If you are interested in politics-domestic or global-and if you crave the excitement of electoral competition, high-wired campaigns, and policy making, you can hardly find a better location than Fairfax, Virginia. The School of Public & International Affairs (SPIA) at VIU is relatively young, yet from its opening, its two programs of Masters in International Relations (MIR) and Masters of Public Administration (MPA) were set to take full advantage of this opportune location and its immediate access to the three levels of US politics: federal, state, and local.
VIU is located just minutes away from the US capital, which allows students easy access to Congress, all federal government institutions, more than 350 policy think tanks, and the headquarters of major multinational organizations (such as the World Bank and IMF). In the past year, many of our faculty and students attended academic conferences and workshops at some of these institutions, and a number of our students will be pursuing policy-related internships in the capital. Next fall, most of SPIA’s new faculty will be coming from these top institutions. In terms of state politics, Virginia has emerged as a key battleground state in the last two elections. Major demographic changes in Northern Virginia in the last decade have significantly altered the political nature of the commonwealth, bringing a realignment in state politics and turning Virginia into one of the most hotly contested swing states in the nation. This started in 2008 when Barack Obama won the state by 7% over John McCain, and reached a peak level in 2012 when Virginia again became one of 13 key states where the result was to be decided by the smallest of margins, less than 4%. In a state where every vote can make a difference, the intensity of the electoral campaigns in terms of on-ground volunteer effort, get-out-the-vote mobilization, and public appearances by the President and his challenger is momentous – presenting our students with a lot of opportunities to directly observe and participate in these practices of the political process. For those specifically interested in organizing campaigns, running for office, and working on the electoral and media side of politics, the battleground status of the state provides a key unique element for an overall US-based educational experience.
Finally, in terms of local administration, VIU is situated in one of the most affluent, efficient, diverse, economically bustling, highly educated, and forward-oriented states in America. Fairfax County is an over-achiever in a lot of areas: with an unemployment rate of less than 4% (half the national average), the county essentially offers employment to everyone who seeks a job. Fairfax County has the largest concentration of technology jobs of any major US market, receives billions of dollars in US government contacts every year, is home to 10 Fortune 500 company headquarters, and has recently been voted “One of the great economic success stories of our time” and “One of the most desirable places to live and work in the United States.” In addition to being at the cutting edge of economic development, the county is also exceptional in its public policy administration.
As the SPIA expands, its Public Administration Program will partner with Fairfax County and its various departments to offer SPIA students hands-on experience and internships at the county level. This will expose our students to some of the best administrative and policy-making practices in the field, and will help them establish valuable professional ties and networking opportunities for the future. In a nutshell, our special location makes the SPIA degrees even more exciting, hands-on, and valuable. Written by Dr. Klara Bilgin.