Tyler Cundiff is a second-year graduate student in the M.A. in International Affairs program at the Elliott School of International Affairs. His work—in senior-level roles at the George Washington University Libraries and Academic Innovation (GWLAI) and Young Professionals in Foreign Policy (YPFP)—involves leading agile teams, managing strategic programs and initiatives, and directing administrative operations. Tyler earned a B.A. in Political Science and Communication from the University of Southern California, where he played volleyball for the Trojans and for Team USA. Prior to enrolling at the Elliott School, he attended the Graduate Institute Geneva (IHEID) and served as a policy advisor and delegate for the Republic of Malta to the United Nations Office at Geneva, handling a portfolio focused on peace and security issues. In addition to his graduate studies, Tyler participates in the GWU-USIP Mentorship Program and competes for the GW Men’s Club Volleyball Team.
What has been your favorite experience at the Elliott School so far and why?
During my first semester, I was fortunate enough to be selected for the GWU-USIP Mentorship Program[T1] and paired with an incredible member of the USIP leadership team—Colonel (Ret.) Paul Hughes. Navigating my research interest of grand strategy, my professional growth at work, and my nonprofit responsibilities was made all the easier by Paul’s guidance; his wealth of experience and familiarity with how D.C. works opened doors that would otherwise have remained closed. Even after the program concluded, Paul has remained a friend and resource. This experience has been a favorite because it allowed me to take advantage of the Elliott School’s offerings beyond the boundaries of campus.
What courses have you found most helpful in your work/intern/volunteer experiences and how have they been useful?
My work as Chief of Staff at Young Professionals in Foreign Policy (YPFP) involved designing programs and events that provide discussion around and preparation for the complex U.S. policymaking process; no class has better explored the structures and dynamics of that process than Professor Chris Kojm’s U.S. Foreign Policy Summer Program. Through a well-balanced blend of foundational readings and visits from contemporary experts in the field (this session featured, among others, Dr. Fiona Hill), this course provided unrivalled insight to an environment that most of academia is forced to analyze from the outside. The additional challenge of holding the group scenario exercise remotely—detailed here by classmate Joe Tomczak—also honed my ability to effectively lead virtual meetings and decision-making processes, which has been useful to my work at both YPFP and GW.
What resources or strategies have proven to be the most valuable in helping you reach academic success at the Elliott School?
One resource that has proven invaluable is GW Libraries. A research consultation with one of the knowledgeable and creative librarians is the best way to approach a particularly tricky paper or project, especially paired with the comprehensive online research guides. The libraries have also adapted many services and resources for remote learning; I can only imagine trying to keep up with coursework without such easy access to physical materials and specialized software.
As for strategies: early and frequent collaboration with Graduate Student Services (shoutouts to my academic advisor Sarah Denes and career coach Sharon Swabb!) has been critical in establishing and adjusting my plan of study and charting my professional development in preparation for a career in international affairs. Let the incredible GSS team help you.
What advice do you have for prospective students who are on the fence about applying to a graduate program at the Elliott school?
For me, applying to the MAIA program was a leap of faith; it seemed unreasonable to imagine myself worthy of a position alongside such incredible classmates at such an elite institution. My advice would be to take that leap. Despite the trepidation, you risk very little in putting yourself up for consideration—and you just might be rewarded with two years of engaging coursework, front-row views of policymaking in the nation’s capital, and an enduring network of friends and mentors.
As for the application itself: identify and leverage your champions. Whether they be mentors or supervisors writing letters of recommendation, trusted colleagues editing your materials, or loved ones offering all kinds of support, your circle should be a key part of the process—and remember to express gratitude for their efforts!
What show or song will you forever associate with quarantine?
I will forever associate 2020—much of it spent in quarantine—with Avi Kaplan’s cover of the legendary Bill Withers’ ‘Lean On Me,’ the proceeds of which Kaplan dedicated to the Equal Justice Initiative. One of my favorite songs, ‘Lean On Me’ has gained significance during a year in which our nation has grappled with system racism and political turmoil against the backdrop of a global pandemic; it serves as a reminder of the value in coming together with family, friends, and countrymen.
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The #WeAreElliott profile series is managed by the Elliott School Office of Graduate Admissions and highlights current students to answer common questions posed by prospective, incoming, and current students. For more information on this series or to submit questions, e-mail the Office of Graduate Admissions at email@example.com.
The views expressed by students profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs.