Spotlight on Social Sciences Alumni: Jonathan Elkin

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Name: Jonathan Elkin ’08

Education (UR and Additional): BA (Political Science & African/African-American Studies), University of Rochester, 2008

Job Title: Student

Employer: Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS)

Community activities: American Jewish World Service – Global Circle


When and how did you choose your major?

I doubled majored in political science and African/African-American studies (AAS) and decided on each at very different stages of my college career. I remember knowing that I wanted to major in political science before I even applied to college. I think at that point I had aspirations of running for political office. It was a subject that interested me and I felt like I thrived in discussion-based classes. My decision to major in AAS was a little less premeditated. I took my first class in the AAS department during the first semester of my freshmen year. It was called “The History of Race in America” and is taught every four years by Professor Hudson. The class was challenging and intellectually stimulating. As I continued to take classes in the AAS department, my appreciation for the academic and personal development I was gaining, coupled with the seminar-style class environments, led me to take classes in AAS nearly every semester until at one point I realized that I could actually complete a major in AAS. So I did!

What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?

I was involved with Hillel throughout my time at Rochester and was an RA for two years. I met a lot of great people, and gained some very close friends, through my involvement in both communities and also had the opportunity to cultivate and develop leadership skills. The experience of holding leadership positions in college gave me some additional confidence upon graduation as well as valuable skills that I’ve been able to draw upon in the years since then.

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

After graduation I joined the Peace Corps where I lived and worked in Azerbaijan for two years. After spending a semester abroad in Kenya, I wanted a more immersive cross-cultural experience and an opportunity to learn about, and engage in, the development of another community. It was an exceptionally rich and constantly stimulating experience – one that I think will inform a lot of what I do in the years ahead.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

I am a student at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) where I study international development and international economics. After spending a few years abroad and working in corporate social responsibility consulting, I wanted to return to school to get the theoretical and practical skills to take my career to the next level. 

How do you balance your work and personal life?

It can definitely be a challenge to balance a demanding graduate school schedule and personal life. One thing that has been reinforced since Rochester is that valuable learning happens not just within the formal curriculum, but also in discussions and time spent with peers. My classmates at SAIS come from a wide array of backgrounds and parts of the world – from the U.S. Marine Corps, to NGO work in China, to the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I try to ensure that my course work is enhanced by the relationships I form with classmates as well. Additionally, it’s also critical to have fun! Balance is key.

What advice do you have for current students?

My advice for current students would be to go to office hours, see speakers whenever they come to the university, and try to find a good balance between work and personal life. College, and the University of Rochester in particular, provides many opportunities to be exposed to new and stimulating ideas and form meaningful relationships with faculty and fellow students. I wish I did a better job in some of these areas while I was a student – there really is a place for all of it.