SPIA: More than Just a Liberal Arts Degree

By Patrick Jameson Cunningham


The School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia has an incredibly diverse student population. When I walk into a class, I never know who to expect to sit next to. On Tuesday it’s a young lady from Australia, and on Friday I find myself discussing world politics or strategic intelligence with a Nepalese foreign national who was in Egypt for the Arab Spring and experienced the revolution first hand while protesting with the Egyptian youths. As for myself, on the outside I am the typical student – I am middle class, I attend class, I play rugby, and I have had the fortunate luck to become an ambassador for the best school on campus: SPIA. But, I have a dynamic that makes me just as diverse, if not more so, than the rest of the population.

I am the less than 1%. Most people do not understand this statement. Most Americans would have no reason to understand. When you are a part of a lifestyle that less than 1% of the population ever chooses to take part in, it is unlikely that others will understand your sayings. But my future profession is discussed every single day in almost every single international affairs course found in SPIA. For the last three years (going on four), I have taken part in Air Force ROTC, and between my second and third year, I attended Field Training. Following Field Training, I signed a contract for four years to serve active duty, and more recently, I committed to upping my commitment to six years. Needless to say, my college experience has been different than the average kid attending UGA.

So at this point in the blog post you are probably sitting here wondering, what point does this kid want to make? Well, I’m working on it; stay tuned!

Being a student in one of the best International Affairs programs in the nation has been incredibly eye opening. I have heard lectures on subjects such as strategic intelligence; the science of what is war, terrorism, and genocide. The list goes on and on. Each of these subjects addresses topics such as diplomacy, world politics and economy, and eventually foreign policy. However, unlike the rest of the students around me, myself, as well as the other Cadets in SPIA, are not discussing hypothetical issues that other people deal with and decide for our country. We are discussing matters that will directly affect our lives in the not so distant future.

The education I receive every day helps me to understand the world around me, and it helps me to understand what issues will push me in different directions during my career, whether that may be the next six years or twenty six years. SPIA has helped my peers and I understand why decisions were made, whether they were successes or failures, and ensured the next generation of leaders that graduates from SPIA who enter the work force as foreign service agents, analysts, and public servants are better equipped and more prepared to make decisions for our country in the future. I know my peers are going to push our country further to be better on the world scale than ever before, and I know that they’re going to make sure not to play with the lives of my brothers and sisters in arms.

The School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia is more than just a liberal arts degree where students will move on to academia or a professional career; SPIA is shaping the future of the United States and my own personal life. These students are not just earning some cookie cutter degree; they’re earning the knowledge, skills, and understanding to ensure the future of our country is just as bright and shining as that city on that hill we always talk about.