Peter Johnston, SFS’19, Science, Technology, and International Affairs

Peter Johnston
Salt Lake City, Utah
SFS Class of 2019
Major: STIA – Science, Technology, and International Affairs


Why did you choose to apply to the SFS at Georgetown?

In my sophomore year of high school, I did research for a history project on North Korea and became fascinated with its people and politics. I closely followed news about defectors and became passionate about human rights. This led me to want to study international relations. I had always had an interest in computer science as well, so I looked into ways to combine the two; STIA was where I ended up.

Why did you choose your major? What are you focusing on within STIA?

My interest in the SFS was always rooted in my interest in STIA. While applying to colleges, I knew I was interested in computer science, but I had also more recently developed an interest in international affairs, and I knew I didn’t want to give up one or the other in college. STIA provided the perfect opportunity to not just study both computer science and international relations, but to study their intersection in a more meaningful way than a double major would have been. My focus within STIA is on computer science and cybersecurity.

Which Proseminar did you take freshman year? What has been your favorite class within your major so far?

I took “Water” with Professor Mark Giordano! It was such a fun class, and a really great opportunity to connect with a faculty member early on. Professor Giordano later became my faculty advisor for STIA, and has given me advice throughout my time at Georgetown. We learned a lot about what goes into writing an original research paper. My favorite class that I’ve taken in the SFS so far has probably been CPS, with Professor Charles King. I took it my sophomore year and I felt it was my first rigorous introduction to political science and what social science in general is all about. As someone who is most familiar with STEM courses, I appreciated getting a solid basis in political science (and some sociology) from Professor King, and I thought he did a good job pressing students to back up their claims in class.

Have you studied abroad? How will this experience fit into your interests and requirements within your major? What languages are you pursuing during your time here and how does that language study enhance your major?

During my freshman fall I took a semester of French and reached proficiency, and began taking Korean my second semester. I hope to reach proficiency in Korean during my senior year. For me, my language study is a complement to my major, and it allows me to further specialize my studies. It has also been a really nice way to have some variety in my course schedule every semester.

I am studying abroad during the spring of 2018 at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea. While I am there, I will be completing my minor in Korean and my certificate in Asian Studies. While I am concentrating in computer science and cybersecurity, I have chosen to focus my studies regionally on East Asia, and specifically on Korea. I also was abroad in Gwangju, South Korea as part of the Critical Language Scholarship during the summer of 2017 to do intensive Korean language study.

What organizations or activities are you involved in on campus? What makes these activities meaningful to you?

I work as a web developer in the IT department of The Corp, which is a really rewarding job and a fun way to meet other students who are interested in computer science and programming. It’s also fun that other students in IT are generally not just interested in CS but have other strong passions and interests as well; STIA is one of the most common majors in the department, and I have gotten a lot of good advice from friends I’ve work with in IT.

I also have worked as an English tutor with the DC Schools Project, both at a high school in Columbia Heights and with an adult facilities worker on campus. This has been one of the most fulfilling experiences I have had at Georgetown, to connect with people whose backgrounds are very different from my own and do my best to help them achieve their goals in English and education.

My first two years at Georgetown, I was also a member of Truth and Human Rights in North Korea (THiNK), an organization that works to spread awareness on campus of human rights abuses in North Korea. It was very meaningful to get to spend time with other students who cared as much about this issue as I do, which was an opportunity I experienced for the first time at Georgetown.

What are your future career goals and aspirations, and how does your major fit into your plans for the future?

I’m not sure yet what I want to go into, but I have a strong interest in programming, especially programming applied to other fields (like linguistics or neuroscience), education and teaching, and human rights. I could see myself teaching computer science, doing research in computational linguistics, or working at a human rights nonprofit. The great thing about STIA is that it allows me to keep a lot of doors open.

What advice do you have for current or future BSFS students trying to determine their major?

Try to avoid feeling pressured to know what you want to do the moment you step on campus. The BSFS core curriculum allows you a couple of years to explore different options via both required courses and electives, and there is no need to be ready to declare as soon as possible.

In terms of trying to decide your major, I would take lots of classes in different areas, which means using your electives wisely. I remember at GAAP weekend Dean Kaneda gave an entire talk centered around the importance of electives. At the time I didn’t even know if I was enrolling here so I wasn’t sure how much it applied to me, but in hindsight, focusing my electives has allowed me to pursue a minor in Korean and a certificate in Asian Studies, areas of study that have been a big part of my time at Georgetown.

In my case, STIA has been great because it allows me to shape it to what I’m truly interested in; a great thing about the SFS is that the undergraduate degrees are all different in terms of how flexible and self-defined they are, and that can also help you decide what to major in. And talk to faculty! Building relationships with professors can be really meaningful and they can often give you the best advice about what you should pursue on and off campus.