SIA Middle East opportunities

Temple of Hercules - Amman, Jordan
Temple of Hercules - Amman, Jordan

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The Penn State School of International Affairs is rich in Middle East study opportunities with several students and faculty members concentrateing their research and educational efforts on the region and a variety of Middle East-focused classes and study abroad options.

SIA’s Middle East Studies concentration, one of 10 optional study tracks within the Master of International Affairs curriculum, prepares students to understand the role of the Middle East in international affairs and to apply such understanding in a professional setting. Students in the concentration learn to identify and analyze the most consequential political, social, and economic currents in the contemporary Middle East and assess these trends' global ramifications. The concentration also allows students to evaluate the Middle East's evolving international relations, including strategic dynamics among regional actors and interactions between the region and extra-regional powers like the United States.

Outside of the concentration, SIA students have access to a variety of courses that focus on Middle Eastern policy, relations, and culture. SIA’s U.S. Policy in the Middle East course focuses on the strategic challenges facing U.S. policymakers in Middle East and helps students develop both a sense of the historical evolution of U.S. policy in the region and an analytic framework for understanding current policy debates. Students can also opt to take electives in other Penn State graduate programs, including The Contemporary Middle East, The Ottoman Empire and Other Muslim States, International Relations of the Middle East, Classical Islamic Civilization: 600 – 1258, and Literary Cultures of Islam.

For students who want to get out of the classroom and be immersed in Middle Eastern culture, SIA offers a formal study abroad program in Amman, Jordan. This new international study experience offers students in-depth exposure to the Jordanian culture while they take courses that count toward their SIA graduation requirements.

SIA students are also eligible for Foreign Language Area Studies (FLAS) awards, which are fellowships authorized under Title VI of the Higher Education Act and are administered by the U.S. Department of Education. Over the past two years, three students have won FLAS awards to study Arabic. First-year student Jennifer Gibbs received an award to study Arabic during summer 2016, and another first-year student, Nathan Lawrence, received an award to study Arabic during the 2016-2017 academic year. Recent graduate Joseph DiVirgilio used his 2015 FLAS award to travel to Amman, Jordan, and learn Arabic.

Penn State’s Center for Global Studies, which is led by SIA professor Sophia McClennen, awards only five graduate FLAS fellowships to Penn State students each year. Awardees receive monetary awards for tuition, fees, and stipend to be used for intensive foreign language study in the U.S. or abroad.

Another recent graduate, Ilana Shtivelman, interned at Alternative Action in Jerusalem, Israel. Alternative Action is a grassroots alternative to the status quo in Israel and the greater Middle East. From social programs and normalization initiatives, to education and advocacy, Alternative Action aims to challenge one-sided perspectives on issues facing the region and to promote fresh alternatives based on justice, indigenous rights, and the possibility of a brighter future for all peoples of the Middle East.

In addition to the students’ activities, SIA faculty member and retired U.S. Ambassador Dennis Jett was awarded a Fulbright Senior Scholar Fellowship to teach and conduct research in Israel in spring 2016.

Jett spent his time on the Fulbright grant at Tel Aviv University, teaching a class titled the History of U.S. Foreign Policy. His research focused on peacekeeping in the Middle East and built on his first book, Why Peacekeeping Fails. While in Tel Aviv, Jett also continued to teach his annual spring course Colloquium on Current Policy Challenges (INTAF 590) by videoconference.

In addition to Jett, SIA professor Flynt Leverett focuses much of his research and teaching efforts on U.S. Middle East policy. Prior to joining the SIA faculty, Leverett served for nine years as senior Middle East analyst at the CIA and has worked on U.S. policy toward the Middle East at the State Department and on the National Security Council. His latest book, Going to Tehran: Why America Must Accept the Islamic Republic of Iran, written with his wife, Hillary Mann Leverett, argues for more U.S. engagement with the country.