Sasha Baker, acting undersecretary of defense for policy, hosted a question-and-answer session on defense policy for students and faculty from a Dartmouth College fellowship program yesterday at the Pentagon.

The one-hour Q&A between Baker, a 2005 Dartmouth graduate, and 16 students from Dartmouth’s War & Peace Fellows Program was part of a three-hour interactive program to provide the students with an introduction to Defense Department priorities, programs and careers. 

“I have tried to do this whenever we have groups and organizations and student groups that come through, in part, because we’re trying to recruit the next generation here to be policy professionals at the Pentagon,” Baker said. 

She added that she’s supportive of such engagements because it’s important to make sure that members of younger generations — including the students who attended the event — are aware of all the opportunities that DOD has to offer.

“When I was their age, I didn’t know that this job existed, and I didn’t know it was something I could do,” she said. “And so, I feel like the more that we can familiarize our work with young people, there may be one or two people around that table who think, ‘Yeah, that sounds interesting. I might want to try it.'” 

The Q&A covered a broad range of topics, including foreign policy, how to start a career in Washington, and Baker’s personal philosophy on leadership and mentorship. 

When it comes to starting a career in the Beltway, Baker advised the students to take their time before rushing to pursue advanced education. 

“I think there are a lot of people who feel like you have to get a master’s degree to work in Washington,” Baker told the students. “But I think it’s worth spending a couple of years to try something out and figure out [if] it works for you before you spend the money, time and effort to go back to school.”

On the topic of mentorship, Baker advised the students that seeking out the most senior person for guidance when entering any new work situation isn’t necessarily the most prudent course of action.  

“[Conversely], I think oftentimes what I found is most important is finding that person who’s willing to spend time and actually invest in a relationship,” Baker told the students. “And they might not be the most senior person, but they might be the person who’s most committed to helping you grow in your career or to giving you advice in challenging circumstances.” 

Following the Q&A, Benjamin Valentino, chair of Dartmouth’s government department and faculty director for the War and Peace Studies Program, praised the engagement. 

“[There are] two things that are happening in this room that can’t really happen in the classroom,” Valentino said.  

The first, he said, is that the students can’t become as up to date on government policy in the classroom as they can when high-level officials brief them in person.  

“But maybe even more important, [is] we can’t teach them the kinds of things that we heard today about careers [in DOD],” Valentino said. 

Many of the students who attended the engagement also found value in the event.

“It was really cool. It was great to get insight at such a high level into the workings of the Pentagon,” said Ella von Baeyer, a War and Peace fellow who originally hails from the United Kingdom. “I’m an international student, so it’s always really cool to hear the American perspective on global affairs.” 

“I thought it was super inspiring,” said Madeline Shaw, another War and Peace fellow. “I got to meet Sasha Baker last year, as well, and she’s a motivating, inspiring figure.” 

The year-long War & Peace Fellows Program “brings students together from disciplines across campus to engage in discussions of the social, political, moral and technological dimensions of international conflict and cooperation,” according to the Dartmouth website.

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