Varsha Menon (SFS’21, MSFS’22) had always been passionate about economics, but she wanted an education that would also allow her to explore her interests in policy, advocacy and development. She found the perfect fit in International Political Economy (IPEC), where she has been able to combine quantitative analysis with writing and research on how to tangibly improve people’s lives.
Menon plans to stick around the Hilltop for one more year to finish her accelerated degree in the Master of Science in Foreign Service (MSFS) program, after which she will pursue a career in international development. As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic highlights international disparities in political participation, economic security and health outcomes, Menon is eager to apply her SFS education to advancing equity on the world stage.
“I’d like to work in the international development sector,” she explains. “SFS gave me foundational theories, quantitative methods and the writing skills to use in the sector.”
At a Glance
Hometown: Plano, Texas
Major: International Political Economy
Proseminar: 19th Century European Metropolis with Professor Holger Wolf
Experiences Abroad: Summer 2019 in Tours and Paris, France
On-Campus Activities: Georgetown Journal of International Affairs; D.C-Federal Relations and other GUSA positions; D.C. Schools Tutor; GU College Democrats; H*yas for Choice; SFS Peer Advisor; Georgetown ACLU; research and teaching assistant roles
Off-Campus Activities: internship on Capitol Hill; internships with the Peace Corps and a D.C.-based defense consulting group and 2020 U.S. election organizing
Making Connections in International Political Economy
When asked about the mentors who have guided her Georgetown education, Menon can rattle off a long list of inspiring professors and advisors, many of them in the IPEC mejor.
The professors who have influenced her most are those who encouraged her to make connections between subject areas and methodologies in her studies. “IPEC appealed to me because it emphasized the interdependent relationship between politics and economics and introduced nuance to familiar concepts,” Menon says.
For Menon, Quantitative Research Methods with Professor Shareen Joshi was the perfect course for exploring these nuances through hands-on research. When the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced the class to move online, Joshi’s support and attention encouraged her to adapt her plans.
“Logging onto her office hours and discussing new directions for my research helped me stay motivated during that chaotic semester,” Menon adds.
She also cites Senior Associate Dean and IPEC advisor Mitch Kaneda as a key resource during her undergraduate education. “Dean Kaneda has been one of my greatest sources of strength throughout my time at Georgetown — he always encouraged me to push myself and supported me every time I doubted myself,” she says.
Georgetown opened doors for Menon beyond her field, too. Her pursuit of proficiency in French took her to Tours and Paris, France, where she completed her minor over the summer of 2019.
“While I had traveled abroad before, I had never done so alone, so this was an opportunity to to explore and mature on my own,” Menon recalls. “It was nice to be able to navigate a non-English speaking country on my own as well as get to know my host families in the two cities. I definitely miss my time there.”
Georgetown offered opportunities for Menon to develop personally and spiritually, as well as in her studies. She says that experiences in the Philosophy Department and with Campus Ministry helped her to take a holistic approach to her education. “One of my philosophy professors, Molly Wilder, shaped the activism I’ve done since, and I’ve been lucky to have Brahmachari Sharan help me find my spirituality again and become a better person out of it,” she explains.
Promoting Community in Diversity
This dedication to values-led and comprehensive approaches is something that Menon believes is a hallmark of a Georgetown education. Inside and outside the classroom, she has been impressed by her peers’ dedication to creating positive change.
When she first moved to Georgetown from her hometown of Plano, Texas, she encountered students ready to stand up to injustice and imagine better ways of doing things.
“I was so amazed — in a good way — how unafraid Georgetown students were to challenge the ideas that they were presented with,” Menon says. “From the GU272 Referendum to the Black Survivors Coalition sit-in, students are constantly finding ways to make campus more equitable and better. I’m not sure if this level of passion and compassion can be found at other campuses.”
Once on campus, Menon got involved in Georgetown’s many student advocacy groups. She joined the Georgetown University Student Association (GUSA), holding leadership roles focused on D.C. and federal government relations and student outreach. Tutoring for D.C. Schools, campaigning with GU College Democrats, tabling for H*yas for Choice and serving on the board of Georgetown ACLU immersed Menon in activism on and off the Hilltop.
Menon also joined the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs (GJIA) to work with other students interested in questioning and exploring prevailing ideas within international affairs. Now the journal’s print editor-in-chief, Menon seeks to engage diverse perspectives in the field of international relations.
“GJIA wants to help transform the world of international relations academia into one that encourages conversation between individuals of different backgrounds, creating a more robust dialogue,” she says.
As she gained more experience at SFS, Menon decided to share her wisdom to first-year students as an SFS peer advisor. Her biggest piece of advice? “No amount of good grades, internships and clubs will give you a sense of fulfillment and peace, but once you work towards finding inner happiness, life will be so much brighter,” she says.
One More Round on the Hilltop
Without a doubt, the best part of Menon’s time at SFS and Georgetown has been “the people,” she says. “I’ve had such meaningful interactions with faculty in office hours, staff and students that have genuinely helped me grow and become a better person.”
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of her junior year forced Menon to reconfigure her relationships and reflect on her undergraduate experience somewhat prematurely. When she looks back on this time further down the line, Menon says she will remember the little things: “walking to the ICC for my 12:30 class, late nights on Lau 2,” as well as all the knowledge her professors and peers have imparted to her.
As she faced new challenges related to the pandemic, Menon was cognizant of the ways that COVID-19 disproportionately impacted already marginalized and low-income communities. “It has also made me think about the privileges I have such as having good internet, that I often took for granted. In fact, the privilege of having internet access is what inspired my thesis topic,” she says.
For her IPEC honors thesis, Menon conducted research on how household internet access impacts infant mortality rate and access to adequate prenatal care in Louisiana and Mississippi. She hopes that studies like hers could be applied to future research on inequities exposed by COVID-19.
“We saw in COVID-19 the critical role the internet plays in our lives, and I wanted to see if that spilled over into birth outcomes,” Menon explains. While my research focuses on pre-COVID-19 data, I think the implications of my results could be used as we emerge from the pandemic.”
Reflecting on these disparities has also affirmed Menon’s belief in the importance of inclusive policy making. “COVID really highlighted both the importance of global cooperation as viruses transcend borders as well as including marginalized voices in policy discussions,” Menon says. “This pandemic has disproportionately impacted migrants and refugees, people of color, women and low-income individuals, and, in many ways, public institutions failed to protect them.”
Menon credits her SFS education with providing her with the theoretical, quantitative and writing skills to analyze these failures and develop durable solutions. “The SFS provided me with the tools to analyze the challenges that developing societies face and to think about these problems in a nuanced manner,” she says.
A five-year student in the BSFS/MSFS program, Menon plans to return to the Hilltop this fall to complete her master’s degree before embarking on a career in international development, where she hopes to promote international cooperation and the wellbeing of migrants and refugees, people of color, women and low-income individuals.
“As we actively fight climate change as well as other global problems, I hope that in the international relations field, there’s greater discussion of how states can work together and how we can ensure that those most vulnerable to these issues will be taken care of,” Menon says.