Afghanistan: America's Next Steps

Afghanistan: America's Next Steps

Afghanistan Visiting Professional Seminar Series

Karen Gold P’11,’17, a two-decade veteran of the Academy, has stepped into the role of Academic Dean this year and has many new responsibilities including directing and designing the Visiting Professional Seminar Series (VPSS). This is a particularly exciting and rewarding opportunity for her as she has always encouraged visitors in her classroom to add an outside perspective to her students’ learning experience.

“I love that our students have access to highly accomplished experts in a variety of fields from the humanities to the arts to STEM. We’ve had business leaders and authors, politicians and photographers,” said Gold.

The first VPSS of Gold’s tenure is Afghanistan: America’s Next Steps. It is designed to be a simulation of an international affairs policy think tank culminating in a public event in which students will explore policy options for the United States going forward now that the Taliban is in power in Afghanistan following the United States’ military withdrawal in August. The course is taught by Julia McQuaid, an expert on international security issues, including terrorism and counterterrorism, armed groups, transnational threats, and water stress, as a driver of conflict and instability. Afghanistan: America’s Next Steps is the third VPSS that McQuaid has led. She previously taught seminar series on the rise of ISIS in the Middle East (Middle East Think Tank) and the impact of access to water on conflicts (Water Wars).

This latest course on Afghanistan is a six-week long seminar for fifteen students. In the first seminar, students— who range from ninth graders to seniors and local day students to international boarding students—  were grounded in the basics of Afghanistan: geography, economy, society, and religion. The following week, they learned about United States interests in Afghanistan, the impact of September 11, 2001, and the history of the War in Afghanistan. In the third week’s seminar, students learned the history of the Taliban, their beliefs, and their connection to Al-Qaeda. Last week, students were treated to a lecture by Head of School Dr. Peter H. Quimby ‘85, P’14, a post-Soviet Russia politics expert, who contributed to McQuaid’s lecture about the connection between Afghanistan and China, Europe, and the Middle East.

“With the United States' sudden withdrawal from Afghanistan, I, like many others, have been interested in the next possible steps for the United States from a social and political view. I found this to be a great opportunity to engage with other interested students about Afghanistan and to challenge myself to learn more about [the] general work of foreign relations from an expert.” said Sophia ‘23.

Started in fall 2017, VPSS provides students with access to experts in unique fields of study who can inspire, educate, and mentor them. It also deepens their fluency in the Seven Essential Skills. These popular seminars— generously funded by a Governor’s family— explore areas of passion for students or examine issues of local, national, or international importance. The courses are fast-paced, typically meeting once a week for six weeks. Each seminar culminates with a project or experience that requires students to work collaboratively with peers and present publicly.

Like all VPSS, interested students enrolled in the Afghanistan seminar and will receive independent study credit. “What I most enjoy about this course is that we all voluntarily signed up, everyone is motivated and wants to achieve the best work possible, which contributes to the overall energy of the class,” said Hugo ‘23.

When thinking about the future of the VPSS, Gold said, “For the short term, I’d like to continue to offer a variety of series that appeal to a range of kids. I’d like to offer classes that appeal to a student’s interests while challenging them intellectually and encouraging them to move out of their comfort zone.” Over the last five years, VPSS topics have ranged from historic home preservation and social justice to the drafting of legislation and musical theater.

“In the future, I’d like to connect visiting professionals to the Bass Institute [the future intellectual center of environmental science teaching and research initiatives at the Academy] in a variety of ways. Perhaps an artist who has been inspired by the Great Marsh, a geographer who has studied the impact of the Parker River, or a historian who has focused on the settlement of greater Newburyport,” said Gold of her vision for VPSS.

On Thursday, November 11, students in Afghanistan: America’s Next Steps will give their final presentations. Students, parents, faculty, and staff are invited to attend from 6:30-8:00 p.m. in Frost Library.