Senior fellows’ study group liaisons are ‘super-students’

Former Ambassador Suzi LeVine ’93 A.B. and Sc.B leads a study group at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs this fall.

As a student liaison for The Power of States, a Fall 2022 study group led by former Ambassador Suzi LeVine ’93 A.B. and Sc.B, Jimena Rascon ‘24 is learning to use her voice. “I am a Mexican woman … in a diverse community. Now, thanks to what I’ve learned from Suzi, I insert myself into a conversation rather than waiting.” With a goal of becoming a human rights lawyer, Rascon knows that using her voice effectively will benefit her professional growth. 

Each of this semester’s study groups (LeVine’s The Power of States, Humanitarian Considerations in Immigration Systems: Status Quo and Imagined Future, which Leon Rodriguez ‘84, leads, and National Security, Innovation, and the Congress, which Dr. Arun Seraphin leads) has two or three undergraduate student liaisons. Of her liaisons, LeVine says, “They’ve been invaluable in providing guidance about what will resonate with their peers and attracting students to the seminar and ancillary sessions, including breakfasts and lunches with some spectacular speakers.” 

Senior Fellows offer students at Watson, and across Brown, a tremendous opportunity to engage with leaders in the fields of politics, policy, diplomacy, advocacy, and more. At the same time, the Fellows who choose to come to Watson are eager to learn from our community and meet as many students as possible.  “Creating a liaison program made perfect sense as a way to more quickly connect our Senior Fellows with our excellent students, and to provide students an opportunity to work with, network, and learn from top practitioners in areas of interest to them,” said Watson Chief of Staff Kathryn Dunkelman. “The liaisons are making valuable connections for our Senior Fellows with various student groups across campus, helping to shape and refine the study groups, and learning valuable skills for future internships and careers!” 

Ben Frigon ‘22.5, with a Public Policy concentration, said, “One of the best reasons to attend the Watson Institute is to have personal interactions with some of the most creative and significant minds in policy making,” he said. “That’s what this opportunity has been for me…I’ve been in a study group or [served as] a student liaison every semester I’ve been here.” Such participation has made Frigon more empathetic to the different viewpoints and diverse backgrounds of students and speakers. “Being in these Socratic-style seminars to discuss policy and process has made me a better thinker,” he said. 

 As an IAPA concentrator on the security track, Salonee Singh ’24 hadn’t given much thought to The Power of States’ issues. “Domestic policy was in the background for me, so this course introduced me to being part of conversations at the local and state levels,” said Singh, who appreciated having the opportunity to hear from grass roots activists who championed the legalization of gay marriages. “They shed light on trajectories that aren’t always given so much attention… I learned how momentum is galvanized through these activist movements,” she said. 

In Fall 2021, Senior Fellows Tom Perez ‘83, Keith Harper, and Kakenya Ntaiya were the first to have liaisons, and the program has proved popular. Liaisons must have participated in a previous study group, and must commit to attending all five to seven meetings of a semester-long session. Applicants submit a short narrative explaining their interest, and are asked to rank their preferences. 

Singh wanted to experience the “other side of the study groups,” after participating in a study group last year with Perez, a former chair of the Democratic National Committee and former Secretary of Labor. “I wanted to work and be more involved at Watson,” said Singh, who called LeVine’s guest speakers one highlight of her liaison experience. With access to so many people in the private sector and different levels of government, LeVine “curates every session specifically and invites trail-blazing speakers,” said Singh.  

 “Suzi shared valuable career advice with me about working in a male-dominated business sector, and we get extra time talking one-on-one with guest speakers,” including Maryland State Senator Cory McCray, Rascon said. While Rascon took McCray – a state legislators’ panelist – on the campus tour he requested, they discussed their shared experiences and challenges of growing up in working class families. Rascon was excited to moderate the final session, which featured newly-re-elected Senator Maggie Hassan, of New Hampshire. 

Each liaison moderates one or more class sessions with the guest speaker(s) and participates in every session. “Salonee masterfully moderated the conversations among the panel of state legislators, asked salient questions, and managed the Zoom logistics,” said LeVine.  

“Ben and Jimena and I are all in different concentrations, and the more different disciplines in the study groups, the better they are,” said Singh, who also appreciated talking with LeVine about classes she took during her time at Brown, where she lived in Providence, and why she joined Microsoft. Singh plans to stay in touch with LeVine for mentorship and support.    

With a passion for technology, Frigon co-designed last semester NFTs, Blockchain, and Art, the first credit-bearing college course on non-fungible tokens, a part of blockchain technology. The grandson of immigrants, Frigon hopes to work to create decentralized digital identity services for the developing world. “I’m incredibly grateful to Watson for all the opportunities it afforded me to further my education and my research,” he said. “These lessons will carry on the rest of my life.” 

LeVine considers the liaisons’ contributions a key factor in the seminar’s success. “They are like ‘super-students’; they help deliver content while learning it more deeply. If I can be a tiny part of what accelerates or amplifies the impact of the students or student liaisons, I’ve fulfilled why I’m here.”