Rebecca TeKolste (center) with recent alumna Sarah Gerstein (left) and classmate Ellen Chapin (right).
When you visit for admitted students day in spring, Jackson Director Jim Levinsohn says, “this is a first name kind of a place.” He thinks of the community of scholars as among Jackson’s greatest strengths. And so far that attribute has held true in all of my academic experiences. I have worked with renowned history, statistics, and management professors who insist I call them by their first names. But I think that the strength of the Jackson community lies not in its world-class professors but in its student body.
The ability of our students to invest in one another—not despite our differences in background but because of them—is what makes Jackson so fundamentally special. You’ll hear that we come from all over the world and from development, military, public sector, and other diverse backgrounds, but it is not our resumes that make this place unique. Yes, we spend hours a day in the lounge working together on problem sets, discussing policy options in Syria, and offering distinct perspectives on the role of the public sector in regulating the internet based on our experiences in our countries of origin, but the Jackson community is intensely more personal. We are each other’s weekend social plans, birthday toasters, and support systems when life goes awry.
In more formal ways too, we create community through Jackson-sponsored activities. Supported by staff, all of these initiatives originate from the student body. Whether it be community-wide potluck dinners or our Friday evening Global Affair where we to discuss topics as technical as Lebanese politics or as lighthearted as “Global Affairs Trivia,” the spirit of community is one that we’ve tried to enrich as students here. We take a cohort-wide trip at the beginning of each year to encourage a sense of community and reflect on what we as a community want out of our program. We invest in our community of peers because each curious, passionate individual at Jackson has a lot to learn from the other curious, passionate Jackson students with expertise in different areas.
What I’ve personally gained the most out of the program is in conversation with people from different personal and professional backgrounds from my own. In addition to learning from students from origins across the globe, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to coordinate a podcast series about U.S. civil-military relations with Army Captain & Downing Fellow Will Wright with the Yale Journal of International Affairs. In this series, we talk to incredible representatives of an industry I fundamentally don’t understand, from generals to journalists to the director of the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point. Through this podcast, I have had fascinating conversations which expanded my perspective of American foreign policy with people who I would have previously been terrified to approach. The success of that podcast series, as well as all of the other formal and informal activities I’ve participated in through Jackson, have resulted from the diverse passions and dedication of students across the program.
The bottom line: Jackson isn’t incredible just because of its faculty and resources. You can find funding and advisors at other schools, too. In addition to those aspects, Jackson’s sense of community and the support the students provide each other in academic, professional, and personal pursuits have made my experience at Yale one I cherish.