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Human Rights Crimes Advisor Gains Critical Skills in Executive Master's in IR Program in DC

December 6, 2022

As a high school senior in suburban Syracuse, Heather Fischer took her first Maxwell School course in public affairs through a program called Project Advance. Today, she is enrolled in Maxwell’s executive master’s in international relations program in Washington, D.C., studying to gain a policy perspective to underpin her professional work fighting human trafficking and other human rights crimes in the national security space.

Heather Fischer Capitol
Graduate student Heather Fischer is the senior advisor for  human rights crimes at Thomson Reuters Special Services.

Fischer is senior advisor for human rights crimes at Thomson Reuters Special Services (TRSS), where she advises the company strategy to use data for good. Through federal contract work, TRSS helps inform U.S. government efforts to combat human trafficking, safeguard children from online sexual exploitation, pursue human rights violators, and promote women, peace and security.

“Holding perpetrators accountable and being a part of securing justice for victims and survivors of human rights crimes is about the most rewarding work I can think of,” says Fischer. “Seeing the resiliency and courage in some of the survivors I’ve had the privilege of working with is what fuels me.”

Fischer began that work at Love146, a nonprofit that combats child sex and labor trafficking worldwide. She gained the notice of Ambassador Cindy McCain, who subsequently enlisted her to serve as program manager at the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University. That position led to roles as special advisor for human trafficking at both the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Justice, before Fischer was tapped by the Trump administration to serve as the first White House special advisor or “czar” for human trafficking.  

“Suddenly, my issue, which was known but not well understood to most, became a top priority on the platforms of the nation’s leaders,” she says.

She’s hoping her master’s degree will provide valuable theory to guide her decision making. “Obviously, my time in government provided valuable public affairs experience, but I was really thrown into the deep end of the pool,” she says. “When I saw Syracuse was offering an executive master’s program in conjunction with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, I knew this would be a great opportunity to work on the theory around the intersection of national security and human rights.”

It has been even more valuable than anticipated. She says Mark Jacobson, assistant dean of Washington programs, and faculty “have taken me under their wing and encouraged and challenged me to stay in the arena in Washington, D.C., and continue to be a leader.”

“The Maxwell School has provided me with a network of support that I didn’t even know I needed,” she adds. “The experience has been priceless.”

By Renée Gearhart Levy

Published in the Fall 2022 issue of the Maxwell Perspective

Headshots of people featured in Connected in the capital package

Washington, D.C., is home to a thriving academic program and the greatest concentration of Maxwell School alumni outside of New York. Read their stories.

Amy McKeever Headshot

Amy McKeever ’06 is a full-time senior writer and editor for National Geographic. 

Andy Paladino Headshot

Andy Paladino ’18 B.A. (Geog) pairs geolocation information with vision data and other software to provide analytics for commercial and government clients.

Benedict, Ashan

The executive assistant chief of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department is pursuing an executive master’s degree in Maxwell’s D.C. program.

Gina Tette Headshot
Political Science student Gina Tette interned with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C. earlier this year where she assisted in research for the criminal case against the first defendant to be tried for the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Hugo Brousset Headshot

Hugo Brousset ’13 works with the World Bank’s Partnership for Economic Inclusion, focusing on social protection with a global scope.

Teena Curry Headshot

Teena Curry '07 M.P.A. is now a private enterprise office for USAID and says her Maxwell courses and humanitarian work with the Peace Corps prepared her for the public service role.

Zuleika Rivera Headshot

Zuleika Rivera ’15 B.A. (PSc/PSt) is the LGBTI program officer for the D.C.-based International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights.

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