Georgia Tech Master’s in Global Media & Cultures Helps Student Design Dream Career in Diplomacy
Posted February 11, 2021
Two years ago, Leighton Rowell thought she might pursue a journalism career and hoped to use her French skills in the process. Today, she is a Communications Officer at the Consulate General of the Kingdom of Belgium in Atlanta, on her way to an international career in diplomacy.
Rowell, from Atlanta, Georgia, is among the first graduates of Georgia Institute of Technology’s M.S. in Global Media and Cultures, the first degree of its kind in the United States. The MS-GMC is an intensive 12-month program that combines advanced foreign language study with training in essential skills. Instead of focusing on technical skills, students learn the tools that drive strategy and creativity in a global society: media literacy, communication, analysis, and cultural adaptability.
Before Rowell entered the program, she was working in public radio production. She found herself drawn to the opportunity to combine her passion for French and her curiosity about how media works on the global stage.
“If I had created a master’s program for myself that was perfectly aligned with my interest, this would be it,” she says.
While Rowell entered the program planning to continue in journalism, perhaps at a multinational news organization, Rowell’s experience at Georgia Tech opened doors that she had never considered.
“This program made me think differently about what media is,” says Rowell.
The courses helped her see that her skills in communication and French could make an impact in other areas, such as policy and human rights research.
“What would it look like if I took my experiences and my language skills, and applied them to a field like diplomacy?” she recalled thinking.
As part of her final master’s project, Rowell intended to complete an internship in French at the U.S. Embassy in Senegal in the summer of 2020. However, travel restrictions imposed in March 2020 forced her to redesign her plans. Rowell applied and took a position at the Carter Center in Atlanta, working in the Democracy Program.
“The classes that I took prepared me to engage in really high-level analysis and become a value-add for my team,” she says.
As an intern at the Carter Center, Rowell worked remotely to research the current affairs of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and contribute to diplomatic relations. She wrote on topics such as democracy, voting rights, and education. Her courses on Francophone Africa with Chris Ippolito, a professor in the School of Modern Languages, gave her a familiarity with the complex history of a place such as the Congo, helping her feel prepared for this work.
In her final master’s project, which included her Carter Center internship, Rowell investigated the effects of past pandemics on freedom of speech and freedom of the press in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rowell hopes that this research will help shed light on how pandemics can shape local politics globally.
While she is working on behalf of Belgium in Atlanta now, her dream is to one day represent the United States as a diplomat abroad.
As one of the first MS-GMC graduates, Rowell’s work has helped to shape the graduate experience for future graduate students in the School of Modern Languages. D’wayne Copper is pursuing a master’s degree in Applied Language and Intercultural Studies — also focused in French — and is now continuing the tradition of contributing to the Carter Center’s Democracy Program as an intern.
“I would not have my internship at the Carter Center had it not been for Leighton’s encouragement,” Copper said. . “It was Leighton’s words that pushed me to apply, and it was the skills I cultivated at Georgia Tech that got me in the door.”
Copper’s work focuses on current affairs in both Honduras and Myanmar, drawing on his Spanish and French knowledge.
Rowell says that in addition to the broad skill set she gained in her coursework, the most transformative aspect of her experience was gaining a community of like-minded colleagues and friends.
“The relationships, at the end of the day, are the most important thing that you can get out of any experience anywhere, and I think that especially applies to grad school,” she said.
Her advice for future students in MS-GMC, MS-ALIS, or any graduate program in foreign languages? Stay curious and fearless about following your passion.
“If you’re curious about something, you should follow that curiosity wholeheartedly,” she says.
“Graduate school truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pursue your interests, and to have the support of a whole community like GMC behind you.”
For Rowell, curiosity led to a change in career paths. It is a change she “would not trade for the world.” Given how international her future promises to be, she won’t have to.
The M.S. in Global Media and Cultures and M.S. in Applied Language and Intercultural Studies is available with language concentrations in Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish; The School is accepting applications for Fall 2021 until Feb. 15, 2021. Funding is available on a competitive basis.
Please visit https://grad.modlangs.gatech.edu/apply to start your application.