The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is pleased to share A View from the Class, a series featuring current SIPA students, recently graduated alumni, and faculty.
Hello, I am Benjamin Seebaugh, a recent Master of Public Administration (MPA) graduate, concentrating in International Security Policy and specializing in Technology, Media, and Communications. I was also honored to serve as president of SIPA Spectrum and to have attended SIPA as a Harry S. Truman Scholar.
What were you doing before attending SIPA?
I worked for civil service agencies at all levels, from local to international. Most recently, I spent three years in the Commissioner’s Office of the New York City Department of Correction managing jail reform projects. Before that, I worked on LGBTQ+ affairs, organized field operations for political campaigns, served as a legislative assistant, and interned for the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria.
While an undergraduate, my greatest accomplishments were managing the drafting and successful passing of a suite of tenants’ rights bills in the West Virginia State legislature and lobbying to create robust, systemic transformations in support of LGBTQ+ youth.
I graduated summa cum laude from the Honors College of West Virginia University where I earned three Bachelor of Arts in international studies, political science, and women’s and gender studies.
Why did you choose SIPA?
I considered several institutions, of course, but there were a few defining characteristics that really sealed my decision to attend SIPA. Firstly, SIPA’s emphasis on practical, skills-based education appealed to my desire to improve as an employee in the workplace, which I do not think other, more theory-based programs can offer. Secondly, the international diversity of SIPA students provides a rich tapestry of backgrounds and insights that most other American schools can only hope to achieve. Lastly, I want to follow in the footsteps of the many SIPA alumni who conduct work and hold positions that I aspire to achieve one day.
Why did you choose to concentrate in International Security Policy and specialize in Technology, Media, and Communications?
I am inspired by the endless possibilities that technology can provide to improve our world, our quality of life, and our governance. However, I am equally cautious about the vulnerabilities and potential dangers of technology, if not properly regulated. Accordingly, my studies have focused on the nexus where the potential for positive and negative impact intersect. The professors at SIPA provided an incredibly strong series of perspectives on cybersecurity, geopolitics, emerging technologies, threat intelligence, and crisis response that have bolstered my cautious optimism with a nuanced understanding of the landscape.
Can you talk a bit about SIPA Spectrum?
Serving with SIPA Spectrum was such an honor and a privilege. I worked alongside a brilliant, passionate, diverse board of queer and allied voices who became some of my closest friends. We supported the queer community at SIPA through visibility events, historical remembrances, alumni panels, poetry readings, University-wide community-building mixers, and so much more. As president, I guided the meeting agendas, but our work was a truly collective endeavor that valued all voices, efforts, and needs equally. This organization served to balance the stresses of classwork and current events with support and camaraderie. I would not trade those experiences for anything.
What are some highlights of your time at SIPA?
One highlight of my SIPA experience was my Capstone workshop for the United Kingdom Stabilisation Unit. I served as the project manager for my cohort as we worked to develop a typology of transnational organized crime networks that affect UK national security. This project was particularly interesting because we went beyond profiling individual crime groups, and instead, captured measurable data points about threat activity across regions and time – a framework that will assist policymakers to disrupt and deter criminal activity. More importantly, it also enables them to facilitate agile, iterative prioritization, and conduct predictive analysis about what crime groups might do next.
Another major highlight was traveling to Palestine with other SIPA students for a holistic study of human rights abuses, UN interventions, and economic development in the region. This trip, known as PalTrek, connected me with so many phenomenal and inspiring activists who are doing the field work that we study and discuss so often at SIPA. This trek changed my life in ways that I could not have imagined, and I will never forget my first-hand experiences or the lessons learned there.
In terms of professors, I could write accolades about so many of them. A couple of favorites jump to mind immediately: Professor Alexis Wichowski who teaches courses on technology policy and e-governance, and Professor Seth Freeman who teaches negotiation and conflict resolution. One of SIPA’s greatest strengths is bringing in practitioners who can teach theory, but can also speak from their experience in the field.
What are your post-graduation plans?
I am currently seeking opportunities in a variety of sectors and roles. I am most interested in technology and public service, and I would love to continue working in operations, project management, or strategic change. Ultimately, my primary motivation is helping to make the world a happier, safer, and more equitable place. In the long-term, I hope to run for office.
How has your SIPA experience influenced your response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent protests against racism and police brutality?
That is a big question! As a career public servant, I came to SIPA with the intention of improving myself so that I may, in turn, better serve my community. Our graduating class has faced more challenges than any of us ever anticipated, but with that has also come a much-needed upsurge in momentum for positive change. Although the uncertainty is daunting, it provides opportunities for many of us to exercise the education and skills we cultivated during the past two years.
I have reflected a lot lately about how SIPA has equipped me to think creatively about policy solutions to navigate these uncharted territories. Today, I am more confident and hopeful than ever that SIPA alumni will make historical changes in the fields of public health and civil rights. I intend to be one of them.