA Class of 2023 graduates clapping during the ceremony. Credit: Matthew Brunetti/Penn State

Following the ceremony, the graduates gathered in the Katz Building lobby for a reception along with family, friends, and SIA faculty and staff. While sharing countless hugs and photos, many of the graduates took a moment to reflect on their time at SIA.

“I’ve enjoyed the time I spent here at Penn State,” said Kaelah Mundley, who completed her master’s degree with concentrations in international business and economics and international public policy. “The people here have been fantastic, the professors are really inspiring and just really helpful towards our future endeavors. I’m excited for what the future holds for me.”

Many of them also expressed pride in completing a major milestone.

“It feels great to be done, […] especially looking back at the efforts that we put in to get to this point,” said graduate Simone Carugno, who concentrated in data analytics.

The ceremony also provided an opportunity to savor their graduate school achievements before starting the next chapter of their lives.

A 2023 SIA graduate decorated her cap with the words 'What she tackles, she masters.'
A 2023 SIA graduate decorated her cap with the words 'What she tackles, she masters.' Credit: Matthew Brunetti/Penn State

“I’m glad that we had a moment like today, the recognition ceremony, to truly appreciate all the things that we’ve accomplished and all the things we’ve done,” said graduate Savannah Jackson, whose concentration was in race and development.

Although their time as SIA students has concluded, the graduates will remain part of the Penn State and SIA family.

“As you prepare for what comes next, remember that you are now joining more than 750,000 proud and successful Penn State alumni worldwide,” said Kim Plummer, assistant director of alumni relations at SIA, in the ceremony’s concluding remarks. “As you move, especially along your international career path, please look to SIA for assistance, support, and guidance, as we want to partner with you on your journey.”