Student and Alumni Experiences

Learn more about our students’ experiences and where the MAIS helped them go

Our students have been very successful in meeting their post-MAIS goals. Many have gone on to work with multilateral organizations, governments, and the not-for-profit sector internationally and across Canada, while others have gone on to further education, including PhDs and law school. Below are brief profiles of a few of our MAIS alumni that highlight how the MA in International Studies at SFU can contribute to a world of possibilities.

Jenna Dixon (MAIS 2015) currently works as a Verification Officer for the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, verifying the social, political and economic reincorporation of FARC ex-combatants and the security of rural communities in accordance with the Peace Agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC. She previously worked as a Field Officer for the UN Mission in Colombia, and as a Resettlement Analyst for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Costa Rica and Ecuador.

This work builds on the interest and expertise in Latin America that Jenna developed through her studies as an undergraduate and graduate student at SFU’s School for International Studies. During her undergrad, Jenna did an extended minor in Latin American Studies as well as an exchange term at the University of Belgrano in Buenos Aires and was involved with the Latin American Studies Student Union. In the MA program, Jenna focused one of her final extended essays on the Colombian refugee situation.

Jenna chose the MAIS program mainly because of the excellent experience she had with the SIS professors and staff while in the undergraduate program at SFU, and she highly recommends the co-op program for both undergraduates and graduates. She left SFU with a network of colleagues and former professors who continue to be of tremendous support as she pursues a career in international humanitarian work.

Tori Wong graduated from the MAIS program in June 2017. After completing her coursework and extended essays in August 2016, Tori relocated to Ottawa to take a co-op position with Global Affairs Canada, where she worked on files related to Canada’s international food security policy and multilateral partner organizations. She then took a co-op position with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), where she contributed to a policy initiative concerning natural resource development projects. Tori has since been ‘bridged’ from that co-op position to employment as a policy analyst in the same team at INAC. Her work includes policy analysis and research relating to improving Canada’s environmental assessment and regulatory regime.

For Tori, the MAIS program was a valuable experience because of the opportunities it afforded her to work with accomplished, multidisciplinary faculty and peers. As well, the option to complete co-op terms was a key factor that influenced Tori’s decision to enroll in the SIS for graduate school, as this was a springboard for work experience and career development.

Tori also holds a B.A. in International Relations from the University of British Columbia and has been a visiting student at the University of Victoria and L’Université Sainte-Anne.

Leanne Baumung graduated from SIS in 2012. During the last year of her MAIS, Leanne worked in a co-op position that was later extended into ongoing employment as a Gender Equality Policy Analyst with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA, now Global Affairs Canada) in Ottawa. In 2013, she went on to work for the Ministry of Education of Ethiopia as a Gender Advisor and later as an independent consultant with the German development agency Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) in Ethiopia. Leanne has also worked on issues of women’s political and economic empowerment in Burma (Myanmar) with non-governmental organizations such as Educational Initiatives, Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR) and Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA). She was lead researcher on a report entitled “Violence Against Women Prevention and Response Services and Access in Myanmar”, which has been published in both English and Burmese.

“I am grateful for the knowledge and skills base I developed as a student in the SIS program,” says Leanne. “In particular, my courses in Political Economy and my Independent Studies in Gender helped to shape my career path, giving me the critical perspective required to analyze persistent inequalities and injustices in development practice and to devise strategies to address them. Above all, the best part about my time in SIS was the bonds I formed with my brilliant and diverse classmates, many of whom remain close friends.”

Leanne currently lives in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where she works as a Gender Equality Advisor for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and has adopted two adorable Haitian street dogs.

Kirsten Pontalti graduated from the MAIS in 2010 with a final project that focused on children and youth in conflict-affected ‘fragile’ states. With three young children of her own, she planned to graduate and work for a development organisation. But mid-way through the program, the MAIS director encouraged her to pursue her doctoral studies (DPhil) at the University of Oxford. The DPhil was the beginning of a life-changing experience for her and her family, who accompanied her for a term at Oxford and ten months of fieldwork in Rwanda. In 2017, Kirsten successfully defended her dissertation “Coming of Age and Changing Institutional Pathways Across Generations in Rwanda”.

Following completion, Kirsten returned to Rwanda to share her findings. She is excited to now be working as an Associate at Proteknôn Consulting, a group of senior researchers and practitioners internationally focused on child and youth well-being. She is also pursuing further academic research related to children and youth, social change and conflict.

Kirsten is grateful for the camaraderie and support she enjoyed with her MAIS colleagues and professors as well as Ellen’s perpetually warm welcome! She also really appreciates that the MAIS gave her the practical skills and theoretical grounding she needed to succeed in her DPhil.

Philip Roy is a graduate of both the BA and MA programs at SFU’s School of International Studies, focusing jointly on international governance and security. He is a recipient of the SSHRC Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship, the Consular Corps of British Columbia Graduate Entrance Scholarship, and the Government of Canada’s Western Regional Director General’s Award for outstanding public service. Philip has worked in various capacities in Canadian federal government departments, specifically Global Affairs Canada and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. He is now a program manager at a private research institute focusing on complex systems, where his work primarily addresses the challenge of quantifying warfare and the underlying mathematics that serve as both the framework and predictive model for violent events. In collaboration with organizations all over the world, the institute’s modest goal is the betterment of humanity. He is honoured to be a part of that effort.

According to Philip, ‘The MAIS program honed the skills needed to be successful in my chosen field, while imparting the collective wisdom of its diverse, experienced faculty. After graduating from the program in 2015, the continuing support of the school and my cohort proved the lasting value of the degree’.

Pamela Thindwa (MAIS 2015) was born and raised in Malawi, also known as the “Warm Heart of Africa.” The growth of social media and the globalization of digital entertainment meant that she was exposed to many different perspectives. She became particularly interested in the global North-South divide and she developed a passion to work in international development.

Pamela is currently employed in the International Markets division of the Government of British Columbia’s Ministry of Jobs, Trade and Technology. Their mandate is to support BC’s economic development with an international platform. This work requires strong writing and analytical skills as well as the ability to work in a fast-paced environment. According to Pamela, she developed such skills and abilities during her time in the MAIS program. Pamela also credits the MAIS with expanding her understandings of international development. Furthermore, she appreciated having the option to complete two extended essays through which she could develop expertise related to two specific issues. The 12-month timeframe of the MAIS suited Pamela because she was eager to move on from the classroom and gain hands-on experience working in her field of interest.

Before the MAIS, Pamela earned a Bachelor of Arts in Economics at the University of Nebraska in 2012. At the University of Nebraska, Pamela served as president and vice-president of several student organizations including the Model United Nations and Omicron Delta Epsilon (an Economics Honorary Society). She also interned for developmental influencers such as the Center for Global Health and Diplomacy, for which she worked as an Assistant Editor for their quarterly publication.

Doug Olthof: ‘My experience as an MA student at SFU’s School for International Studies began in 2008, after what I imagine to be a common international experience: going out into the world as an intrepid young backpacker and returning home years later a committed, if often frustrated, development worker. I came to the School to learn how be more effective in that role and, thereby, to ‘make the world a better place.’ I left with a radically new conception of that world and my place in it.

The year-long MA program was intense, challenging and, by and large, a lot of fun. I formed bonds of friendship with a cohort of inspiring people who shared common humanitarian commitments born of strikingly diverse experiences. The faculty at the School demanded much of us, but rewarded us with carefully considered assessments of our work and guidance toward our academic and professional objectives.

It was during my experiences as a MAIS student that I found my feet as a scholar. After graduating, I set out into the world once again, but soon found myself back at the School for International Studies, this time as a Ph.D. student under Professor John Harriss. If the intensity of the MAIS had been akin to a 10,000m race, it had prepared me well for the marathon that is a Ph.D. Shortly after completing my Ph.D. in 2016, I accepted a position in Jasper, Alberta where I am working to establish a strategy for successful immigrant and refugee settlement.'

Alexis Carr graduated from the MAIS program in 2014 and currently works in Research, Monitoring and Evaluation for the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), an intergovernmental organisation focusing on learning for sustainable development. With an undergraduate background in English, history and liberal arts Alexis enrolled in the MAIS program after working for three years in rural Mexico as an English instructor and programme developer. A recipient of a Graduate Fellowship, Alexis was also awarded Graduate Research Travel funding to undertake original research in Mexico for her major project, and was subsequently nominated for the SFU Convocation Medal. Currently, Alexis supports the design and implementation M&E systems and action research projects at COL. Significant accomplishments include: the development of an empowerment framework, which has been used in more than five countries; authorship of a ‘Measuring Empowerment Toolkit’ launched by COL and UN Women at the 8th Pan-Commonwealth Forum in 2016, and co-authorship of numerous papers and presentations which have been presented at major global events and conferences. A lifelong learner, Alexis has gone on to do additional coursework in data analysis, research methods and survey design. She credits the MAIS program with providing a solid grounding in international development theory as well as practical research skills, both of which are essential to her current work.