Student Spotlight: Robyn Sundlee ’17 MPA


Yakima, Washington

What is your research focused on?

I am interested in cultural diplomacy and how nurturing local cultural and artistic traditions can spur development. This has led me to study the relationships between indigenous communities and states. In the Spring semester, I will be conducting qualitative research in Native Alaskan communities, examining their interactions with the United States Coast Guard in the Bering Strait. I hope to better understand how ways of life will be affected by rising sea levels and increased maritime traffic. I also have a passion for women's issues and will attempt to approach all research questions with a consideration of gender dynamics.  

How did you become interested in this research topic?

During my undergraduate education, I studied the tensions between indigenous minorities in Iran and the Iranian government. This sparked my interest in the relations between nations and states across the globe. When I embarked on my master's degree, I realized that I wanted to also examine these themes closer to home. The research I will be doing in the Spring is multifaceted, combining economics, history, international relations and environmental policy. These complex intersections and the oncoming seismic changes to the Arctic region are what make this subject so fascinating and important to me.

What has been the best part of your MPA experience?

The MPA program includes an abroad component where we learn about the policy challenges in a foreign environment. I chose Cambodia, and it was the experience of a lifetime. I was able to learn so much from an array of interesting and impressive people, all while living in gorgeous and thought-provoking environments. This was also when I bonded the most with my cohort—sweatiness and jet lag turned out to be a great recipe for fast friendships. Cambodia definitely challenged me and ignited my imagination.