SAIS and the Value of its Alumni
BY BEN KUPFERBERG
One of the biggest draws of the School of Advanced International Studies is the diversity in the student body. While most students apply to SAIS after a few years in the professional world, there is a group of eight to 10 students each year who matriculate directly from undergraduate studies at Johns Hopkins University. These students obtain a Bachelors and Masters in five years. The international exposure at SAIS typically puts these students on an interesting career trajectory. Recent BA/MA alumni Cynthia Yuan Wang and Anna Yukhananov both profited from SAIS’s accelerated program. Wang and Yukhananov, spoke to The SAIS Observer about how SAIS played an important role in shaping their career paths.
Yukhananov has been a reporter for Reuters for more than five years now. She started in London, then moved to Washington D.C., and is currently based in Mexico City. She has covered a broad spectrum of issues from international economics, medical drug shortages, engagements of princes, to prison riots. Yukhananov is now working part-time on her own journalism project, focusing on Mexico’s informal economy and some of the poorer communities in Mexico City.
Wang is currently working in Hong Kong with a bulge bracket investment bank as an analyst, providing corporate finance advisory services to major APAC clients across different industries.
One of the perceived drawbacks of the BA/MA programs is that students graduate without full-time work experience. This hasn’t been a problem for Yukhananov or Wang. In fact, both saw the same benefit from the five- year program: maintaining their undergraduate drive and study habits.
“When I got to SAIS, I still treated it as an extension of undergraduate studies, wanting to learn as much as possible but not focused as much on career implications. I participated in several clubs and activities, from the Volunteer Club to the SAIS Review and SAIS Observer. I started off concentrating in Russian and Eurasian studies, following my obsession with Central Asia, but then switched to Middle East studies, learning from knowledgeable professors such as Fouad Ajami and Camille Pecastaing,” Anna said.
SAIS prides itself on the level of access it provides to high-level European and American politicians and professionals. This is a part of the SAIS experience that many students attribute to their success after graduation.
“At SAIS, I had the opportunity to meet Warren Buffet, the chief executive of the Atlanta Federal Reserve, former Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, China’s Ambassador to the US, and got a chance to attend the World Bank-IMF Annual Meetings. The value of these experiences cannot be gauged by looking at the list of famous people I was able to meet, but the horizon that SAIS introduced me to and the experience I got in trying to arrange these events and participating in them. This has been beneficial to me every single second in my job,” says Wang.
In addition to the lectures and professional opportunities presented to SAIS students across all three campuses, BA/MA candidates also benefit from access to classmates who have been in the professional world before starting their Master’s program.
“It was never easy to survive at SAIS as an undergrad, since everyone around is so knowledgeable in their respective fields. When I was leading the Finance Club as President, all of our 7 Vice Presidents were older than me and had worked in many financial institutions and government. That was quite a challenge for me, especially in times of conflict. But after spending so much time with them, they became very good friends from whom I have learned a lot,” Wang said.
Yukhananov, who attributes her strong economic background from SAIS as the reason she got the job at Reuters, spoke about the benefits of the international community SAIS creates, especially after graduation.
“Everywhere I’ve lived and gone in the world, there are SAIS alumni nearby. Just a couple of months ago, I went to a SAIS alumni brunch in Mexico City and met a BA/MA student who graduated in the 1980s, and now works for the State Department. I also regularly interview finance officials and other policy wonks that went to SAIS, or know someone who did. It gives instant credibility to me as a journalist to be able to speak the same (financial or economic) language as those I’m interviewing – while still asking tough questions,” she said.