CNS Alumni: Charles Mahaffey

Updated: January 11, 2010

Charles Mahaffey, MA IPS 2004

CNS Alumni | Charles Mahaffey | Risa MongielloMary Beth Nikitin

I came to Monterey one year after 9/11, after having spent six years living and teaching at a junior high school outside of Nagasaki, Japan. I was concerned about nuclear weapons, and, like many others, hoped that humanity would never see them used again. I came wanting to do something. But again, like others, I did not know how to start.

As a graduate student of the International Policy Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS), I decided to pursue a Certificate in Nonproliferation Studies. Through courses for the Certificate, MIIS offered me a chance to study arms control, disarmament and nonproliferation at a depth matched by few- if any- schools in the world. I particularly benefited from a course on current issues in non-proliferation, taught entirely in Japanese. At regular intervals throughout the semester, our Japanese class would meet in a plenary session with other groups taking the same course in Chinese and Russian. Few schools are able to offer such a course in any language. MIIS taught it in three, and had the resources to provide simultaneous interpretation for a truly unique cross-cultural sharing of ideas. Equally impressive to me was the Monterey Institute’s Arms Control Simulation. For an entire term, our class (including students from Foreign Ministries from around the globe) debated and negotiated a U.S.-Russian arms control agreement to follow the 2002 Moscow Treaty. The issues we worked on in that simulation are issues that I now deal with on a day to day basis.

The opportunities at MIIS are by no means limited to the classroom. My student positions at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, and also with the Monterey-based FirstWatch International, helped me hone research skills and explore issues raised in the classroom in greater depth. In addition, I served two internships while a student. One with the CNS office in Washington, DC, where I was able to interact firsthand with U.S. policymakers on the issues I’d studied in school. In my final semester, I worked in the United Nations Department for Disarmament Affairs in U.N. Headquarters in New York. In this position- available only through the Monterey Institute- for six months, I was a junior political officer at the United Nations, drafting reports for the General Assembly, briefing high-level UN staff (including Kofi Annan) and contributing research on weapons of mass destruction issues for UN publications. Had I attended any other grad school, I doubt that this incredible opportunity would have been available to me.

By the end, my two years at the Monterey Institute had given me a powerful combination of knowledge of nonproliferation issues and the skills to use that knowledge in the policy world. A degree from Monterey prepared me extraordinarily well for my current job with the U.S. Department of State, where I work on arms control and nonproliferation issues.

That said, the Monterey Institute may not be for everyone. It requires certain sacrifices, including an obvious financial one. Studying at MIIS will demand a lot from you. The course load can be difficult, especially considering the heavy emphasis on language skills. You will need a commitment to the issues you have come to study. A strong belief that you will one day use what you learn to make the world a better place. A hope that your sacrifices will not be for nothing.

From my experience, these sacrifices in the end pay off for themselves. Demanding coursework is a challenge best faced by working with fellow students, by working and learning together. On a campus as international as MIIS, I found forming study groups added dimensions to each class that no professor could have planned. And at the end, when I was fully prepared for a career I was truly passionate about, the student loan debt seemed like a real bargain.

If a career in international policy appeals to you, and you are drawn by the opportunity to help improve the lives of others, MIIS could be your opportunity.

Charles Mahaffey

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