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Watson Institute appoints new graduate, undergraduate program directors

Watson leaders discuss future transition to school, what brought them to Brown

<p>These new appointments come as the Watson Institute prepares to transition into a school similar to the School of Engineering or the School of Public Health.</p><p>Courtesy of Anya Bassett and David Blanding</p>

These new appointments come as the Watson Institute prepares to transition into a school similar to the School of Engineering or the School of Public Health.

Courtesy of Anya Bassett and David Blanding

In September, the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs announced four significant leadership changes for the fall semester, including new directors of the Master of Public Affairs program and the undergraduate International and Public Affairs concentration.

These new appointments come as the Watson Institute seeks to transition into a school similar to the School of Engineering or the School of Public Health. The Academic Priorities Committee is currently considering a proposal for the transition.

Ed Steinfeld, director of the Watson Institute, believes that establishing a School for International and Public Affairs at Brown would have many positive effects for existing programs.

“Becoming a school is about increasing the visibility, not just of Watson, but of the various units we work with and cooperate with,” Steinfeld said.

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David Blanding MA’09 PhD’13 replaced Susan Moffitt, professor of political science and International and Public Affairs, as the faculty director of the Master of Public Affairs program. Brown’s MPA program is a one-year accelerated Master's program.

Blanding joins the University as an associate professor of the practice of International and Public Affairs from the Government Accountability Office, where he conducted research and oversaw professional development. He previously taught political science at McDaniel College and American University. 

Blanding emphasized the institute’s mission of “seeking to promote a just and peaceful world through research, teaching and public engagement.”

“What I see us doing in the MPA program is producing the next generation of global leaders who will recognize those kinds of ambitions,” he said.

Steinfeld believes that Blanding’s past experiences will make him an integral faculty member. Blanding “was hired initially because we needed his … academic expertise (and) professional expertise,” he said.

Blanding is no stranger to the Brown community — he received a Master’s and a PhD in political science from the University in 2009 and 2013, respectively.

Though Blanding has had an interdisciplinary career, from academia to civil service, his true passion is as an educator. “I have this zest for teaching,” he said, “and while it can be challenging at times, the students evolve over time. And you, as a professor, evolve as the knowledge in your field is evolving.”

“I want people to look out at the MPA program at Brown and say, ‘Wow, it’s interesting to me that so many of the people (who) have solved these major problems for us’” studied at the University, Blanding said.

Also joining the Watson Institute is Anya Bassett, who assumed the role of faculty director for the undergraduate International and Public Affairs concentration. Bassett previously worked at Harvard, where she was the director of studies in the undergraduate Social Studies concentration.

Bassett said that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, she felt restless in her career. When she received an email from Steinfeld asking if she would be interested in applying for the faculty director position, she decided to do so.

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Bassett was acquainted with Steinfeld and the IAPA program — he had reached out to her when he was developing the new IAPA concentration, which was unveiled in 2019, asking for her “advice on interdisciplinary programs” given her wealth of experience, Bassett said.

“When I interviewed, I was impressed by the warmth of everyone I interacted with,” Bassett said in an interview with The Herald. “I interviewed on Halloween last year, and (two of the interviewers) showed up in costume. My immediate thought was, ‘Oh, I want to work here.’”

While Bassett enjoys conducting research and teaching, she said her favorite part of the job is interacting directly with undergraduate students.

“I truly love to work with undergraduates as they figure out who they are, what they care about and how they want to live in this world,” she said. “It’s really exciting to be working with Brown students who are so curious, kind and thoughtful.”

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Steinfeld told The Herald that Bassett was just what the IAPA concentration needed. 

“We wanted somebody who had devoted their career to teaching and advising,” he said. “Anya Bassett just totally wowed us.”

While she is new to Brown and the Watson Institute, Bassett has many hopes for the institute’s future.

“A core value for me is that every student has a chance to interact on a meaningful level with faculty in the classroom (and) also outside the classroom,” she said. “So I’m thinking about how we do that well, and I'm also thinking about how we can support each student as they determine what they want to do with the flexibility that's offered in the IAPA concentration.”

Additionally, Associate Professor of History Neil Safier took over as director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, replacing Professor of Africana Studies Patsy Lewis. Jeff Colgan, professor of political science and International and Public Affairs and director of the Climate Solutions Lab, became the acting director of the William R. Rhodes Center for International Economics and Finance. He replaced Professor of International Economics Mark Blyth, who is on sabbatical for the 2023-24 academic year and will reassume the position upon his return.


Talia LeVine

Talia LeVine is a photographer for The Herald and a University News Senior Staff Writer focusing on Admissions & Financial aid. She is a first-year from Seattle, WA studying Political Science with an emphasis on human rights.



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