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Student Spotlight – Ryan Pensyl, MPA/MA IR dual degree student

Ryan Pensyl added the MA IR degree after beginning his MPA studies last year. He will graduate in July 2019, earning two degrees in two years.

Ryan Pensyl
Master of Public Administration (MPA)
Master of Arts in International Relations (MAIR)

Academic and Professional Background
I am originally from Shamokin, Pennsylvania and graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point where I majored in Political Science.  After graduation, I served as an Army officer in Military Intelligence for 11 years. 

Why did you choose the Maxwell School?
I chose to attend graduate school at the Maxwell School for three reasons.  First, I chose the Maxwell school because of the reputation of the program.  I had some West Point classmates who completed the MPA program here and they recommended the program to me.

Second, the Maxwell School’s 1-year MPA program was attractive to me because I wanted to get back out into the working world after graduate school.  Somewhat ironically, I chose to add on the MAIR program (the dual MPA/MAIR program takes only 24 months to complete) after arriving on campus as an MPA student.

Lastly, I chose Syracuse University because it is located reasonably close to my family home in Pennsylvania.

Do you have a concentration or particular track of studies?
I am pursuing a Certificate of Advanced Study (CAS) in Security Studies.  The classes in both the MPA and MAIR programs fit within this certificate program well.

What classes are you taking now?
U.S. Intelligence Community: Governance and Practice with Professor Robert Murrett.
Political Leadership with Professor Peg Hermann.

What classes are you taking next semester?
Comparative Foreign Policy with Professor Peg Hermann
Planning and Managing Public Infrastructure with Professor Laura Steinberg

How did your professional background affect the coursework that you have chosen?
I didn’t initially plan on pursuing national security studies when I got here, but after I met the faculty involved in security studies (especially Professors Robert Murrett and William Banks) and became familiar with the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism (INSCT) I changed my mind and decided to study national security.

Can you tell us about a project or assignment that you have worked on which particularly stands out to you?
In Professor Hermann’s Political Leadership class each student conducts a three-part study on a political leader of their choosing.   I chose to study President George W. Bush.  One part of this study is conducting an analysis of speeches and interviews that our chosen political leader has given to determine their leadership personality.  I am working on that paper now.

What do you hope to do with your MPA/MAIR degrees?
I am most likely looking to return to the federal government as civilian, most likely in Defense or Homeland Security, or maybe on Capitol Hill as Congressional staff.

What surprised you most when you arrived at the Maxwell School?
I was most surprised by the quickly developed cohesion among the student cohort in the Department of Public Administration and International Affairs (PAIA).  I’ve heard the opposite about other schools and programs.

What has been the most challenging part of your program so far?
I’ve found the math-based courses (statistics, economics, and quantitative analysis) to be the most challenging part of the program.  I found it difficult to get back into those types of courses after not doing that kind of math for a while. I did do better in statistics here at Maxwell than I did in my undergrad, though.

What advice do you have for any prospective students who are considering the Maxwell School?
Try your best to map out your year before you walk through the door in the summer.  Registering for fall courses happens less than a month after you start the summer classes.  Check out the class list and review the syllabi for classes as early as possible before registration.  Contact professors ahead of time if need be to get an idea of the classes you might want to take.  Most electives are only offered one semester of your two semesters, so you will need to plan ahead to take advantage of the courses in which you are most interested.

What is your most memorable moment at the Maxwell School so far?
Interning with the National Security Studies program.  This program supports the Maxwell School’s National Security Management Course that occurs in the last 2 weeks of the academic year (April/May) for about 60 senior government and military officials.  For someone with national security interests like myself, it was a great opportunity to interact with a lot of high-ranking people who could give me informed career advice.

Where is your favorite place on campus?
The PAIA Department’s Academic Village (AV).  It’s all about interacting with other students when you’re here and the AV is the best place to see and speak with people.

How have you gotten involved on campus?
I have interned with the National Security Studies program both years.

I have also served on the Executive Board for the Public Administration and International Relations (student) Association (PAIRA) for both years that I’ve been here.  Last year, I served as PAIRA President and this year I am serving as Vice President for the International Relations program.

What is there to do in Syracuse and the surrounding area?
Syracuse University sports.  I’ve had the combined football/basketball season pass the past two years. Syracuse Chiefs (minor league baseball) and Syracuse Crunch (minor league hockey) games are also a ton of fun.

Student Spotlights written by Michael Fandrich.
Michael is a current MPA student and serves as the Graduate Assistant to the Director of Admission.

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