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2022 Leaders in Graduate Education in International Affairs

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Students Gain Hands-On Experience in Addition to Classroom Knowledge


Ellen Laipson, Director, Master’s in International Security, Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University

After 25 years of working in government and national security, Ellen Laipson knows what skills and knowledge her students at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government need to effectively tackle real-world problems.

“Directing the Master’s in International Security program is a culminating experience for my career, as it is for many of our faculty who are former practitioners,” she says.

Laipson is a former vice chair of the National Intelligence Council and led the Stimson Center, an international security think tank, before joining the Schar School in 2017. She also leads the Center for Security Policy Studies, which emphasizes hands-on experience and research collaboration.

“Our faculty try to round out students’ classroom experience with learning [that diversifies] the quality of their education,” she says. Students engage in crisis simulations, organize lectures, and visit military and intelligence facilities.

Directing the Master’s in International Security program is a culminating experience for my career, as it is for many of our faculty who are former practitioners. We share our career experiences with a younger generation fascinated by international security issues and incredibly motivated to address some of today’s biggest global challenges.Ellen LaipsonMany students in the program are working professionals seeking to expand skills or accelerate their career trajectory. Smart and self-motivated, many bring personal experience from tours overseas or in national security agencies. The goal, Laipson says, is to show students that helping to solve global conflicts is central to a career with a larger sense of purpose. Graduates may go on to careers in defense, intelligence, diplomacy, or nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Among recent graduates, two-thirds work in the federal government and one-third in the private sector.

“A combination of deep academic preparation and insight into the practitioner’s world helps our students have access to the people with the careers they want,” Laipson says. This same approach guides every graduate program at the Schar School: Combine theory with practice and forge connections between students and their future employers.

The school offers evening and weekend classes, as well as in-person and online options. Many pursue their degrees as part-time students. “You have choices,” Laipson says. “We are constantly trying to navigate a dynamic approach to what issues we cover and how we can help students be successful in the job market. We keep evolving.”


As an active-duty U.S. Army officer from Tucson, Arizona, Dana Crigger, 36, describes her graduate studies as “critical to building upon my tactical-level experience.”
)))“My studies at the Schar School have really expanded my intellectual lens to the strategic challenges facing the nation today,” Crigger says.
)))Working with faculty who draw upon deep experience in the national security field has “elevated” her understanding of global challenges. In addition, she expects the personal development derived from pausing her career to pursue international security studies will “pay dividends” in her future endeavors.
)))Crigger will graduate in May and plans to remain in the Washington, DC, area.

George Mason University, Schar School of Policy and Government

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