International Affairs student, Olivia Brinich, was accepted to the College of Arts & Sciences at WashU on a full scholarship in 2015 and began her bachelor’s degree as a full-time student. She recently shared her experience of working as an adult while also pursuing an accelerated program that combined her undergraduate study with a master’s degree through University College—the professional and continuing education division at Washington University in St. Louis.
Why did you choose WashU?
I decided to earn my associate degree first, at community college, and then transfer to a four-year school. So, I needed to find universities that accepted transfer students. Not all schools do. In fact, the more elite and higher-ranking colleges you look at, many of them don't accept transfer students—you have to come in from year one. That was one reason that WashU really stood out to me. They were very open to transfer students, nontraditional students. There was a lot of interest in having diversity here, and so since this environment was really clearly open to people like me, that attracted me to WashU very much.
What's it like to pursue an accelerated program?
Being in this program while working, there's a lot of deadlines every single day, and so to stay ahead of that and not let myself get too stressed out or pulled down, it just requires a lot of discipline. It requires getting up early, making sure that I'm keeping a really good healthy diet so that I keep my energy levels up and don't get too tired during the day. This allows me to focus and continue using my brain throughout all of the different activities from coming up with my thesis proposal to working at my professional job to keeping up with my course material and writing my essays and finishing whatever credits that I need to earn. So that's what it looks like. It's a lot of work. It's not a lot of excitement. I sit at home at my desk a lot, preferably not hunched, but you get the idea.
What makes University College so special?
I found University College to be a great environment, a great learning environment, and the support of faculty and staff to be fantastic. My advisors, both my degree advisor and my thesis advisor, are extremely supportive and have helped me through all of the challenges that I have faced. There's always obstacles for everyone. Everyone has their challenges, and they've been very understanding of whatever issues I've needed to work with, as far as scheduling, and across the board it's been a very supportive and successful experience.
"One of the most important ways University College has supported me is financially. They have scholarships available to graduate students, and I applied for those and got them."
Describe the professional experience at WashU?
I think networking is part of any kind of professional experience where you want to excel and where you want to become somebody in your field. The more people that you can connect with who have shared interests with, the more people you can work together with, exchange ideas, exchange resources, and basically build a teamwork network. And that's something that's been a very enjoyable experience here at Washington University because there's a lot of opportunities for it.
How does the classroom experience prepare you for your career?
My classes in my International Affairs program have simulations that involve actual practice sessions and things like arguing a case in the International Criminal Court of Justice, and having policy round table discussions where we're simulating a National Security Council meeting. So those kinds of high pressure situations, where you have to perform and you have to give answers and you have to be decisive, those kids of situations have really prepared me in ways that I don't think other programs would for my future career in international relations.
What do you want to do with your degree?
WashU has a great career preparation program. There is a group called DC Bound and Beyond which helps students like me, who want to get into public policy, foreign policy work, to identify specifically what we're targeting, what kind of organizations we want to work for, what kind of work that we're specifically interested in, and then work through the process of fashioning our resumes, our cover letters, and creating a network and connecting with people. They walk us through all of those various career building exercises and help us prepare to jump right in once we're done with our degrees.
There's many things that I want to do in my career. But I plan for them all to be centered around my interest in international relations. Initially, my first goal out of this program, is to get my dream job which is to be the international affairs representative for my hometown of New Orleans. Right now there's no international affairs department for the city, but I know the current mayor is interested in establishing one. So I want to present my plan to her in hopes that that can be my job.
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