The following post is written by Leonard Leid, a 2010 graduate of Messiah’s Department of Politics, about his current work and how Messiah has helped him achieve his goals. He has just been awarded a Boren Fellowship, and will soon be leaving to study agriculture and food security in Romania. This, along with Becky’s post, just goes to show that there is a wide array of interests within the Department of Politics, and that a Politics major can open up a multitude of doors later in life!

Why Russian and East European Studies?

When I finished my coursework at Messiah in December 2008 I began studying for the LSAT as I thought law school would be an interesting experience.  At the same time I was concerned that law school would not allow me to read history or study languages so I began searching for other programs that combined languages with other disciplines. Through internet searches I stumbled upon the field of area studies which combines languages with other fields in the social sciences. Eastern European area studies immediately attracted me because I had already taught myself Romanian and wanted to study the region in depth.

The exact details of an area studies degree takes much more explaining than law school would have, not to mention the inevitable question, “what do you expect to do with your degree?” I ultimately chose an area studies degree because of the exciting though ill-defined possibilities. Thankfully my political science degree prepared me well to confidently take graduate courses in four different disciplines in a semester.

I am currently finishing my coursework at the Russian and East European Institute (REEI) at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. The Master’s degree in REEI requires proficiency in at least one language of the region as well as coursework in several different disciplines including a geographical or disciplinary concentration. The REEI master’s degree program is intended to prepare area specialists for nonacademic careers in government and private-sector fields such as research and foreign aid, or in exchange organizations, journalism, and business.

While at REEI I continued studying Romanian and the State Department generously funded me to study Macedonian and Hungarian. Writing research papers in several different disciplines at once, however, was a different story. While the degree is not designed to prepare students to enter academics, the professors are all academicians. I learned quickly to cater to my audience but also found that reading widely outside of each class helped me write research papers of academic quality with policy oriented ideas and common sense solutions. Being forced to write and think interdisciplinarily helped me take the theoretical and the practical and try to forge a logical fusion, an exercise which should be familiar to any student of political science. A degree in a specialized discipline has its own value but by approaching Eastern Europe from several angles I am better prepared to talk broadly about the region and to engage in research using native language sources.

I recently received a Boren Fellowship, sponsored by the National Security Education Program to study Romanian and Hungarian in Brasov, Romania from fall 2012 to fall 2013. In order to complete my Master’s essay I will use data from my fieldwork as well as academic sources to research the historical reasons for backwardness in Romanian agriculture and explore policy relevant solutions which would not only bring much needed income to rural areas but maintain or restore farming systems which nourish rather than deplete the ecology.

To affect long term change agriculture must be at the center of all climate change and biodiversity conservation projects in order to preserve an ecological balance on which current and future generations depend. Over-exploitation of natural resources will jeopardize domestic food security in the long term with huge ripple effects on the global commodity markets as food prices rise and productivity falls due to poor management and soil loss. Farming methods must be rethought for long term global stability in light of global population growth and climate change. Romania has huge potential for increasing production sustainably while conserving biodiversity and providing national security alongside the United States in its global food security initiative.

In exchange for my funding during the Boren Fellowship I have agreed to work for the Federal Government for at least one year after completing my Master’s degree.

To learn more about Leonard and his journey, check out this article in The Shippensburg News-Chronicle!