Alumni Spotlight: Sadaf Dastan
Sadaf began to participate in the Undergraduate Fellowship during her last year at Mason, while she was beginning to make post-graduation plans. Far from being an extra obligation, the fellowship provided a “space where I was able to…think about learning for its own sake,” she says.
undefinedundefined Dastan (GMU ’19) graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Conflict Analysis and Resolution and a minor in Anthropology, along with a list of accomplishments including building a strong relationship with a faculty mentor and conducting an undergraduate research project through the Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, and Research (OSCAR). Add her background in classical piano, Latin, and her current study of international affairs, and it becomes clear that Sadaf’s interests range far and wide.
In fact, she was drawn to the Undergraduate Fellowship precisely because of its interdisciplinary focus. “I remember looking at the list of alumni and their majors and minors and seeing, wow, this is not just for econ majors,” she says. “From there, I could see that this could probably help me learn to view contemporary issues…with a different lens.”
It's a space where I was able to…think about learning for its own sake
She began to participate in the Undergraduate Fellowship during her last year at Mason, while she was beginning to make post-graduation plans. Far from being an extra obligation, the fellowship provided a “space where I was able to…think about learning for its own sake,” she says. “The other fellows and I were all there dedicating our time to learn for the sake of learning and for the sake of inquiry. And I think that experience, especially at an undergraduate level, is so rare.”
Sadaf studied conflict analysis and resolution because she wanted a major “that combined a couple of different viewpoints that would give me a diverse academic experience.” The fellowship enriched what she was learning for her major by preventing her from approaching any question from only one angle. “Having that understanding of political economy, or just even wanting to learn about it, can…really give you different lenses of how to approach problem-solving with international conflict,” she says. The ability to develop those different lenses through discussions with Hayek Program scholars and her peers was one of the things she appreciated most about the Undergraduate Fellowship—that, and the friends she made. Now mostly in graduate school or beginning their careers, she and the other Undergraduate Fellowship alumni from her cohort still read over one another’s draft papers, bounce ideas off each other, and discuss current events. “I think it's a very positive environment. I feel like we're all genuinely cheering each other on, helping each other out.” As a result, she advises current and potential fellows to “get to know one another, get to know about each other's diverse interests and backgrounds…All of the fellows are bringing a very unique skill set, a very unique class background.”
I think it's a very positive environment. I feel like we're all genuinely cheering each other on, helping each other out.
The fellowship also influenced Sadaf’s research interests. “My interest in political economy, and one of the reoccurring interests in the fellowship, is what [Deirdre] McCloskey writes about and what Ginny Choi and Virgil Storr’s book is about: the intersection of culture, markets, morals, and ethics.” That intersection shows in her research pursuits, mainly through a comparative study of media freedom and censorship in Hungary and Iran that she and a fellow undergraduate at Mason presented at a conference for the International Studies Association. She’s particularly interested in contrasting the Iranian constitution to events in the public sphere, as well as in “the persistence of the Iranian people” in using social media to communicate despite government censorship.
After graduating, Sadaf worked as an Economic Research Assistant at the U.S. Department of State before deciding to return to school. Now an M.A. Candidate at The Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University, Sadaf regularly finds herself referring to the discussion skills she honed as an Undergraduate Fellow. The skills needed to create fruitful discussion, she says, “aren’t necessarily taught in schools: how to really learn to be, not just an active, good listener…but how to really engage with things that challenge your views, how to engage with them in a respectful way, how to engage with them critically.”
What’s next? “For now, my biggest focus is starting on the right foot with my graduate program,” Sadaf says. After graduating with her master’s from George Washington University, she’s considering pursuing a JD or PhD. “I feel very fortunate that I’m in a position where I’m able to have those options open for myself.”
She’s also excited about her future participation in Mercatus fellowships. During the coming year and a half, she’ll be a Don Lavoie Fellow in the Spring 2021 semester and a Frédéric Bastiat Fellow during the 2021-2022 academic year. She applied to the Frédéric Bastiat Fellowship in part because of its similarities to the Undergraduate Fellowship: “It attracted a diverse mix of people, but to a higher level—a diverse mix of disciplines from a diverse mix of schools,” she says. “I'm very excited to see what everyone can bring to the table and learn from each other.”