Southeast Students Spending Spring Break Studying Global Issues at CSIS


Thirty Southeast students convened a week-long experience beginning Monday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

After their first full day at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., Monday, Southeast Missouri State University students Michaela Gaskins and James Trent Waltz were energized by their experience, saying the think tank is opening a door  to help them better understand the complexities of U.S. foreign policy.

“After just one meeting with CSIS, I have had a complete paradigm shift with regards to how I view the world,” said Waltz, a junior psychology and chemistry double major from Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

Gaskins and Waltz are among 30 Southeast Missouri State University students and two faculty members who are spending their spring break this week in the nation’s capital, participating in the annual Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Think Tank in Washington, D.C.

As part of this year’s four-day seminar, the students are engaged in discussions about cybersecurity and cyber defense, global food and nutrition, U.S. policies on Africa and China, human rights at home and abroad, and the Seven Revolutions which focus on leading global changes for the next 30 years.

“My biggest takeaway wouldn’t be any particular fact, but rather the new way I can view the world from the perspective of someone whose job it is to condense all of the world’s complexity into digestible policy suggestions,” Waltz said. “CSIS starts with the idea that the U.S. has certain goal and objectives, and that those objectives can be categorized into seven different areas known as the Seven Revolutions. This way of thinking about the world, and the place our country has in it, has reshaped the way I look at things that I might read about or see in the news.”

For many of the students, the plunge they’ve taken this week is a deep dive into political global issues that shape the current economic and political landscape.

“Before approaching CSIS, the words ‘foreign policy’ were very intimidating to me because I was unaware of the term itself and how it affected me,” said Gaskins, a junior social work major from Wardell, Missouri. “Luckily, within the first couple of minutes after joining CSIS, I realized that you do not have to be an expert in foreign policy to understand the impact that it has on the whole population.

Students participating in CSIS this week gathered on the steps of Dempster Hall before leaving for Washington, D.C.

“The CSIS speakers and mentors were amazing at breaking down the material we covered on site and elaborating on topics that any major or minor would be able to understand,” she said. “This experience has allowed me to understand why our country makes the decisions it makes and how difficult it is to make rational decisions on such short notice.

She continued, “I have gained a massive amount of knowledge just within my first day. I look forward to coming back to CSIS.”

Southeast is just one of four institutions nationally selected to partner in student seminars with CSIS and is the only university that participates in a week-long program. The think tank is made up of scholars and board members who advise the federal government on significant social, economic, environmental and political global issues. CSIS experts hold extensive credentials in the public and private sectors and offer a unique perspective on global issues based on their firsthand experiences in the policy world. They are often asked to advise presidential administrations and Congress regarding public policy.

“This is a wonderful program, as it allows our students to closely interact with some of the world’s leading researchers in an informal round-table setting,” said Dr. Willie Redmond, professor of economics, director of Southeast’s International Business Programs, and the project leader for Southeast’s CSIS program. “Over the years, we have been the only university to participate in a week-long educational program with CSIS. There is no doubt that the exceptional performance of our students is the reason why we keep getting invited back. I am always so proud to hear how impressed the people at CSIS are, as they always compliment me on the knowledge and professionalism of our students.”

The students attending are enrolled in the UI498 Senior Seminar course, which allows them to earn course credit for their participation. The research-based course revolves around a detailed preparatory study of the Seven Revolutions — global trends projected to significantly impact the world. In addition to the seminar at CSIS, students will present their research to the campus and larger community on April 17 at Southeast’s Student Research Conference.

Emma Knight, who participated in the trip to CSIS last year, recalled her experience at the think tank.

“Our 2018 seminar covered a wide array of topics and issues. We heard about global health policy and concerns, technology policy, the political economy, global food shortages and more. I would encourage all students to apply for this program. The topics covered at the seminar are so broad and cover any interest imaginable. Not only does CSIS help build your resume, but it gives you a chance to ask important questions to professionals in the field. The knowledge and information gained on this trip is more than worth it,” said Knight.

Students must apply for the CSIS program, which requires one letter of recommendation and the names of two other references. Each student must have a minimum 3.0 cumulative grade point average and a minimum of 60 credit hours at the start of the spring semester. Students must also demonstrate leadership activities and academic excellence.

Students are selected for the trip by Southeast’s president, provost and deans and are eligible for the CSIS Endowed Scholarship, The White Oak Kennett, MO CSIS Scholarship, John and Betty Glenn CSIS Scholarship, and the Erik Peterson CSIS Scholarship. The Cape West Rotary Club and The White Oak also contribute to this program. Students will be accompanied on the trip by Redmond and Dr. Missy Nieveen-Phegley, professor of English and director of composition and assessment at Southeast.

Southeast Students Participating in the 2019 CSIS Think Tank:

  • Renee Bailey, a senior social work major of Perryville, Missouri
  • Andrew Bathon, a senior cybersecurity major of St. Louis, Missouri
  • Eli Bohnert, a junior communication studies major of Perryville, Missouri
  • Simon Brown, a senior social studies education major of Hayti, Missouri
  • Ian Cameron, a junior history and political science double major of Cape Girardeau, Missouri
  • Conner Dittlinger, a senior philosophy major of Benton, Missouri
  • Nicholas Fuller, junior hospitality management major of Kennett, Missouri
  • Mareea Gaines, a senior psychology major of Edwardsville, Illinois
  • Michaela Gaskins, a junior social work major of Wardell, Missouri
  • Dominick Gillette, a junior corporate communication major of St. Ann, Missouri
  • Gretchen Hanlin, a senior early childhood education major of East Prairie, Missouri
  • Robert Hearnes, a senior philosophy and English double major of Charleston, Missouri
  • Emily Hoffmeister, a junior social work major of Fenton, Missouri
  • Justin Jacobs, a junior accounting major of Barnhart, Missouri
  • Zoey Logan, a senior communication studies major of St. Robert, Missouri
  • Elizabeth Mack, a sophomore hospitality management major of Springfield, Illinois
  • Justin McCulley, a senior middle school education major of Doniphan, Missouri
  • Sarah Monteiro, a first-year graduate student with a major in international business of Jackson, Missouri
  • Liam Ohlendorf, a first-year graduate student with a major in English, professional writing option, of Amboy, Illinois
  • Halley Olveda, a first-year graduate student with a major in accounting of Cave-In-Rock, Illinois
  • Rachel Orf, a senior business economics major of O’Fallon, Missouri
  • Casondra Prock, a senior historic preservation major of Mansfield, Missouri
  • Joel Ricker, a senior physics major of New Carlisle, Ohio
  • Marlee Russell, an English, literature major of Herrin, Illinois
  • Taylor Shivelbine, a senior physics education major of Cape Girardeau, Missouri
  • Heather Smallwood, a senior international business major of St. Louis, Missouri
  • Mannat Varshney, a senior global cultures and languages major, with options in global studies and foreign language of Pune, India
  • James Waltz, a junior psychology and chemistry double major of Cape Girardeau, Missouri
  • Lauren Wood, a junior middle school education major of Campbell, Missouri
  • Grace Ziehm, a senior global cultures and languages major with options in global studies and foreign language of Creal Springs, Illinois