Teaching heroes: GSPIA’s Santucci wants students to challenge ideas

Julia Santucci in front of a classroom


With just a few brief prompts from Julia Santucci in her class “Politics, Development and Conflict in the Middle East,” the students were ready to explain and challenge the ideas they had just learned.

The subject? The evolution of jihadist ideology. Santucci — the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs’ senior lecturer in intelligence studies and director of the Hesselbein Forum Leadership Program in International Affairs — had asked students to read an article that aimed to explain the ideology’s spread.

“If this was your bottom line, what were your evidence points to support this?” she prompted them.

“Any evidence points from others, for this argument?”

“Anybody else want to articulate a different hypothesis?”

At each prompt, the students outlined their reasoning and offered evidence. They challenged the article’s conclusions and Santucci’s.

“So let’s unpack that one at time,” she responded.

Santucci could probably counter every student argument with a story from her dozen years in government service, but she resisted. Before joining Pitt last year, she worked for presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama as a Central Intelligence Agency leadership analyst (2005-2015), director for Egypt on the National Security Council staff in the White House (2012-2014) and senior advisor to the U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women's issues in the Department of State (2015-2017).

Now she teaches Introduction to American Intelligence, as well as Intelligence Analysis and Support for U.S. Foreign Policy Makers. She also has co-taught Diplomacy: Theory and Practice and is teaching Introduction to American Intelligence online this fall for GSPIA’s Master’s in Public Policy Management program for mid-career professionals.

“I was very interested in the opportunity to help expand students’ — Americans’ — understanding of the role the intelligence community plays on the world stage,” Santucci says. After the 2016 presidential election, “it became apparent we in Washington were working in a bubble.

“Outside of the classroom, a big part of my job description is mentoring students” who wish to gain jobs in intelligence and foreign policy, she adds. “I can help develop a skill in them now that they need to be successful in their fields,” such as the writing skills that intelligence analysts use to present facts and options to policymakers, a practice that is very different from academic writing, she says.

While she may not fill classroom time with anecdotes from her career, her experience certainly informs her teaching: “One thing they teach in the policy course is: Doing nothing is an option. That’s theoretically true. But in my experience, policy experts don’t view that as an option.”

She watched Obama, for instance, delay action on the civil war in Syria. “He slow-rolled it into meeting after meeting,” she says; then critics charged that he did too little. “That speaks to why doing nothing is really never an option,” she says.

Now she is gaining new, useful insights from teaching at Pitt: “It was such a learning experience for me to co-teach that class,” she says of the diplomacy course. “My strength as a teacher is that I can draw on experience and how things work in the real world.” But, in co-teaching with a faculty member whose career had involved more scholarship, she found that “we were able to leverage both of GSPIA’s strengths.”

To prepare students for the give-and-take of her classroom, Santucci blends lectures with group-based discussion. “Having students talk through concepts themselves is helpful in allowing them to understand them,” she says. She teaches them to apply structural analytical techniques, an analysis of competing hypotheses, as practiced by intelligence analysts.

I certainly want to share my expertise in a way that guides them to their own conclusions … to understand the various factors at play. I recognize that I have one particular set of experiences in the intelligence arena, but there are many paths a student can take.”

Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at martyl@pitt.edu or 412-758-4859.


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