Department Highlights: SCW Political Science
The Commentator is pleased to introduce a new column that highlights happenings in different YU Academic departments. Our first piece highlights the Stern College for Women (SCW) Political Science department. We analyzed data, spoke to the Department Chair, a Professor, an alumnae and current students to gain a better insight into the department.
We would love to hear from you which department we should highlight next and if you have a more creative name for the column. Click here to let us know!
Department Overview with Dr. Joseph Luders
Dr. Luders is the Chair of the Political Science Departments at Stern College for Women and Yeshiva College and David and Ruth Gottesman Associate Professor of Political Science
What is the relationship between the YC and SCW political science departments?
The SCW and YC political departments are simultaneously independent and interdependent. Both departments share the same curricular requirements and they often share faculty … In short, we do our best to create opportunities for collaboration across campuses to offer a wide array of exciting courses. As chair of both departments, I seek to promote both coherence and cohesion between the two campuses. Depending on the leadership of the respective political science societies, students may have additional opportunities to participate in a number of joint events.
What are some exciting developments students can look forward to?
Students sometimes ask for there to be more offerings in Political Science, but, in fact, there are actually more course offerings now than ever before. When I started at Stern College some years ago, there were semesters with only six or seven courses. Now, we offer ten or more Political Science or cross-listed courses, which allow students to learn about a wide variety of topics from Terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction to the US Presidency or Latin American Politics.
How is the department assisting students in terms of internships and career opportunities?
We provide active encouragement to seek out some of the amazing opportunities in New York, Washington DC, or Israel. On the Political Science website under Resources, there is actually a long list of internship opportunities that interested students should check out …
… To help defray the costs of these internships, I obtained grant funding from the Azrieli Foundation to provide fellowships for Women in Public and International Affairs … I also oversee the fellowship funding for public service internships provided by the Silber family. Both fellowships (Azrieli and Silber) are not limited to political science majors but go to any student pursuing an eligible internship.
Faculty members routinely write letters of reference for our graduates and I am pleased to report that Political Science graduates have done extraordinarily well in getting placed in the top graduate and professional programs, including at Harvard, Penn, Columbia, and NYU, just to name a few. Since I am at the center of a vast network of former students, I often put current students in touch with successful alumnae to provide them with crucial information on their career paths, and simply to inspire them … this is a great strength of our program — you belong to a community that supports and cultivates your personal development and professional success.
What is your vision for YU’s Political Science Department?
Political Science as a discipline asks what I regard as some of the most urgent questions of the day. We need to understand the forces that are intensifying partisan political polarization. This is deeply important because our democracy rests upon certain shared values, norms, and a degree of social cohesion, yet all of these elements have been increasingly stressed in the US as well as across Europe. The threat of backsliding away from democracy is real and needs serious, thoughtful consideration and action.
... My vision is that the department continues to grow and foster this sort of engagement. Students, like everyone else, are busy and it's difficult to care about politics, but it is my hope that students find Political Science courses to be personally meaningful and relevant, and that they might inspire students to be more thoughtful critics and active participants in the decisions that will determine where the country is ultimately headed.
Anything else you would like to share?
… Students often assume that Political Science is just for people who are pre-law, but this really is a misconception. This discipline provides access to many more opportunities in business, management, consulting, research, risk analysis, public policy, education, journalism, advocacy, the non-profit sector, countless careers in government, and on and on. Rather than seeing Political Science as narrowly limited to law or government, students should know that there are vastly more careers out there for which this training is an excellent match….
Faculty Interview with Dr. Chuck Freilich, adjunct professor at Stern College for Women
Dr. Freilich is a senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School. He has previously served as a deputy national security adviser in Israel.
How does the experience in YU differ from that in Harvard? Do students respond differently to your lectures on the Middle East?
For me the big difference, which makes teaching at YU so rewarding, is the students' deep emotional attachment to the issues, to what's happening in the Middle East and how it affects the US and Israel. Many have just come back from their year in Israel and its impact on them is very clear. They are thirsty for further knowledge.
Tell us about the career paths you’ve chosen in the past.
I spent the first half of my career, over 20 years, in Israel’s defense establishment, as an analyst and as a deputy national security advisor in my last position. For the last 14 years I have been an academic, spending most of the time in Israel, teaching in the US one semester each year. While in government, I loved being in the midst of things, the action, the constant challenge and adrenaline. As an academic, I have had the opportunity to address many of the same issues, going into far greater depth. It is a different, but equally rewarding challenge for me.
Any advice for students who are interested in the field?
Go with your passion. Weigh carefully the primary career paths in the field, whether in academia, the think tank world, or government. For the first two, a PhD is basically a prerequisite. For government, a Masters, preferably before starting one’s career, but if not early on while working.
What is the most exciting research project you have ever worked on?
That is a tough one, there were lots. But if I have to pick one, it is the book I published last year, “Israeli National Security: a New Strategy for an Era of Change”. This was probably my life’s work. Having spent so many years in Israel’s defense establishment, I have long felt the need for such a book, which critics say is the most comprehensive ever written on the topic. More importantly, it is the first public proposal for an Israeli national security strategy since the state was founded. I hope it will make an important contribution to Israeli national security discourse.
Alumnae Interview with Mouchka Darmon Heller (SCW ‘11)
Mouchka Darmon Heller is a SCW Political Science graduate from Paris, France. She has worked in many political science related positions and also taught a course in Business Negotiations at the Sy Syms School of Business in Spring 2019.
Tell us a little about yourself and your YU experience.
I came to YU from Paris at 17, straight from high school, with $50, half a duffel bag, no family, not even a clue what 50 E. vs. 50 W. was. Adapting to YU's unique universe was of course tough at first, but I also still feel deeply grateful for the environment it provided. I chose my professors carefully, and they turned out to be true mentors, who would put in the time to correct my grammatical errors and discuss internship options. I even had a professor once notice how particularly blue I felt and told Dean Braun who got me a ticket to Paris to go see my family for Purim — a joy I still remember. With time, I became heavily involved on campus, and YU became a true home.
Tell us about your career path and about the work you’ve done
After graduating from YU, I joined Georgetown's School of Foreign Service where I specialized in multilateral negotiations. My Master's took me to The Economist's advertising team, where I leveraged my political science training to design new business development strategies, which eventually took me to the newly created corporate data team. Data, at the time, was not a sexy term by any means. Yet, I was intrigued by the possibilities, for both business and society, in data collection and analysis, so I partnered with the Chief Data Officer to create the company's first data division from scratch. My interest in data, combined with my background led me to eventually accept a role as Canadian Trade Commissioner of Infrastructure in New York, a new industry for me with a lot of similar themes around use of technology for social benefit, international relations, and systemic change. I moved on to the World Economic Forum in October 2018 because I became so passionate about my work in infrastructure that I wanted the opportunity to take it to a global scale.
Do you feel like your career has given you the opportunity to apply the knowledge you learned in your political science courses?
I have had the rare opportunity to directly apply my academic training to my career. I was one of the few political science majors at YU who were not looking to become lawyers or work in Jewish non-profits. Instead, I viewed political science as the study of the larger mechanisms of power and influence in a given society. It made my academic interests a bit more malleable, inclusive of classes in economics, anthropology, history and languages, among others and a personal view on my field that helped motivate me to strive for excellence. My coursework at YU and at Georgetown taught me a methodology for design thinking, trained me in a series of soft skills, and gave me knowledge of core drivers of our modern society that I still use in my career.
Was there anyone at YU who was involved in helping you secure your career?
When I was at YU, I was an avid visitor of the career center, where I built foundational skills such as resume writing and interviewing. However, career advisors can’t be anyone’s entire job search. My professors helped me understand who I was as a student and a professional and gave me precious information about the reality of different fields. My peers talked me through their internships, job search processes and, perhaps most importantly, failures and surprises. Last but not least, the NY ecosystem is a haven of opportunities and gave me my first professional experiences and networking opportunities.
Can you share any advice for political science students who would like to pursue a career in your field?
Find your own pathway to excellence and don’t compromise once you get on it. We tend to select traditional careers because ambiguity is terrifying, but no fish can climb trees. If you have selected political science, take some time to understand why, where your interests truly lie, and what are your greatest strengths and shortcomings. This is actually a difficult field to navigate, with tough competition and world-shattering issues, so you need to be sure of yourself if you are to engage with it. Think about what will challenge you, force you to grow and leverage the best part of yourself. If it won’t make you happy now, make sure it will make you better so you can be happy for longer later. Don’t compromise on the opportunities you select for yourself and choose the thing that continues to feel right, in your gut, regardless of how others feel. Once that is done, be the absolute best you can be, and start planning for what’s next.
What was your experience teaching at YU like?
Sy Syms gave me a level of trust and freedom that I am deeply grateful for in designing and leading my class. I found it to be an empowering environment, even as being an adjunct professor can be a little lonely because you have less opportunity to engage your colleagues. I think I lucked out with my class, and got an incredible group of students that went along with my experimental style with gusto, helping me make learning a crucial skill also fun.
If you could teach any course you’d like, what would it be titled?
Surviving in the real world. It would walk students through understanding key institutions and basic professional skills, teach them how to navigate through the first requests they will get after school from writing a memo to managing upwards, and it would include components like setting up a 401(k) and paying off student debt.
What book should every political science student be reading right now?
“Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance. The next presidential election is around the corner, and we have already forgotten all the great decisions we made and realizations we had in 2016. Instead, we have continued to become more divided and further polarized our society. This book came out then and I thought it was a gift of a window into the world of a disenfranchised population we, privileged urbanites, often ignore. I think this kind of book is a reminder of the broader mechanisms that shape our world, beyond the echo chambers we build for ourselves. To be a political scientist is to be able to detach from your own universe at times so you can actually see the rest of the world. We need more political scientists these days.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Political science is a field of value to every student, regardless of professional aspirations. For better or worse, we are all actors in this occidental world, and therefore responsible for everything we see around us, accountable for the change we want to see. Know what your world is made of, understand your institutions, and contribute meaningfully and deliberately.
Student Spotlights with Noa Eliach (SCW ‘20) and Rachel Rosenberg (SCW ‘20)
Noa and Rachel are current SCW students majoring in Political Science
Tell us about your summer experience.
This summer I interned at the Beth Din of America which serves as the preeminent rabbinical court which adjudicates all matters relating to financial disputes, gittin, and questions of Jewish statutes. As an intern I sat in on cases, mediation, arbitration, and a chalitza. Additionally, I answered the phones, did some filing, typed up hazmanas (subpoenas), and seiruvs (orders of contempt) and worked on the Beth Din’s new blog called JewishPrudience (check it out!).
What was the most interesting part of working for the Beit Din? Any lessons you’d like to share?
Over all my 6 weeks at the Beit Din were extremely interesting and thought provoking. The cases that I sat in on were intricate and most of the time not clear cut. It was fascinating to watch the dayanim delve into a case and all issues pertaining to it, in order to reach a mutual halakhic understanding and issue a psak. However, the most striking thing I witnessed this summer was a Halitza; the ceremony done in order to break the zika, connection, between a childless sister in law with her brother in law. This ceremony is grounded in Yevamot- and it is one that is both rare and extremely detail oriented. First the brother in law does hatarat nedarim in case he had been coerced into giving the chalitza. Next, a kinyan hagba is done between the dayanim and the brother in law in which the brother in law acquires the special chalitza shoe. He then ties the shoe up his leg at which point the sister in law unties the shoe, removes it from her brother in laws foot, and then throws it. After that the two face each other and they exchange words found in the p'sukim, and then the sister in law spits towards her brother in law but not at him. Witnessing the chalitza was really a once in a lifetime experience that both astounded me and made me proud to see the strength of halacha — and how it permeates time.
Have any specific courses at Stern prepared you for the position?
One course in particular that really gave me a background knowledge in so many of the monetary cases that came up, was Rabbi Saul Bermans’ Jewish Business Ethics class — I recommend everyone take that course. In Rabbi Bermans class we learnt about issues relating to competition, g'neivat daat, product defectiveness, contracts and all sort of various issues that most certainly came up on a daily basis at the Beit Din.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Something that I really enjoyed throughout my time at the Beit Din was seeing the intersection of Halacha and secular law. It is really interesting to see where Halacha and law line up exactly, and where the two differ. Additionally it was amazing to be apart of such a professional and well run organization that is truly shaping our community today.
Tell us about your internship experience.
I work at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office in Trial Bureau 60. My Bureau prosecutes anything from misdemeanors to felonies, it just depends on the prosecutor and how long they have been working. I have worked for more senior members of the team on some of the bigger cases, like homicides or stabbings, and other days I work on petty theft or physical altercations. My roles consist of listening to inmate's phone calls, preparing discovery (aka papers you need to turn over to the defense before trial), watching videos from supposed crime scenes and trying to ID defendants and victims at or near the sight. Every day I get new projects and sometimes I spend my day in court, which is always a bonus.
What is the most interesting part of working for the DA? Any lessons you’d like to share?
The cases I work on have been extremely interesting, but one of the most interesting parts of my internship, that I did not expect, is the office environment. I have interned at many private law practices, and in some courts, however I find the work environment at the DA's office extremely unique and enjoyable. The ADA's all give advise on the best way to try a case or show up to watch their co-workers in court. They take notes, and give feedback, or pop into each others offices to just talk things through. There are many emails that circulate about after work hang-outs or Bureau vs. Bureau softball games. I hope for myself to work in a legal environment that can maintain such a level of cordiality and friendship when I am an attorney.
Did YU help you get the position?
I learned about this position from YU's pre-law society, specifically the president Yitzchak Carroll. I'd highly recommend joining the group chat if you're looking for any good pre-law advice or work opportunities.
What's it like balancing school and work? Any tips?
It's been a huge adjustment from being in school for full days to squeezing school into two days and working the other days, but I have made my (kind of crazy) schedule work! I use my lunch break to study and am encouraged to get my work done efficiently when I have any bit of free time. I would recommend only taking on an internship that you are really passionate about because otherwise your schedule will just become overwhelming and draining.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I would highly recommend any student looking into internships to pursue any opportunity that interests them. I thought a position at the DA's office was a long shot. I am used to using YU or familial connections to get positions, but I took the long shot and am so happy I did. When I got an email about a second interview, I was so shocked. I've never tried to apply for something where I didn't have any connection, but getting this position has propelled me to look into other opportunities that might seem difficult to attain for my next semester internship. Don't get lost in the narrow world we find ourselves in of interning for our parents' friends or friends parents, find what your passionate about and go for it!