There are some people who enjoy the comforts of always being close to home and then there are others who prefer to spread their wings. You can put Tracy Saunders ’10 in that second category. Saunders grew up in California, made her way St. Peter to attend Gustavus and is now continuing her studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C.
“What originally drew me to Gustavus and the small liberal arts college was the opportunity to explore my interests in a small, supportive community,” Saunders said. “To be supported on such a personal level was something that I just wasn’t seeing in larger university settings. I also knew I wanted to study a foreign language and Gustavus had a Russian department, which was a huge factor. I knew I wanted to study something a little off the beaten path and I was so excited that Gustavus said ‘Yes, we know you love this very specific and different field of study, that’s why we want you here!”
As is so often the case for Gustavus students, once Saunders started to take classes in various departments she soon realized she wanted to pursue a double major. She stuck with her initial passion of Russian Studies, but also earned her degree in history.
“My first semester I took Introduction to Latin American History with Sujay Rao, and that was the first class that made me feel like I had really made it to college due to the discussions, the challenging assignments, and the massive amounts of reading,” Saunders said. “I had two classes with David Obermiller and those were amazing because in both he managed to get the class so involved and engaged. The history seminars were my favorite classes at Gustavus. That’s where I was able to think creatively and really engage with other students in a way that prepared me for later on.”
Saunders enriched her experience at Gustavus by taking courses in several other departments and by participating in several co-curricular activities. She was heavily involved in the College’s Russian Club and served as President of the organization during her last year and half at Gustavus. She was also part of the Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority, which she says was a huge part of her Gustavus experience. She also studied abroad in India during January Term and for a semester in St. Petersburg, Russia. All of her experiences during her four years were beneficial when it came time to apply to graduate schools.
“Gustavus was able to give me a breadth of experience when it came to applying for grad school,” Saunders said. “Not only did I have a regional specialty and a language, but a historical background as well. And I will never be able to thank the Career Services Office enough for their recommendation that I take some classes in the Economics and Management Department. I didn’t understand why at the time, but they were so important for the programs that I applied to. That’s my one recommendation to others – really take advantage of the diversity of disciplines that Gustavus has to offer, even just to get a little exposure. You never know where you’ll end up down the line.”
As it turned out, Johns Hopkins wasn’t the only school that wanted Saunders. She was also accepted to the Monterey Institute of International Studies, American University’s School of International Service, George Washington’s Elliott School of International Affairs, and Tufts University’s Fletcher School.
“I had Tracy in two courses and she clearly stood out among her peers. She was always prepared, she was exceptionally well organized, disciplined, self-directed, and had tremendous intellectual curiosity,” Obermiller said. “She is the type of individual you would want to have in your class, or working for your corporation, or in a graduate program. She is going to have tremendous success in her professional career and I won’t be surprised if she returns to Gustavus in 20 years as a very distinguished and accomplished professional in foreign affairs.”
At Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Saunders will be working towards a master’s degree in international relations with a concentration in international law. At the moment, Saunders doesn’t have plans to become a lawyer, but is more interested in diplomacy and work being done at the State Department.
“Just being in Washington, D.C. has been truly eye-opening as far as the ways that policy is crafted in terms of domestic and international relations,” Saunders said. “I’ve had the pleasure of being able to work with the Embassy in Paraguay and they were really wonderful, committed people, but I’m really just trying to keep my options open and learn as much as I can these next couple years. Gustavus taught me that there’s no reason not to follow your passions, and really use them to guide your next steps.”
Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Matt Thomas