On October 4, 2019, four CREEES alumni who pursued careers in government and public service returned to the Farm to reflect on the role that the CREEES MA program has played in their professional lives. Michael McFaul (‘86), Martin Ryan (‘01), Paul Stronski (‘97), and Zachary Witlin (‘12) gathered in CREEES’s new home in the renovated Encina Commons complex to talk about their time at Stanford and their career trajectories with current CREEES students, faculty, and community members. In the minutes leading up to the panel, speakers warmly reconnected with their old professors and colleagues
“Coming out of 1992, every Russian program was a Russian program, and CREEES was one of the first programs to pivot away from being just a Russian program...by the time I arrived three years later, there were classes on Ukraine, on Central Asia, the whole gamut.”
- Paul Stronski, '97
Paul Stronski, a senior fellow in Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program. Stronski reflected on the unique breadth of the program, which was one of the first area studies programs to incorporate perspectives outside of Russia: “Coming out of 1992, every Russian program was a Russian program, and CREEES was one of the first programs to pivot away from being just a Russian program...by the time I arrived three years later, there were classes on Ukraine, on Central Asia, the whole gamut.”
Martin Ryan, Deputy Director at the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID), discussed how the interdisciplinary nature of the MA degree is crucial in training Foreign Area Officers, cultivating the language skills and cultural knowledge to be area specialists who can advise senior military leadership. Ryan stated that his time in the program represented “the most important point of [his] preparation” to becoming such an officer.
Zach Witlin, a senior analyst at The Eurasia Group and a former Alfa Fellow, discussed how his time at CREEES set him on a path in political risk advising. Witlin emphasized the value of the interdisciplinary nature of the area studies degree, that allowed him to augment his background in political science and policy with a deep knowledge of history, language and literature. Witlin stated that in any internationally-focused career, “relationships are everything, and it is much easier to form a relationship if you have common references in language and culture."
“Without question, if you are interested in government work, two things really matter: history and foreign languages…expert knowledge of a region is invaluable.”
- Michael McFaul, '86
Former Ambassador to Russia and current Professor of Political Science and Director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford, Michael McFaul (MA ‘86) echoed the sentiments of the other panelists and framed his time at CREEES as essential for his career in public service and academia. McFaul asserted, “Without question, if you are interested in government work, two things really matter: history and foreign languages…expert knowledge of a region is invaluable.”
The importance of area studies programs and the knowledge and language skills they cultivate for careers in public service came through strongly in the session. The panel not only allowed participants to reflect upon and share their memories of their time at CREEES, but it also offered current students the opportunity to connect with CREEES-niki who have taken paths they themselves are embarking upon.
On the occasion of our 50th anniversary, we asked alumni to reflect on their time at CREEES and the impact it has had on their lives since. In their responses, our alumni shared fond memories of faculty, stories of the area studies community, travel tales, family updates, and developments in their professional lives. Visit the Alumni Perspectives page to read more.