#CGAat15 Faculty Interview Series: Carolyn Kissane
Dr. Carolyn Kissane serves as Academic Director of the M.S. in Global Affairs and M.S. in Global Security, Conflict and Cybercrime. and Clinical Professor at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University where she teaches graduate level courses examining the geopolitics of energy, Comparative Energy Politics, Central Asian region, transformations in China, and energy, environment, and resource security. Complementing her academic, public service and consultant experience, Dr. Kissane is the author of numerous publications looking at China and Central Asia, the energy transition, energy diplomacy in India, and U.S. energy security, and an upcoming book on oil and the resource curse. Dr. Kissane is Coordinator of the Energy and Environmental Policy concentration at the Center and is faculty adviser to the Energy Policy International Club (EPIC). She was awarded the esteemed NYU Excellence in Teaching Award in 2007, the SCPS Award for Teaching Excellence in 2009, and nominated for the NYU-wide Distinguished Teaching Award in 2008, 2009, 2016 and 2018. She is a recipient of the Graduate Enhancement Area and Language Studies Award, Fulbright-Hayes Dissertation Award, IREX Grants, NYU Curricular Development Challenge Fund Grant, and NYU Dean’s Research Grant.She was named Breaking Energy’s Top Ten New York Women in Energy and Top Ten Energy Communicator. She hosts Fueling our Future, an energy series she moderates which bring in energy and environment experts for conversation and debate. She also serves on the boards of the Energy Forum, NYU Tandon Clean Start Advisory Board, CIV-Lab, and Art for Refugees in Transition. Dr. Kissane received her Ph.D. from Columbia University.
Global Affairs Review: Can you share with us how your journey at CGA began?
Professor Kissane: In 2003, I was working as a Consultant and saw an announcement looking for adjunct professors at NYU’s School of Professional Studies for a range of different courses. I applied and had the opportunity to meet Vera Jelinek [Current Divisional Dean and Director of the Center for Global Affairs, NYU]. We had a great meeting— a meeting of kindred spirits of sorts. I was accepted to teach a non-credit course on non-governmental organizations and had an amazing experience with the students.
I eventually met with Vera again, and she told me about her vision for starting a graduate program. At the time, I had been offered a full-time position at Colgate University, but I reached out to Vera and shared that I loved her idea for the graduate program. It sounded like a program that I would have loved to be in when I was a student. Since the graduate program was still a year away from being initiated, I accepted the position at Colgate. Experiencing the community there led me to realize I wanted to be a full-time teacher and work in higher education. Vera and I stayed in touch, and I was eventually hired as the second full-time faculty member of the program. I came on board in the fall of 2005, and I have been here ever since.
Today, the MS in Global Affairs is a very different program than it was then. When I started, it did not have eight concentrations, 14 full-time faculty members, nor the student body and alumni that we have now. CGA was a start-up and people wore many different hats. I remember I was asked to teach a non-credit international relations (IR) course, and only had one week to prepare the curriculum. That class had a fantastic group of students – including, John Kane, a current CGA Professor. I have been here since the beginning, and now that we have a much more established program, I realize it has been an exciting and rewarding journey.
I actually had a former student visit my class yesterday, and he brought back so many memories! He was a part of a group of students that blew me away. They were ‘doers’ and were very close-knit – they shared resources, maintained a great network, and remain each other’s best advocates. Two of them, with some persuasion from me and other assistance, travelled across the country by bike, to explore the U.S. energy space. They went to 20 different states to look at nuclear power plants, coal fire powered plants, natural gas, renewables, and documented their experience online.
What have the last 14 years at the CGA meant to you?
They have meant so much– CGA feels like home and I cannot imagine being anywhere else. I love the opportunity to teach as a full-time faculty member, while working in administration where I think about strategic vision, curriculum and bringing new faculty on board. We are a bit of an anomaly, as far as a department goes, because we do not represent one discipline. We have 14 full time faculty representing eight distinct concentrations, yet there is interesting overlap among them. It has been a real highlight building a community of scholar practitioners working in global affairs—and of course, my first love is with the students.
There are two people that I credit for my journey. I had an advisor in graduate school at Columbia who was forward and bold in her approach, Gita Steiner-Khamsi – she was not someone who would coddle, but she was extraordinarily supportive and gave her students wonderful opportunities out of the classroom. I remember her saying to a group of us, “I want to get you out of here, so you can go out and do your work.” The other mentor I had was a Professor at Columbia, Charles Tilly. He was a prolific writer and advisor to many, but he always made time for his students. He never shortchanged his commitment to teaching. When I was graduating, he nominated me for a fellowship and I was so blown away by this. I said, “I don’t know how to thank you,” and he replied, “Pay it forward…whatever you do, when you’re working with students, always pay it forward”. That is something that I look for when we hire faculty as well. Our faculty arestellar in their respective fields of study and research, but also have a deep commitment to what it means to be in the classroom and work with students.
What do you think is distinctive about the CGA community?
The CGA attracts a different type of student because we look at global affairs very holistically through eight concentrations and our new master’s program that bring different types of thinking into one space. The classes and curriculum have been intentionally designed to bring various problem solving approaches together into one classroom. This contributes to a very unique graduate education experience. I also think that the size matters— it is not a big program so you can have a very intimate relationship with the community while you are here. I know other programs that are much larger where it is harder to have face-time with faculty. During my own graduate days, some classes had 100 students where I could not get more than 10 minutes with that faculty member. The CGA’s mission, to create global citizens who will change the world, also attracts students who want to see themselves as change makers. They want to find careers in the global affairs space where they can make a difference in whatever way they can.
What three words would you use to describe the CGA?
Disruption: CGA disrupts in a positive way, and does not adhere to status quo thinking.
Love: Many of us at CGA have been here for a very long time because we really believe in the program. We believe in the students that come through the door. I personally feel a huge sense of responsibility and tell the students in my classes, and those who I advise in the energy and environment concentration, that if they are not getting jobs after they graduate, that is on me. I want to make sure that the classes we offer and the types of opportunities I can help cultivate are actually getting them closer to getting the jobs they want. I think all of us feel that responsibility, and believe it is an important part of what we do. I want to make sure students receive the requisite skills and knowledge to go out and get the careers that they came to the program to have.
What do you envision for CGA in the next 15 years?
We have a new master’s program in Global Security, Conflict and Cybercrime and that is a new and exciting development for the CGA.
There are also a lot of changes happening in higher education that are going to require us to take an even deeper dive into making sure the classroom experience is both relevant and works for students. Ideally, I would like almost everything that students do – such as their thesis, capstone or the consulting practicums— to be aligned with where they want to go and what they want to do in the future. Students should think of themselves as practitioners while they are here, so that they are practicing what they are studying. We are building many more opportunities like this into the curriculum, which is a big difference from 14 years ago. For example, in 2006 we had one capstone completed by a group of 6 students, and then the next one did not happen until around 2010. Since then, many more students have done capstones. There is also a lot more applied work, such as in the consulting practicums and the workshop in applied peacebuilding, that I see multiplying moving forward. This is only going to become a much thicker thread in all that we do.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.