Three military cyber security professionals look at a monitor.

Current & Recent Research into Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy

By School of Public Affairs

American University’s Master of Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy teaches content knowledge about terrorist groups and threats, as well as skills for evaluating these threats, all within a framework of policy creation and implementation.

Joseph Young, PhD, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Justice, Law & Criminology and his graduate students are researching issues that may impact the fight on terrorism and policy related to U.S. homeland security. Some of these projects include exploring the efficacy of peace initiatives in other countries, interviewing U.S. citizens who go overseas to fight against ISIS on their own, and analyzing ISIS data for predictors of whether someone would prefer joining the cause as a fighter or as a suicide bomber.

Efficacy of Strengthening Local Governments in Colombia

Professor Young is part of a team working with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAid) to evaluate whether a project to strengthen local governments in Colombia is reducing a perception of corruption. The findings may influence future interventions around the world.

“We’re doing three waves of nationwide surveys about how people feel about the peace process and how much they do or don’t support armed actors,” explains Professor Young.

The five-year, $50 million program is trying to make local governments more transparent, opening up budget processes so people can understand them, and making the mayor’s office more accessible to average citizens. The goal is not only to reduce violence, but to help citizens feel that their governments are transparent, responsive, and representing their interests.

The baseline survey identified that people view their government as incredibly corrupt. The midline survey is currently underway.

“We’re hoping to see the perception of corruption going way down along with a drop in support for armed actors,” says Professor Young. “If the results are promising, these tools could be applied in other places in the world to reduce support of violent actors like terrorist groups.”

Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy Research: U.S. Citizens Joining the Fight Against ISIS

Another project that Professor Young is working on with a PhD candidate revolves around U.S. citizens who are going overseas independently to fight against ISIS. Fighting for ISIS or another designated terrorist organization is clearly illegal for American citizens. But what about those Americans who join forces with foreign organizations and fight against ISIS?

“There are a number of Americans going abroad to fight with Kurdish rebels against ISIS and that falls into a gray area,” says Professor Young. “There’s not a legal structure in place that says this behavior is wrong or illegal.”

The research team is currently interviewing some of these fighters to learn more about what they are doing and why. The researchers began with a core group via social media building a database of about 100 Americans and, so far, have interviewed about a dozen of them.

Their findings so far include:

  • Fighting independently is self-funded. Some fighters have actually held Go-Fund-Me campaigns, but generally they are limited financially and when the money runs out they tend to return home.
  • There is a women-only unit organized by a Canadian woman.
  • Many of these fighters are former military who were injured, dishonorably discharged, or simply at the end of their service. For them, the motivation is often that they had gone to the Middle East on active duty to secure safety in the region and ISIS has disrupted that, so they are now going back to try to finish what they had started.

“The bottom line is shouldn’t we have a policy on whether people should go fight against ISIS or not,” asks Professor Young. “Our research is always informed by how is this going to influence policy and what should policies look like.”

Analysis of ISIS Job Applications: Predictive Traits of Suicide Bombers

Professor Young is working with another PhD student to analyze data obtained by the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) based at West Point. The researchers are evaluating more than 4,000 ISIS job applications looking at the factors that might lead someone to choose to be a fighter or a suicide bomber.

“What we’ve noticed is that country of origin explains much of the choice between applicants who want to become fighters versus suicide bombers,” says Professor Young. “People coming from the West, countries like Australia, America, Britain, etc., as well as those from civil war-torn countries are less interested in becoming suicide fighters.”

So far, the research supports the hypothesis that people who have some military experience tend to be more interested in becoming more experienced fighters rather than sacrificing themselves.

“The Americans and the Westerners don’t have a culture very supportive of the choice to become a suicide bomber,” says Professor Young. “The only folks making the choice to become suicide bombers at a higher rate are those coming from countries like Saudi Arabia or Tunisia where they might have more of a stronger cultural pull for doing an action like that.”

Understanding factors relating to the development of terrorist and anti-terrorist attitudes is critical to U.S. security. Professor Young’s research offers a glimpse into the rich and complex projects seeking to understand how we can protect national security, both in the U.S. and abroad.

Teacher with young students in a classroom

Public Policy Research: Impact of Race and K-12 Education

By The School of Public Affairs

Research has shown that when minority students have teachers of the same race, they tend to perform better on several metrics, such as test scores and graduation rates. Nathan Favero, Assistant Professor in American University’s Department of Public Administration and Policy is exploring potential causes of this correlation and the implication for future teacher recruitment.

“While there are many ideas about the mechanisms causing this relationship, there’s not a whole lot of certainty,” says Professor Favero. “Our research is looking at the impact of Latino teachers in schools, since although they are less underrepresented than black teachers, there are still many Latino kids being taught by white teachers.”

Several common mechanisms suggest why students may perform better when taught by teachers of the same race. The role model effect posits that students are inspired to perform better because they are more able to identify with their teachers. One model suggests differences in how minority teachers teach, from utilizing more culturally accessible examples in math problems to incorporating more relevant cultural references that make students feel included. Another possibility is that minority teachers are less susceptible to racial bias and therefore less likely to create a self-fulfilling prophecy of low performance.

Looking beyond the classroom

Much of the research to date has been at the classroom level, focusing on individual teachers and their students. Because of his work in organizational research, Professor Favero is exploring the relationship at the institutional level. One of the key questions is whether simply having minority teachers within the school building makes a difference.

“While we don’t really have strong evidence yet, it seems that there’s some indication that just having more Latino teachers in the building is predictive of students doing better,” says Professor Favero, “even if there aren’t more Latino teachers in their specific grade.”

His research is exploring possible reasons for this correlation. One answer is that diversity among the teaching staff may influence school policy or may lead to collaboration that positively impacts the student experience. Another, from a top-down approach, is that administrators who more actively recruit – or are more inclined to hire – Latino teachers are also more likely to create a school culture conducive to success among Latino students.

Considering policy implications

It’s clear that increasing diversity among teachers, especially in areas with high minority populations, is essential to improving outcomes for minority students. This may begin in the classroom with teachers encouraging students to enter the profession. Policy makers may want to explore implementing policies encouraging undergraduate education programs to actively enroll minority students.

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Top Three Questions About the Master of Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy

With the Answers Prospective Graduate Students Want to Know

By The School of Public Affairs

Offered through American University’s School of Public Affairs, the Master of Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy prepares students for a career or advancement in the federal government, intelligence, or law enforcement. The top three questions we hear from prospective graduate students are:

  1. Do I need a master’s degree for a career in intelligence and security?
  2. Should I do an internship?
  3. Is American University a good choice for my graduate education?

The simplest answer, according to Joseph Young, Associate Professor and Department Chair in American University’s Department of Justice, Law & Criminology, is yes.

Read on for more in-depth answers.

Why Do I Need a Master’s Degree for a Career in Intelligence and Security?

American University’s Master of Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy is useful for an intelligence career at a federal, state, or local level. Students learn important content knowledge about terrorist groups and gain essential skills for evaluating potential threats to U.S. security, both domestically and abroad. Coursework takes a policy perspective, considering what policies should be in place, as well as what impact they may have.

During their master’s education, students build a network of connections that can inform their interests, assist with research, and help navigate their career path. Internships are an opportunity to gain real work experience and may also lead to security clearance, both of which greatly improve standing as a candidate for prospective employers.

“We not only teach about threats to the U.S. homeland and skills to evaluate those threats, we connect students to a network of people within the federal government and intelligence agencies,” says Professor Young. “We also help students through processes like getting security clearance and deciding which agencies are most interesting to them.”

Does an Internship Matter?

Absolutely, according to Professor Young. “You should always do an internship,” he says, “especially if it’s going to get you security clearance or on a pathway toward the career you want.”

Internships expand your professional network within the intelligence communities and can help you narrow your focus. Not only does the real-world experience make you a stronger candidate, many internships lead to job opportunities.

Security clearances, essential to many positions, can be costly and time consuming. If an internship requires security clearance, that may be a perk of the position. And having a security clearance in place will make you a more attractive candidate for employment. Plus, agencies that have invested in their interns may be more interested in hiring them permanently.

Why should I get my master’s degree from American University?

If you’re interested in a career in intelligence, law enforcement, or the federal government, a Master of Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy from American University’s School of Public Affairs provides the education and connections you need. Not only is DC the center of U.S. intelligence and federal government, American University is adjacent to the Department of Homeland Security, enabling convenient access to internship opportunities.

The curriculum features a foundation in criminology, law, and public policy, combined with essential background information and strategies for developing policy-based solutions. Courses are taught by international experts in terrorism and national security research, many with firsthand experience working within the organizations where students pursue internships and future employment.

American University’s professors and students have a strong existing network with connections to all of the major agencies, providing access to key figures for internships, research, and job opportunities. People outside the intelligence community may not be aware that there are actually 17 different federal intelligence agencies each with their own function and area of expertise. AU professors provide insightful advice regarding what career path or agencies best fit student interests.

“There’s no substitute for being in DC,” says Professor Young. “It’s good to be in a network of people that have connections in these places.”

If you are ready to advance your career in and combat terrorism, consider a Master of Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy from American University. Learn in Washington, DC, join a network of connections in intelligence agencies and federal government, and gain the skills and background to position yourself for advancement.

Click here to learn more.

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Are Americans as Anti-Immigrant as They Seem?

By School of Public Affairs

Given recent headlines and racial conflicts, it’s easy to conclude that attitudes about immigration in the U.S. are rooted in racism and prejudice. The Muslim travel ban, Charlottesville protests, and the rescission of DACA all appear to confirm a racist anti-immigrant bias.

While there may be public sentiment for reducing immigration, research by SPA Assistant Professor Matthew Wright and his colleagues indicates Americans may actually be less anti-immigrant than it would appear.

Reconsidering Traditional Thinking

Much of the academic scholarship tends to support the notion that individuals’ attitudes toward immigration policies are related to how they feel about specific groups.

“There’s a great deal of scholarship tying what we’re seeing to a broadly nativist reaction, meaning white native-born people attributing things they don’t like to immigration,” said Dr. Wright. “We’re trying to add a little balance to that perspective.”

Dr. Wright and his team delved into the role of group prejudice vs. alignment with what are often viewed as traditional American values. Their findings suggest that this anti-immigration stance is fueled more by values and misperceptions about groups than what’s traditionally considered racism.

“Our research indicates that people are not motivated by racial bias to the degree that the literature generally assumes,” said Wright. “We think that it’s more likely that people are driven by their values in the sense of broad principles such as following the law, learning basic English, or assimilating to some minimal degree.”

Countering Misperceptions

Wright and his team elicited opinions about immigration with a hypothetical situation involving individuals of different ethnicities. When asked if a person should be allowed to immigrate, participants were less likely to say yes when the individual was Latino than if he were German or Chinese. Further, the biases went away if the interviewer provided additional information, such as that the individual speaks English, is a hard worker, and came to the country legally.

“People can often appear like they’re thinking or acting ethnocentrically, but in reality, if it’s just based on misinformation or an incorrect stereotype that can be countered by information, then that’s very different from people lashing out against immigrants,” explains Wright. “Our interpretation is that there is not a real strong animus at the heart of these attitudes.”

Looking to the Dreamers

The rescission of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is a prime example of how values influence public opinion. It seems contradictory, but many people who strongly support ending DACA are also opposed to deporting the children in question. In this situation, the illegal immigrants were brought here by their parents through no choice of their own.

“People are very sensitive to how the question is asked,” said Wright. “You will get a more positive response if you ask about Dreamers than if you ask about illegal immigrants.”

Removing the Abstract

If Professor Wright’s premise is correct, attitudes about immigration rest more on whether the immigrants exhibit values aligned with public opinion. Value judgements, misperceptions, and commonly held stereotypes are much more easily addressed than deep-seated hatred and racism.

“The question for us is whether America, white people, are just fundamentally ethnocentric and prejudiced, and we’re saying no,” said Dr. Wright. “Some people are. A relatively small percentage of people are, and they’re not going away. In many ways, they are louder than ever, but that’s not most people. The American public is not as anti-immigrant as we are often tempted to believe.”

Are you interested in developing policy-based solutions to immigration and homeland security? American University’s School of Public Affairs Master’s programs help you build a career with a purpose. Visit http://www.american.edu/learnmorespagrad/ to learn more about AU’s Master of Public Policy or Master of Science in Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy.

Sources:

http://www.npr.org/2017/09/17/551392700/republicans-are-happy-trump-ended-daca-they-re-less-sure-about-deporting-dreamer

http://www.politico.com/story/2017/09/05/poll-trump-deporting-daca-dreamers-242343

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Avoiding the Gaps: Creating Healthcare Policy That Works

By The School of Public Affairs

The driving force behind most healthcare policy advocates is to maximize access and minimize cost. When evaluating and recommending policy, however, it’s essential to consider all of the implications and potential consequences. Even the most well-intentioned public policy can negatively affect some of those it is designed to help.

The Intent of the Medicaid Expansion

One goal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was to extend healthcare coverage to the portion of the population least likely to be able to afford health insurance. The ACA included a federal expansion of Medicaid funding to provide coverage to those living below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. For those with incomes above this line up to 400% of the poverty level, coverage was made affordable through premium tax credits. [1]

The Impact of Opting Out

The ACA did not account for states opting out of the Medicaid expansion. By assuming universal participation, the law’s wording unintentionally created a coverage gap for an already at-risk population. Individuals who would have been covered by the Medicaid expansion are not eligible for the premium subsidies, leaving them without coverage.

“Everyone gets subsidies if they qualify, but there’s a gap where people who are still low income don’t qualify for coverage because their states aren’t participating,” says Dr. Jocelyn Johnston, a professor in American University’s School of Public Affairs. “The extent to which people have to pay for healthcare out of pocket varies from state to state, so you end up with this inequality based upon where you live.”

In 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the ACA, but ruled that states could choose not to expand Medicaid, giving the governors the right to decide. States opting out forgo only the additional federal funds earmarked for expansion, rather than Medicaid funding they already receive.[2]

As of the Fall of 2017, 19 states have still chosen not to expand Medicaid coverage, leaving millions of adults not only not covered by Medicaid but also ineligible for the premium subsidies. [3]

“The individuals are caught in the middle,” says Dr. Jocelyn Johnston, a professor in American University’s School of Public Affairs. “It’s the state’s right to opt out, but it’s a burden on those affected.”

Looking Ahead

Despite the challenges the ACA has faced and the disparity it unintentionally created, there has been an evolution in healthcare policy.

“In terms of public opinion, we are reaching some agreement that we should have some overarching federal program to reach everyone,” says Dr. Johnston. “We have to keep experimenting and it’s one of the strengths of our system: we try different things and that’s opportunity to learn and do things better.”

The coverage gap created by the ACA demonstrates the importance of carefully weighing assumptions and wording to ensure that the intent of policy matches with the effect once implemented. With politically charged topics like healthcare, there may not be a second chance to get it right.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] https://www.healthinsurance.org/medicaid/

[2] https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/healthcare/news/2013/04/02/58922/10-frequently-asked-questions-about-medicaid-expansion/

[3] http://www.kff.org/uninsured/issue-brief/the-coverage-gap-uninsured-poor-adults-in-states-that-do-not-expand-medicaid/

Woman looks at the departure board at the airport

Countering Terrorism: Implications of the Laptop Ban

By School of Public Affairs

In a post-9/11 world, travelers typically comply with changing security measures without question or hesitation. The reasoning behind these security choices lies deep within policy practices implemented by Homeland Security. The recently ended U.S. laptop ban is an example of how the public experiences policy in action without necessarily having all of the answers.

The laptop ban on international flights with final destination in the U.S.

Beginning in March of 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security required enhanced security at several foreign airports for flights into the United States. The new regulations prohibited electronic devices larger than cell phones in the aircraft cabin, restricting laptops, tablets, game units, and other large electronic devices to checked baggage. Because this measure impacted ability to travel with laptops, it has been referred to as a “laptop ban.”

When first enacted, the ban affected flights from nine specific airlines to the U.S. from ten airports in the Middle East and North Africa. Tricia Bacon, PhD, Assistant Professor at American University’s School of Public Affairs, researches U.S. counterterrorism policy as well as terrorist and insurgent groups’ alliance behavior. She clarifies that while this ban may appear random, it actually represents a calculated move based on current intelligence about terrorists and potential plots.

“A lot of this comes from threats from the Islamic State,” Bacon says. “There was clearly concern specifically about airlines traveling from the Middle East and North Africa to the United States.”

The ban was a hassle for travelers. In addition to concerns about the risk of damage to checked laptops, this ban created a significant productivity loss for business travelers intending to work during a flight that easily could take more than ten hours. These negative repercussions were likely anticipated by policy makers within Homeland Security. According to Bacon, “The duration of the ban suggests that there was a counter calculation; that policymakers also had to consider the effect the ban had on the airline industry and for businesses in the U.S.”

The ban was lifted on flights to the U.S. in July 2017, despite being originally announced to run through October. “The ban would not have been lifted if Homeland Security didn’t think there were security measures in place to counteract the risk,” Bacon clarifies.

Why was the laptop ban implemented?

Intelligence and counter-terrorism experts assess threats, evaluate the impact of policy decisions, and implement policies to counteract terrorism. While it is not clear what information Homeland Security had before implementing the laptop ban, intelligence and security experts know that terrorist organizations have been perfecting their ability to place sophisticated bombs in laptops.

In February 2016, a passenger on a Somali jet detonated a device approximately 15 minutes after takeoff, blowing a hole in the side of the aircraft. Because the flight had not reached cruising altitude, the explosion fell short of destroying the plane. Instead, only one fatality resulted as the suspect was ejected from the plane in the blast. Investigators are confident that a bomb was hidden in a laptop.

Initial reports following the explosion suggested that the bomb had been undetected by x-ray machines, but surveillance footage points to insider involvement. Security tapes appear to show a laptop being handed off to the passenger in question after he had cleared security. Regardless of how the bomb was brought onto the plane, this incident highlighted the need for heightened security measures, especially at airports where the Islamic state has access.

Adjusting to terrorist threats

The laptop ban was just the latest move in the complex interactions between governments and terrorist organizations. In December 2001, Richard Reid, also known as the Shoe Bomber, attempted to detonate a device in his footwear during an American Airlines flight. Security measures were then introduced requiring travelers to remove their shoes for x-ray screening.

British police uncovered a terrorist plot in 2006 to create bombs in flight by combining liquids they had brought on board. Security agencies acted quickly, banning all liquids in passenger carry-on baggage, with the exception of baby formula or prescriptions. The ban was relaxed within two months, although restrictions remain in place more than a decade later.

Policies like these have been largely accepted as part of airline travel in the United States. Bacon explains that such blanket security measures aren’t simply reactions, but also carefully crafted responses. “When there is a non-specific threat, raising security is often intended to deter or delay the terrorists in their plot,” she says.

Was the laptop ban successful?

Measuring the success of the ban is more complicated than estimating how many plots were foiled. Bacon explains that the goal of security measures like the laptop ban isn’t always to prevent identical attacks, but rather to send a message. “Sometimes governments take this kind of action to alert terrorists that they know something, thereby causing the terrorists to delay plots or change their tactics, which costs them time and resources, and can raise terrorist groups’ concern about infiltration. It helps keep them off balance.” she describes. Counterterrorism is thus an ongoing process, requiring intelligence and policy experts to anticipate risks and respond appropriately.

Are you interested in developing policy-based solutions to combat terrorism and protect homeland security? The Master of Science in Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy, offered through American University’s School of Public Affairs, prepares students for a career in intelligence or homeland security. Visit http://www.american.edu/learnmorespagrad/MS-in-Terrorism-and-Homeland-Security-Policy.cfm to learn more.

Sources:

https://www.dhs.gov/news/2017/03/21/fact-sheet-aviation-security-enhancements-select-last-point-departure-airports

https://www.dhs.gov/news/2017/06/28/fact-sheet-aviation-enhanced-security-measures-all-commercial-flights-united-states

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/28/new-us-airline-security-measures-no-laptop-ban

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-35521646

http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/11/africa/somalia-plane-bomb/index.html

 

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How to Build a Compelling Application File for Graduate School

By School of Public Affairs

Building a compelling graduate school application begins long before you actually apply. As you consider graduate school, it is critical that you understand the importance of managing the application process. Learn as much as you can about components required, school-specific preferences, priority deadlines, and decision-making, including who will review your file and in what time frame. Here are 10 steps to building a compelling graduate school application file.

1.      Do your homework.

Learn as much as you can about the program before you apply, from the faculty and administration to student body to available support services.

  • Faculty and Administration
    Start with the faculty directory. Identify key faculty members in your field of interest and review their Curriculum Vitae (CVs) to learn more about their scholarship, teaching, and service. Look for experts and practitioners who are doing work in your prospective field so you can be sure your interests will be supported. Administrators (i.e., admissions officers) also can prove valuable in learning more about an institution’s graduate degree offerings including curricula and the application/admissions process(es).
  • Current Students
    Take advantage of opportunities to meet current students and learn about their experience within the program. While each cohort will be different, you will still get an impression of how well you will fit within the program. Ask why they chose this program, what they like most, and what suggestions they have to ensure your success.
  • Student Service Support
    Student services, such as Academic Advisors and Career Services, can play an important role in academic success, internship opportunities, and future employment. Find out what services are offered, level of support provided, and hours of availability.

2.      Learn about essential application file components.

Most application files for graduate school have comparable requirements. These commonly include:

  • Unofficial transcripts from all previously attended postsecondary institutions
  • Personal statement
  • Resume/CV
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Official test scores (i.e., GRE, GMAT)

Be sure to check with the institution directly for any additional requirements. For example, international applicants may be asked for additional test scores related to English proficiency.

3.      Pay attention to the deadlines.

While programs may accept applications on a rolling basis, priority deadlines are often promoted for applicants seeking merit aid consideration. Be aware that submissions received after the deadline may be subject to space and resource availability.

Deadlines for The School of Public Affairs (SPA) at American University include both Fall and Spring admission terms:

  • Priority-February 15: Master’s first round consideration for Fall merit awards
  • Priority-May 1: Fall deadline for international master’s applicant submissions
  • Priority-September 15: Spring deadline for international master’s applicant submissions
  • Priority-November 1: Master’s first round consideration for Spring merit awards

4.      Know your audience.

Find out who makes admission decisions. Admissions professionals may have different priorities than a committee of faculty members. At The School of Public Affairs (SPA) at American University, faculty-led admissions committees give each applicant’s file a thorough, holistic review. Successful applicants will demonstrate what they can add to the academic community, as well as their professional promise.

5.      Choose your references wisely.

Professors and employers are usually good resources for letters of recommendations. Recommendation letters are important, so take the time to visit with each of your references to discuss your graduate school and career aspirations. You may also consider sharing a draft of your personal statement to seek input and/or to better inform their letter. Finally, most recommenders appreciate your direction on what skill sets and attributes you hope they will speak to in their recommendation. Investing in selecting, informing, and coaching your references may considerably strengthen your application file and set it apart from others.

6.      Write a strong personal statement.

Your personal statement should reflect how you will fit within the program. Address what you want to study and why, how your experience has prepared you, and what you plan to do after completing your graduate degree. Be sure the statement is tailored to the specific school/department, it is succinct (1-1.5 pages, double-spaced), and, most importantly, is, indeed, a personal essay.

7.      Be sincere.

Write your application specifically for the school you want to attend. If the field you write about doesn’t truly interest you, that will come across in your application. Your references also should speak to how you will fit with the program.

8.      Give yourself prep time.

Most programs require admissions tests, and international applicants may also need to provide scores from English proficiency tests. Your scores may be important for both admissions decisions and merit aid consideration. Be sure to check with your schools/departments of interest to confirm what test(s) you need to take, the priority given to the test score(s) within an application file, and recommended test score thresholds.

9.      Position yourself for merit aid.

Start with all of the steps listed above, then make sure your application file is complete before the priority merit-aid deadlines. Proactively seek information from your graduate programs of interest about their merit aid allocation strategy so you can understand what they prioritize in determining merit, the types and levels of merit aid offered, and the timing for these important decisions to be rendered.

Graduate students are also eligible to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for consideration for Federal Loan options.

10. Get the answers you need.

Admissions professionals are available to help. The Office of Graduate Admissions (OGA) at The School of Public Affairs welcomes your questions.

  • Phone: 202.885.6230
  • Email: SPAapp@American.edu

 

 

 

The White House

“This is Not Normal”: The Impact of Presidential Social Media Use

By School of Public Affairs

On July 1, 2017, President Trump tweeted “My use of social media is not Presidential – it’s MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL.” While this is undeniable, Chris Edelson, JD, Assistant Professor in American University’s Department of Government says it also raises a host of questions about the dignity of the office and the impact of social media on policy.

“What’s different now is the president is posting things on social media that are embarrassing, dangerous, and potentially incriminating,” said Chris Edelson, JD, assistant professor in American University’s Department of Government. “It’s informal and has lowered the standards for what’s acceptable.”

Sending a loud message

With the continued increase in social media use, it isn’t surprising that presidential communications are leveraging new channels. What is becoming less and less surprising is how President Trump is using Twitter.

Rather than carefully worded, scripted posts, the president frequently shoots out off-the-cuff messages that reflect his personal opinions. Not only are these posts often filled with typos, misspellings, and misinformation, they appear to represent policy.

“I think Donald Trump’s argument would be that it allows him to speak directly to people, that every tweet he sends out gets attention,” said Edelson. While that’s true, Edelson questions, “is it necessarily a good thing?”

Eroding the prestige of the Oval Office

That Mr. Trump chooses not to censor his personal opinions when speaking as the president raises concerns for many.

He repeatedly sends messages that veer from what has been expected from a president – for example, retweeting white supremacists1 or sharing a gif that shows him hitting a golf ball that appears to knock down Hillary Clinton.2

He has retweeted crime statistics that were patently false, lending credibility to misinformation and unreliable sources. He called on NFL franchise owners to fire players for exercising their free speech, and threw in an insulting expletive for good measure.

Even before he took office, his bullying tweets led to death threats on a Carrier plant union representative and his family3.

Beyond the vitriol, his posts may have legal implications.

“I’d be worried if I were a lawyer representing Donald Trump,” said Professor Edelson. “He’s using it so freely to comment on the Russia investigation. His tweets about James Comey could be seen as intimidating a witness.”

Setting an alarming precedent

Not only are President Trump’s tweets often inflammatory and threatening, his use of Twitter to conduct foreign policy also raises concerns.

“There are national security issues here caused by the specific way in which he is using Twitter and the fact that people look to it now to see policy statements,” said Professor Edelson. “Because he is using his account to conduct foreign policy, somebody hacking it and taking control of the account could be very dangerous.”

The president’s comments about foreign leaders, adversarial nations, and terrorist attacks in other countries have stirred anti-American sentiment, even leading to speculation by North Korea whether his tweets equaled a declaration of war on that country.4

Moving forward

Professor Edelson contends that what is happening is not normal, but he concedes that this will be the new normal if people don’t do anything.

“Doing nothing means we’re okay with it,” said Edelson. “The concern is that this lowers the standards for what is acceptable.”

While Mr. Trump has declared his tweets presidential, some politicians, like Republican Congressman Justin Amash, have spoken up. Back on January 14 when President-elect Trump went on a twitter rant against Congressman John Lewis, Amash tweeted “Dude, just stop.”5

“A couple of years ago, no one would have talked to the president that way,” says Professor Edelson. “I think he was right, but the informality of his response isn’t good either.”

The responsibility may fall to Congress, the press, and the public to raise their voices – online and off – to decide the future impact of presidential social media use. The most effective answers are likely to come from the voting booth.


1 http://www.newsweek.com/trump-tweets-alt-right-leader-who-praised-white-supremacist-richard-spencer-650852
2 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/17/us/politics/hillary-golfball-trump-tweets.html
3 http://thehill.com/business-a-lobbying/309375-carrier-union-boss-gets-threatening-calls-after-trump-tweets-about-him
4 http://time.com/4955880/donald-trump-north-korea-tweet-war/
5 https://twitter.com/justinamash/status/820429521665093633?lang=en

White House in Fall

3 TV Shows with Misconceptions About Bureaucracy

By School of Public Affairs

There are few genres America loves more than a good political drama. From the Manchurian Candidate to Frost/Nixon, society revels in the backroom dealings and power struggles inherent in political office. For years, TV shows pedaling these intriguing stories have kept viewers on edge and made the political profession appear thrilling. But how do the shows stack up to the realities of D.C.? We’ve taken a look at a few shows to see where they fall short.

House of Cards

Frank Underwood’s charming Machiavellianism is so irresistible it almost masks his absurdity. Perhaps in Rome his vicious ambition would have fit in, but in 21st century America, committing two murders in two years would be enough to move him from the Oval Office into a square cell. While House of Cards injects its plots with real political struggles like appeasing labor union concerns over a new education bill, they are more often than not resolved in some form of brazen criminality that simply does not occur in real politics. Even the labor dispute is resolved when Frank Underwood goads the head of the union into punching him in the face. Although politicians have their fair share of heated debate, the days of political fisticuffs are over.

Scandal

Let’s ignore the impossible beauty of everyone on this show and head straight for the name: Scandal. Washington is fraught with political scandals: Hillary’s email server, The 2013 IRS debacle, the resignation of the Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs, these are only in the last few years. However, Scandal operates in a heightened universe where if Monica Lewinsky, Watergate, and the Bleeding Kansas election occurred in the same year, no one would blink an eye. The writers of Scandal take an issue of real concern and add in a heavy dose of conspiracy, romance and once again…murder. Many Americans believe political operators will do anything to get their guy or gal into office, even if it means breaking the law; Scandal plays on those beliefs. Like when Fitz is on the verge of losing the presidency but is saved by a surge of sympathy popularity stemming from his son’s death. Sympathy is sometimes used to bolster a candidate, but in this case, it was the result of a character named Rowan deciding that poisoning the president’s son was the only way to win the election. Washington may be rife with scandal at times, but it looks far different than this Hollywood adaptation.

The West Wing

Often viewed as the most accurate political program, The West Wing gave viewers a walking tour of the inner workings of the White House. True, compared to the other shows we touched on, this one is certainly more restrained. No crazy murder plots, not an egregious amount of affairs, but some faults remain. There’s not enough staff turnover, from 2000 to 2009 there were six press secretaries whereas C.J. held the position for seven years, and there are a ton more staffers in real life than the core group we see on the show. However, the biggest difference between The West Wing and reality is the idea that one good speech is all it takes to change opinion. President Josiah Bartlett solved the Israeli-Palestinian crisis with some military aid and a nice chat with Israel’s prime minister; if only things were so easy. Divisive issues like homophobia or gun control, are resolved in minutes. It works on TV because the audience likes the character and willingly laps up the Aaron Sorkin quips. In reality, politicians can be stubborn, ending up with gridlock and few legislative changes.

So maybe things happen slower in real life and tough problems aren’t solved through brief exchanges, but at least our politicians aren’t all unrepentant criminals.

 

Master Politics in the Classroom. Check out American University’s School of Public Affairs today!

Cropped shot of two businesspeople shaking hands during a meeting in the boardroom

Five Types of SPA Grads You Meet in DC

Written by SPA Staff

The diverse SPA graduates of our six Master’s programs enter the D.C. job market with in-depth policy and administrative knowledge along with their degree from a top 20 school. With that in mind, it’s no surprise our alumni achieve success at a wide range of jobs in the city. Here are just a few of the types of grads you’ll spot during your time in the District:

Private Sector Powerhouse

These SPA grads climb the corporate ladder in the private industry through hard work and determination. Why? Their addiction to fast-paced strategy and large-scale problem solving is a perfect fit for a corporate world that rewards quick thinkers who can let loose after a long day.

The Politician’s Apprentice

Some grads look to emulate the success of Muriel Bowser, an MPP grad who is the seventh mayor of the District of Columbia. You’ll find them gathering around Capitol Hill, tirelessly working for politicians they secretly wish to replace.

The Lifelong Learner

While some students can’t wait to break free from the burdens of school, others haven’t quite scratched their educational itch. These soon-to-be professors first earned their Master’s degree from SPA, one of the highest ranked programs in the country. They will be highly competitive applicants of Ph.D. programs across the country. If it seems like their ego is getting too big, just remind them that they will soon be grading papers by the hundreds.

Data-Mining Wonk

The technical experience offered at SPA is put to work daily by these data analysis mavens. They don’t stop at extracting evidentially backed conclusions, they help shape the numbers into functional policy recommendations. You’ll find these guys hanging out on online gaming forums and dominating D.C.’s raging X-box Live community.

The Noble Do-gooder

The SPA’s focus on leadership reaches all levels of the public and private sectors, and some graduates choose to use their know-how to make the world a better place. These guys loaded up on the applicable non-profit courses offered, and with their conscience as their guide work for and create organizations that help those in need. Don’t let the tie-dye and hemp fool you, even though these guys work for nonprofits, they still mean business.

 

Want to join the ranks or pave your own path? Check out American University’s School of Public Affairs today!

Hassan Aden

10 Jobs You Can Do with an MPA

By SPA Staff

1. Policy Analyst

Determine what effects policy decisions will have on the population they govern.

2. Research Associate

Use your research skills at a university or research institute.

3. CEO, COO, or CFO

Apply your management and development skills for high-level management positions. AU MPA grad Gwen Sykes is currently the CFO of the United States Secret Service.

4. City Manager

Help a city’s bureaucracy run smoothly and advise other government officials.

5. Budget Analyst

Ensure that budgetary plans are legal, accurate and will fulfill their designated purpose.

6. Program Coordinator

Oversee the daily operations of a program within a nonprofit or corporation.

7. Human Resources Management

Help create a positive workplace by enforcing fair standards and assisting fellow employees.

8. Nonprofit Fundraiser

Drum up financial support for a nonprofit with your networking abilities and charm.

9. Urban Planner

Improve a community by figuring out how best to utilize public land.

10. Law Enforcement

Be a leader in the criminal justice system. Just ask AU MPA grad Hassan Aden (pictured above) whose MPA propelled him to Chief of Police in Greenville, N.C.

 

Interested in one of these careers? Check out American University’s Master of Public Administration today!

Ivone Guillen, SPA/MPA ’17

Profile of AU MPA Student Ivone Guillen

By Ivone Guillen

As a soon-to-be second-year student in the School of Public Affairs’ MPA program, I’d like to share my story in the hopes of answering any questions you may have about the program. Everyone has a unique journey, and I hope that through mine you gain some knowledge that will help inform you in your graduate degree decision process.

First, a little background about me. I have been working with nonprofits for over seven years and my experiences have greatly contributed to my interest in organization management. I currently work at Sojourners, striving to mobilize people of faith around the issue of immigration and encouraging them to urge their members of Congress to enact inclusive, humane and just immigration policy solutions. At Sojourners, I’ve had the opportunity to develop my skills in campaigns, advocacy, communications and coalition building.

I chose to pursue an MPA degree because I wanted to gain new insight that would complement my experience and further strengthen my ability to create strong and effective management systems that are designed to fuel an organization’s efforts. I chose AU because of its renowned MPA program, faculty and extensive network. The MPA department has been welcoming, approachable and genuinely dedicated to its students’ success.

Attaining a master’s is especially important to me because I am a first-generation immigrant and am paving the way for my family to follow in my footsteps of pursuing higher education. As a DREAMer, the issue of immigration has always been part of my lived reality. Resolving it has always been a goal of mine. That’s why I chose policy analysis as my concentration. Through the concentration, I’ve learned that culture plays an instrumental role in shaping organizational dynamics and management styles. Thus, culture must be extensively analyzed before engaging in change. I also learned that all I’d read about the outstanding faculty was true and then some. They are very accessible and always willing to help clarify questions regarding coursework. Outside of the classroom, they’ve extended their support by helping to facilitate personal connections within their network—not a common occurrence at many universities.

But the faculty isn’t the only thing that contributes to AU’s highly esteemed MPA. Another major feature is the wide-ranging set of opportunities they offer for students to enhance their careers. AU’s career center has exposed me to a diverse set of organizations, which in turn have allowed me to expand my understanding of the kinds of opportunities that exist, complimenting my background in the process.

With the robust course and career offerings, as well as the committed staff in mind, I truly believe the program is preparing me for success in the future. It offers practical and pragmatic solutions to some of the most challenging management questions organizations face today and, in turn, gives me skills that I’m applying to my current work—always with the end goal of being an effective manager.

I am truly grateful to AU’s faculty and SPA for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to pursue an MPA degree. Thanks to the flexibility of the program and its committed staff, I have been able to successfully finish my first year of graduate school. I look forward to completing the remainder of the program.

 

Want to learn more? Check out American University’s Masters of Public Administration today!

elementary school teacher helping student in classroom

AU Study Finds Racial Bias in School

Do teacher expectations vary depending on the race of their students? A new study conducted by economists at American University’s School of Public Affairs in conjunction with the Johns Hopkins University Department of Economics found the answer, and it might surprise you.

In order to understand the importance of the study, recently published in The Economics of Education Review, you have to appreciate the real-world implications of teacher expectations. It’s not simply a thought in the mind of an educator, but an indicator of how well the child in question will perform. As study co-author Seth Gershenson said, “This is a big concern since teacher expectations likely shape student success, not just in school, but in life as well.” The team at AU took on this project because of the effects teacher bias has on a young student’s life trajectory.

Their efforts reveal that non-black teachers have significantly lower educational expectations for black students than black teachers do when evaluating the same students. This is a substantial discovery. It means that race alone is enough to generate middling expectations, and that black students are at a disadvantage when paired with non-black teachers. Taking a look at how the study was conducted provides more insight.

Gershenson, an assistant professor at AU’s School of Public affairs, and Nicholas Papageorge, a Johns Hopkins professor, utilized a nationally representative survey of U.S. 10th graders that asked two teachers per student how much education they expected the student to ultimately complete. Each pair of teachers evaluated the same student at the same time, one teacher was black and the other non-black.

It was ultimately found that, “a non-black teacher is about 30 percent less likely to expect that the [black] student will complete a four-year college degree than the black teacher,” said Papageorge, who is quick to caution against playing the blame game. “Bias is part of human nature,” he said, “but [the study] provides a place to start a dialogue between educators, policymakers, parents, researchers, and other stakeholders.”

And therein lies the crux of this study. Instead of pointing fingers, it brings to light a fundamental truth that pervades our schooling system, and provides concrete evidence to start a necessary conversation. Thanks to the dedicated scholars at American University’s School of Public Affairs and Johns Hopkins, we can now take steps to alleviate this overlooked issue and start building a better future for our nation’s students.

Want to influence the national discourse? Check out American University’s School of Public Affairs today!

Ward exterior and classrooms 010

American University Paves the Way: How Public Affairs Graduates Know Success

One of the true measures of a great academic institution is how its graduates change the world.

The School of Public Affairs has an 80-year history of graduating professionals into serving society at the highest levels – from The White House and the Secret Service, to members of U.S. Congress, federal agencies, and national nonprofit organizations.

The inaugural class of 80 students first met in 1934. Since then, thousands of students have met, learned, grown and prospered. Here we profile a handful of those SPA alumni who are making an impact.

Gwen Sykes, SPA/MA ’01

Gwen Sykes, SPA/MA ’01Gwendolyn Sykes has led financial operations for organizations that work on a variety of important issues, from the Ivy League to outer space. And she’s broken a few barriers along the way.

Currently the Chief Financial Officer of the United States Secret Service, Sykes guides resources and financial management, and has done so since 2012. Sykes previously served as CFO at NASA, overseeing a $16 billion budget and 500 finance professionals scattered across the country as the first African American female to hold that position. Prior to that, Sykes served as the first CFO at Yale University in their 300+ year history, as well as CFO at Morehouse College.

Sykes holds a BA in accounting from Catholic University and an MPA from American University’s School of Public Affairs, and credits her graduate studies with helping her build skills to drive her career.

“The School of Public Affairs provides a fantastic opportunity to build your personal leadership tool kit in order to foster a more responsive and dynamic organizational culture that will thrive in these challenging times,” Sykes said.

Muriel Bowser, SPA/MPP ’00

Muriel Bowser, SPA/MPP ’00Muriel Bowser’s career is a testament to her dedication to the people of Washington, D.C., most recently after being elected in 2014 as the seventh—and only the second female—mayor of the District of Columbia.

After graduating from the School of Public Affairs in 2000 with a Master of Public Policy, Bowser began a career in local politics, serving in a seat on DC’s Advisory Neighborhood Council. Elected Ward 4 Council member in a special election in 2007, she was re-elected in 2008 and again in 2012.

Bowser’s career is defined by her attention on enhancing the lives of residents District-wide. As chair of several key committees in the D.C. government, Bowser champions many social issues, from affordable housing to ethics reform in government.

Her efforts in Washington D.C. resulted in a number of awards and recognition, including the Democratic State Committee’s Legislator of the Year Award (2012), the Phyllis Campbell Newsome Public Policy Leadership Award (2012), the NoMa Business Improvement District Public Sector Award (2012) and the Alice Paul Award (2014) from the School of Public Affairs’ Women & Politics Institute.

Bowser, a native Washingtonian, credits her time at SPA with instilling a very practical skill that has helped propel her career. “I learned a great deal about using quantitative analysis to get better results in government,” she said.

Andy MacCracken, SPA/BA ’11 & MPA ’14

Andy MacCracken, SPA/BA ’11 & MPA ’14School of Public Affairs alumnus Andy MacCracken is no stranger to The White House. When President Barack Obama decided recently on executive actions to support federal student loan borrowers, he reached out to MacCracken.

“Right now, I’m surrounded by new graduates who want to improve the world – as teachers, public servants, and, like me, as non-profit leaders,” MacCracken wrote in a personal letter on The White House blog. “The action this President is taking is helping to make sure finances aren’t holding us back from achieving our potential.”

MacCracken graduated with a BA in 2011 and an MPA in 2014, both from the School of Public Affairs. He has long been a leader in the student-empowerment movement, from campus to the Capitol. Known to The White House as a voice for student empowerment, MacCracken was invited in June 2015 to provide an introduction for the president’s remarks on easing student loan payments.

In his time at American University, MacCracken developed the National Campus Leadership Council (NCLC), seeking to empower student leaders to influence public discourse. Currently, NCLC includes more than 450 student body presidents representing over 6.5 million college students.

MacCracken honed his skills as a leader, and developed the toolkit necessary to lead NCLC during his studies at SPA. “I developed a lot of NCLC from my desk in CCPS (Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies),” said MacCracken. “It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that a lot of the principles and strategies I learned from SPA Leadership, CMI (Campaign Management Institute), and PAAI (Public Affairs and Advocacy Institute) are deeply embedded into NCLC’s work.”

MacCracken credits his time at SPA with instilling a can-do attitude that has propelled his career.

“My classes in SPA were great, but it was the people that helped me grow outside of the classroom. We are a community of world-class minds and roll-up-your-sleeves-to-get-something-done leaders—something our national officials should emulate.”

Austin Estes, SPA/MPP ’15

Austin Estes, SPA/MPP ’15Austin Estes has a mind for data. His work with the Flamboyan Foundation creates and shapes family engagement programs through data analysis, research and project evaluation—all designed to help schools reach their family engagement goals.

Estes, a 2015 graduate from SPA, is a Florida native with a track record of supporting and organizing social change. Before joining The Flamboyan Foundation, Estes worked on both Rock the Vote and Invisible Children campaign with a focus on encouraging and inspiring students to become more civically engaged.

A Melbourne, Florida native, Estes attended Florida Atlantic University earning a bachelor’s in Psychology. He completed his Masters in Public Policy from SPA with a focus on national education policy.

Estes continues his work with the Flamboyan Foundation—his data analysis helping family engagement efforts in DC schools and his research helping educators work more closely with parents to support their child’s education.

Hassan Aden, SPA/MPA ’09

Hassan Aden, SPA/MPA ’09Greenville, North Carolina’s Chief of Police, Hassan Aden, says he uses his experience from his time at the School of Public Affairs “every day.”

With nearly three decades of experience in law enforcement, Aden earned his Key Executive Leadership Masters of Public Administration from American University in 2009.

His career is marked with achievement and advancement through the ranks. As a member of the Alexandria police force, Aden ultimately became deputy chief of police—patrol division, where he oversaw more than 200 sworn and civilian employees for the city’s 148,000 residents, and managed a budget of $22 million.

He also served as Police Captain over the largest police district in Alexandria, constricting crime rates to a nearly 50-year low, and Special Assistant to the Chief of Police, providing leadership on special police policy matters and strategic planning.

Most recently, Aden implemented an innovative plan that invited the community into the strategic planning and mission development process in the Greenville Police Department “to increase police legitimacy and as one of the first steps to fully engage police departments in community policing,” he said.

That focus on community is a significant thread that runs through Aden’s career. About his position as Chief of Police in Greenville, Aden said it “comes with a tremendous responsibility to deliver meaningful and high-quality police services to our community.”

And to handle the increased responsibility with more administrative and leadership duties, Aden credits his time at SPA with helping him for the politics of his leading role law enforcement.

“From day one, I was hooked and began to enjoy the immediate benefits of what I was learning. I was in a group of incredibly talented classmates and brilliant professors that prepared me for the grueling world of politics, policy and government administration that is now my daily life,” Aden said. “I look back at my career and I can identify many transformation points, none greater than when I joined the AU family.”

Congressman Jim McGovern, SPA/MPA ’84

Congressman Jim McGovern, SPA/MPA ’84Most of Congressman Jim McGovern’s (D-MA) fondness for his time at American University’s School of Public Affairs is tied to the people he met and relationships he forged.

“I’m proud of my time at SPA, and I’m grateful for the opportunity it gave me to meet some incredibly interesting people,” He said

McGovern was also introduced to the world of politics while studying at SPA. The combination of building his network and expanding his interest in politics history and government created a unique fit for McGovern. “I thought D.C. would be a good place to go to school,” he remarks. “For me, it was a great fit,” he said.

In his time at SPA, McGovern served as the head of the Kennedy Political Union (KPU) and participated in the College Democrats group – roles that put him in touch with notable folks such as Senator Howard Baker, Jr., Ramsey Clark, and Mo Udall.

“To be able to have the ability to not only read about these people, but to have them there on your campus was a great highlight of my experience at AU,” McGovern said.

McGovern became a presence on Capitol Hill, interning with Senator George McGovern of South Dakota (no relation). McGovern continued full time on the hill throughout graduate school as a senior aide for Representative Joe Moakley.

Ultimately, McGovern was elected and first sworn in as U.S. Representative for Massachusetts’s 3rd Congressional District in 1997 and is currently serving his ninth term in Congress. He serves as the second ranking Democrat on the House Rules Committee and co-chair of both the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and the House Hunger Caucus.

Recalling his time at SPA, McGovern said, “I believed then — as I believe now — that public service is an honorable calling. And I’m confident SPA will continue to prepare its students for meaningful careers for at least another 80 years.”

 

To learn about these SPA alumni — and many more —who are taking their experience at American University and changing the world, visit: 4ScoreSPA.