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Good Idea

July 9, 2014

From Maxwell Perspective...

Good Idea

The pioneering Public Diplomacy Program was well-timed to serve the trends and challenges of international advocacy.

Back in 2005, MAIR student Aly Z. Ramji approached Dennis Kinsey, chair of SU’s public relations department, about taking a few PR classes.

Alongside his MAIR, “he wanted training to develop communication strategies and work with media,” recalls Kinsey.

Ultimately, Ramji completed the entire PR sequence and suggested to Kinsey and Matthew Bonham, then-chair of Maxwell’s IR program, that there was a market for this combination of training for students whose careers would influence public opinion in other countries.

Aly Z. Ramji ’06 earned a separate MAIR and MA in public relations, and proposed the program that now combines them as a graduate degree in public diplomacy.

This was essentially a frontier. A graduate degree in this new discipline — known as public diplomacy — was offered at only one other American university. There was no guarantee employers would value it. But Kinsey and Bonham could see the merit, and so germinated a program. “At every step — from our individual deans, to the University Senate, to the Board of Trustees — the reaction was, ‘What a great idea. Why didn’t we come up with this sooner?’” Bonham says.

This summer, Public Diplomacy enrolls its eighth class. Its 75 alumni work around the globe in foreign service, for NGOs such as the World Bank and Amnesty International, and for PR and media organizations.

Public diplomacy at Syracuse is not a joint degree, but rather two coordinated master’s degrees, IR and PR, earned in less than two years.

“From an employment standpoint,” Bonham says, “we felt offering two well-known degrees under the Public Diplomacy umbrella would give students a triple threat when it came to job opportunities.”

According to Josh Kennedy ’07 MAIR, global programs coordinator at Maxwell, the Public Diplomacy cohort has enjoyed quick employment outcomes, despite a recently sluggish job market. “The combination of their technical communications skills with training in international relations makes them incredibly competitive,” he says. “There are students who officially graduate in May but have already started jobs in March and April.”

“Countries, in effect, have brands and people are attracted to those brands.”
— Matthew Bonham, co-director, Public Diplomacy Degree Program

One distinction of SU’s program is Maxwell’s Washington, D.C., component. Students spend their last semester in D.C., working at full-time internships while participating in a weekly seminar conducted by Michael Schneider, an adjunct faculty member who spent 30 years working for the U.S. Information Agency and State Department.

 “The public dimension of diplomacy is so much more important today,” he says. “There’s so much more involvement by groups outside of governments that have a stake in issues that are transnational or international.”

The program is, in some senses, a response to the digital revolution, other trends in communications, and the growing awareness of “soft power” — “the idea that countries, in effect, have brands and people are attracted to those brands,” Bonham explains.

Eight years after earning his two (unaffiliated) degrees, Ramji is principal of Gamut International, a public diplomacy consulting firm with clients including diplomatic missions, NGOs, East African governments, and UN organizations.

“Doing just one of the degrees would not have done justice in my professional career,” he says, adding that the combined skills leverage his knowledge in ways little known in his arena. “Bridging communications and the political arena has allowed me to pursue my ambitions.”

— Renée Gearhart Levy 

This article appeared in the summer 2014 print edition of Maxwell Perspective; © 2014 Maxwell School of Syracuse University.

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