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Undergrads Visit Gen. Petraeus

During a month-long exploration in Washington, D.C., international relations students quiz retired Gen. David Petraeus on topics from multilateral disarmament to the nation’s relationship with North Korea.

Gen. David Petraeus reserves time for USC Dornsife undergraduates who are spending a month in Washington, D.C. meeting with officials and experts to discuss crucial international relations topics. Photo by Pam Risdon.
Gen. David Petraeus reserves time for USC Dornsife undergraduates who are spending a month in Washington, D.C. meeting with officials and experts to discuss crucial international relations topics. Photo by Pam Risdon.

A group of USC Dornsife undergraduates on June 20 became students of retired Gen. David Petraeus, who was named as a USC Judge Widney Professor in May.

In a roundtable talk at the Brookings Institution — one of Washington, D.C.’s oldest and most influential think tanks — the students quizzed the former CIA director on issues of national security and international relations. The group asked pointed questions about strategies on multilateral disarmament talks, the U.S. relationship with North Korea and the future of America’s relations with Pakistan in the wake of its military involvement in Afghanistan.

USC international relations sophomore Matt Woo presented Petraeus with a university lapel pin to welcome him to the USC faculty this Fall.

“Meeting with Gen. Petraeus was incredible,” said Woo, who hopes to one day join the CIA. “To use my professor’s words, he is an encyclopedia.

“Getting to meet with Gen. Petraeus and getting to present him with a USC pin has definitely been a highlight in my career at USC thus far.”

Petraeus told the assembly that he looked forward to working with USC’s distinguished faculty, teaching students and mentoring student veterans as well as ROTC members on campus.

The undergraduates at the roundtable, students of USC School of International Relations Professor Emeritus Wayne Glass, are currently spending a month in the nation’s capital, where they are meeting with officials and experts to discuss the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and exploring the world of policymaking. So far, students have visited the embassy of the United Arab Emirates, the White House, the U.S. Department of State, the Pentagon, CIA, the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, among other stops.

Glass said that although uncertain at first what to expect, the students quickly found themselves immersed in the high energy Washington world of policymakers. 

"This course is a tour of Washington in a very special way — from the inside," Glass said. "Students learned the broad outlines and specific details of the major nuclear policy security issues of the day from Iran to Pakistan to India to North Korea. Face-to-face conversations with experts and high government officials gave the students a strong sense of their own abilities and encouraged them to create a vision for their future. This class provides them with educational insights that just don't come inside a traditional classroom."

Petraeus set the tone when he had each student ask a question or offer a comment so that each would have a conversation with him, Glass said. 

"His generous view enabled all students to connect directly with one of America's most experienced military and government leaders," Glass said. "Our conversation lasted two hours; his inspiration could last a lifetime."

Petraeus is the architect and namesake of the counterinsurgency doctrine that stabilized Iraq under U.S. and allied forces. He served as director of the CIA from September 2011 until November 2012. Prior to assuming that post, he was a highly decorated four-star general, serving more than 37 years in the U.S. Army before retiring in August 2011.

Petraeus’ appointment at USC includes affiliations with the USC School of Social Work, including the program in military social work; the USC Price School of Public Policy; the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, including the program in public diplomacy; the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, including the School of International Relations; the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, including the Information Sciences Institute; the USC Institute for Creative Technologies; and the USC Libraries, including the USC Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study.