By Carol Kerbaugh

January Term provides an opportunity for our students to take condensed courses in the weeks leading up to the spring semester. We spoke with several students who enrolled in three of the J-Term courses offered and asked about their experience. Here’s what they shared.

Native Americans in the 21st Century: Nation Building I (DEV-501M)

In DEV-501, students learn about the challenges that contemporary Native American tribes and nations face as they endeavor to rebuild their communities, strengthen their cultures, and support their citizens. This course was taught by Joseph Kalt and Angela Riley

Phoebe Canagarajah MPP 2024headshot of Phoebe Canagarajah smiling while wearing navy blazer and white lace top

Peers told me this class was fantastic, and it did not disappoint. Over the course of five days, we heard from 19 guest speakers, all Native leaders from across the country.

I learned some Native Nations have more progressive policies and programs than state and national governments, providing valuable lessons that can be used to inform national policies. I also learned how federal policies and court decisions oftentimes impede Native sovereignty and progress. Lastly, I learned how the diversity of Native cultures and histories impacts their governance structures, policy development, and programmatic focus, which is an important lesson for any policymaker to understand, regardless of whether you work with Native Nations.

Michelle Roca MPP 2024headshot of Michelle Roca

I took DEV-501 because I wanted to take a course at HKS on a topic that I knew nothing about.

I was eager to learn about the development of Native American nations while still tapping into my policy and governance brain. I became more keenly aware of the importance of culture within governing institutions and the need to respect the identity of those served by governing bodies. As a military member, I thought about how these themes and lessons might be applied in other contexts, such as in the development of a military branch like the U.S. Space Force.


Joseph Kalt teaching a Nation Building class and raising his arms for emphasis
Professor Joseph Kalt leads a class discussion in DEV-501M. Kalt directs the Project on Indigenous Governance and Development, formerly the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. Since 1987, the Harvard Project has worked for and with tribes and tribal organizations, providing research, advisory services, and leadership education on issues of nation building. Photo by Sarah Grucza/Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation.

Policy and Social Innovations for the Changing Arctic (IGA-671M)

With the Arctic region warming at least twice as fast as the global average, and as ice retreats on the top of our planet, it is unleashing challenges with local, regional, and global implications across multiple policy domains—environment, economic development, security, culture, and human rights. IGA-671M explores these issues and how public leaders can address them. This course was taught by Halla Hrund Logadóttir.

Helen Cashman MPP/MBA (Stanford) 2026headshot of Helen Cashman smiling

I was interested in learning more about how climate change is impacting the Arctic region and the people who call the Arctic home. 

I learned so much in this one-week course about the specific ways that climate change is impacting the Arctic, international cooperation in the Arctic, and about how innovation can be used to address some of these challenges. I met incredible people from within and outside of HKS and gained a much deeper appreciation for the region. 

Armughan Syed MPA 2024headshot of Armughan Syed wearing suit and smiling

I wanted to learn about the way the Arctic is changing in the face of climate change and the evolving geopolitical environment. I also wanted to learn about a part of the world that I was relatively unfamiliar with but is increasingly becoming the epicenter of major power politics.

In the course, I learned the majority of the Arctic’s indigenous population will be impacted significantly by climate change—permafrost thawing will create infrastructure challenges that will require relocating towns and cities. Additionally, the abundance of rare earth metals and oil reserves in the Arctic is leading to an energy race in a part of the world that is not as closely monitored.


Leadership and Social Transformation in the Arab World (DPI-442)

For DPI-442, students travel to the Middle East for an immersive learning experience to explore some of the region’s most pressing questions: How can societies move from poverty to prosperity? How can weak, stagnant, and dependent countries become strong, innovative, and influential? Is it simply a matter of adopting institutions and practices employed by developed societies? Or is a deeper transformation of social, cultural, and even religious norms required? What is the role of leadership in effecting (or inhibiting) what needs to be done for states and their peoples to maximize their potentials? This course was taught by Sultan Al-Qassemi and Tarek Masoud.

Ann Hait MPP 2025headshot of Ann Hait outdoors on a sunny day

I have dedicated my academic career to studying Middle Eastern politics and security, and this course offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn firsthand from leaders and policymakers in the Gulf. This course also allowed me to visit the region for the first time!

Through the many meetings we participated in, I got to learn how the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have come to be successful regional powers. We learned that vision, talent, and efficiency have been central to their transformation, but there is still a lot to be accomplished as economic and social reforms continue.

Priyanka Varma MPP 2024headshot of Priyanka Varma outdoors smiling

Before attending HKS, my background was in social and economic development research, with a focus on education, gender, and humanitarian issues. I have been particularly interested in studying the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The region’s high rate of youth unemployment, slow progress on gender equality, and ongoing humanitarian conflicts makes it a crucial focus for global development. DPI-442 offered me the unique opportunity to build on my prior research experience to study MENA development through a more structured, hands-on, and policy-oriented lens.

Through DPI-442, I had the unique opportunity to study Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two countries in the Arabian Gulf that have been at the forefront of regional economic and social reform, in the field. Through in-depth conversations with regional policymakers, researchers, and journalists, I learned about the important role of leadership and institutions in diversifying both countries’ economies, modernizing their education systems, and shifting their national cultures to bring about rapid social, political, and economic development. I seek to draw from Saudi and the UAE as case study models for future development in the MENA region and beyond.

Eiichi Tatsumi MC/MPA 2024headshot of Eiichi Tatsumi in front of domed buildings

I previously worked in the energy sector, so I have a strong interest in understanding how the region—especially the economies dependent on oil resources—is undergoing a transformation.

This course provided an opportunity to visit the region and talk with leaders in various fields to understand the challenges they face and how they grapple with them. I learned that a clear vision and the leadership to drive it forward are extremely important for the growth of a nation, regardless of the governance regime. I was impressed to witness talented individuals who thrived in foreign countries before returning to Saudi Arabia to work to realize Vision 2030

The more I learned about the national growth strategies of the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the more I thought about my own country, Japan. This course has given me an invaluable perspective to ask myself what I can do for Japan and the world.

Students enrolled in DPI-442 posing for a group photo with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Students enrolled in DPI-442 met with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Photo courtesy of the Middle East Initiative.
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