Norman Paterson School of International Affairs Marks 50 Years

By Dan Rubinstein

What do Canada’s ambassador to Italy, the Attorney General of Ontario, the Dean of Arts at McGill University, the president and CEO of the C.D. Howe Institute and the executive director of Oxfam Canada have in common?

They’re all graduates of Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs (NPSIA), which has sent more than 2,000 alumni into key positions in government, public service and the private and not-for-profit sectors across Canada and around the world.

This year, as Carleton celebrated its 75th anniversary, NPSIA also marked a major milestone: 50 years of contributing to international affairs leadership and policy development, which has had a profound and positive impact in this country and abroad.

“It was exactly what I was looking for,” Yasir Naqvi, Ontario’s attorney general and MPP for Ottawa Centre, said about his decision to start studying toward a master’s degree at NPSIA in the mid-1990s while he was working as an international trade lawyer.

“From a practitioner’s perspective, it was a really hands-on graduate program that I thoroughly enjoyed,” Naqvi said in a profile posted to the Faculty of Public Affairs (FPA) website earlier this year as part of a project to showcase 75 of the faculty’s most inspiring alumni. “I still rely on a lot of the things I learned.”

In her FPA profile, Alexander Bugailiskis, who was appointed ambassador to Italy in August, said that enrolling in NPSIA “was a fabulous opportunity to refresh [my] policy and theoretical underpinnings.”

Bugailiskis joined the foreign service and was posted to Ghana and Namibia after completing her NPSIA coursework but before writing her master’s thesis. She came back to Carleton to finish her degree, then went on to a series of high-profile positions, including ambassadorships in Syria, Cuba and Poland, before taking on her current role.

“It’s really humbling when you see Canada through other people’s eyes because you realize how highly regarded we are,” she says. “You also realize how fortunate we are. That’s why we need to give back.”

NPSIA is named after Norman McLeod Paterson, a businessman from Manitoba whose family company owned and operated grain elevators in Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan and a fleet of freighters on the Great Lakes.

Paterson was appointed to the Senate in 1940 by then prime minister Mackenzie King and held the record as the oldest active senator when he retired in 1981. Paterson was also a longtime member of Carleton’s Board of Governors, and his generous grant led to the birth of NPSIA in 1967, the first program of its kind in Canada.

“It’s also the top program of its kind in the country,” says Prof. Yiagadeesen (Teddy) Samy, an international economics and economic development scholar who has been on NPSIA’s faculty since 2003 and, in July, began serving as the school’s director.

“People who are involved in international affairs certainly know NPSIA and the contributions our graduates make, but at Carleton, our success is almost a well-kept secret.”

Although other Canadian universities have created graduate programs in international affairs over the past few decades, NPSIA’s interdisciplinary approach — bringing together fields such as political science, economics, law and public health — as well as the advantages associated with being based in the national capital, set a high bar.

Prior to completing the Master of Arts program at NPSIA, students are expected to develop and improve their proficiency in a second language. This skill melds well with other unique options, such as a combined program with the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law that allows students to earn an MA in International Affairs and Juris Doctor law degree in four years — a program geared toward students who are interested in international law and a career in either government or the private sector.

Most courses at NPSIA are taught by the school’s dedicated group of professors who are experts and active researchers in the fields they cover. Structuring NPSIA as a stand-alone unit with its own faculty instead of faculty drawn from other units allows it to tailor classes to the needs of students and remain responsive to shifts in the geopolitical landscape.

Both the master’s programs and a PhD program that was established 10 years ago attract the best and brightest students, says Samy. They learn both theory and applied skills — “the policy and practice at the same time” — and MA students can spend up to two semesters doing co-op placements.

These co-ops frequently lead directly to jobs with government departments such as Global Affairs Canada, Department of National Defence or Environment and Climate Change Canada, and springboard alumni into influential careers as high-ranking public servants, elected officials and other critical roles in domestic and international policy. Beyond government, NPSIA graduates also become diplomats, aid workers, lobbyists, bankers, corporate public affairs officers, academics, journalists, consultants and more.

“The faculty at NPSIA supported my professional development greatly by always encouraging me to ensure that my research was creative and valuable from a policy and political standpoint,” says Michael Agosti, a senior business adviser with the global law firm Dentons, who graduated with an MA in International Relations in 2011.

“I met many great strategic thinkers during my tenure there, both within the faculty and amongst my peers. The school was also an indispensable bridge to decision-makers in the Canadian foreign policy and political community. The truth is, you’ll get out of NPSIA what you put into it, so know what you want, stay energized and stay focused. It’s a process.”

Fellow alumnus Carl Karamaoun focused on international trade policy at NPSIA and now works as the international sales manager at EHF Inc., a trading company dedicated to helping American and Asian manufacturers export their products into hard-to-reach markets such as Latin America, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

“As a NPSIA student, I studied the economic and trade policies that governments negotiate and implement,” says Karamaoun. “Today, I confront these policies on a daily basis and see first-hand how they affect the world of international business.”

“Our mission,’’ says Samy, “is the training of students for leadership in a world in which the destinies of all countries are increasingly linked by considerations of conflict resolution and peacebuilding, international trade and finance, development, human rights, governance, environmental stewardship, and the sharing of human and natural resources.

“NPSIA is proud of its reputation for producing diverse, well-educated and sophisticated international affairs professionals.”

Although NPSIA is mostly known for its masters’ programs, the creation of a PhD program has been one of its most significant changes over the years.

Featuring three fields of study — International Conflict Management and Resolution, International Development Policy, and International Economic Policy — the PhD stream has sent graduates such as Gaëlle Rivard Piché and Eric Jardine into respective careers as a strategic analyst at Defence Research and Development Canada and a professorship in political science at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

“We’re constantly trying to assess, adjust and innovate,” says Samy, noting that relatively new specializations in security and intelligence, and in intelligence and international affairs, were developed to reflect the realities of our post-9-11 world. “We spend a lot of time thinking about what the next few years will look like and the skills that employers are looking for in our graduates.”

Staying in touch with alumni is a key part of that process, because graduates who are in the workforce can provide tremendous insight as to which parts of their NPSIA experience were most effective and valuable.

Last month, to help maintain these connections, and as part of NPSIA’s 50th anniversary celebrations, the school held a reception at the Rideau Club in downtown Ottawa, featuring a keynote talk by Manjit Minhas, the CEO and co-founder of Calgary-based Minhas Breweries & Distillery and a venture capitalist on CBC’s Dragon’s Den.

The long list of notable NPSIA alumni includes William Robson, the president and CEO of the C.D. Howe Institute, an independent not-for-profit research institute whose mission is to raise living standards by fostering economically sound public policies.

“My degree gave me a great background that enabled me to go in a lot of different directions,” Robson says about his time at NPISA in his FPA profile. “It offered insight into theories and history, but also the practical aspects of policy-making, which helped me understand what was going on around me.”

“I was coming from a very different intellectual and linguistic place than most of the people at NPSIA,” says fellow graduate Antonia Maioni, dean of arts at McGill, who came to Carleton after earning an undergraduate in political science at the French-language Université Laval. “But it was an incredibly rich community of students from different cultures, skill sets and aspirations. It changed what I thought I knew about Canada.”

Beyond their impact as teachers and researchers, NPSIA faculty are also regular media commentators and contributors who offer context and analysis on major national and international issues.

Professors such as Stephanie Carvin (national security and terrorism), Fen Hampson (Canadian foreign policy and global governance), Meredith Lilly (free-trade negotiations and international trade policy) and Stephen Saideman (civil-military relations and ethnic conflict) have become go-to experts for newspapers and broadcast outlets across the country.

“It’s hard to measure the value of this work,” says Samy, “but it’s one of the ways in which we have a societal impact and give back.”