Latin American political figures ranging from consultants in Mexico to cabinet officials in Ecuador will work toward master’s degrees in political communication and governance when the Graduate School of Political Management launches a Spanish-language program this summer.
Mark Kennedy, who became GSPM’s director in January, said the hybrid program, taught mostly online, would complement the school’s existing short-term programs in the region that bolster students’ political skills in countries with a turbulent history of governing.
“It’s focused on the unique cultural aspects in engaging politically, both in campaigns and in governing within Latin America,” Kennedy said.
The school started offering non-degree certificates in political management and strategic governance last May after a decade of training Latin American political leaders in executive education programs like short-term seminars. Kennedy said a master’s degree would strengthen GSPM’s global operations. The school also partners with universities in Italy and Brazil to offer graduate programs and seminars.
About 25 students will initially earn the master’s degree and learn skills for running campaigns by stacking two separate certificates: political management and strategic governance plus elections and political communication.
Roberto Izurieta, an assistant research professor who teaches half of the Latin American program, said students will learn methods like polling and demographic research to help run more strategic and professional campaigns than Latin Americans have historically seen.
“In Latin America, campaigns are often run by people who don’t know how to run campaigns. For them, they don’t have experience working on different campaigns and don’t how things work, and it’s inefficient,” Izurieta said. “But the change is happening. Some campaigns in Latin America are run in a more efficient way than the old way because the old way is losing.”
Izurieta added that the school’s history of running smaller programs in the region and his visibility as an analyst for CNN en Español have bulked up its reputation in Latin America. Students from past certificate programs wrote to the school asking for master’s degree, he said.
Gabriela Lopez, a student in the program and a political consultant for a firm in Mexico, has worked on state-level campaigns since 2001. She hopes to learn more about preparing politicians to deliver on promises to voters and to run professional campaigns.
“They just improvise, and they think that if they’re ahead in the polls, they don’t need to work a lot. They don’t truly understand the polls,” Lopez said.
Luis Matos, director of the Latin America program and an associate director of political management, said the goal is not only to help students win elections, but also to give them the skills needed to create governmental change once they reach office.
He added that Latin American voters have demanded more accountability from elected officials and government workers, moving students in the program to try to answer that call.
“The more we get new young leaders in the political system in Latin America with new tools and new ideas, they’ll be capable of improving the perception that [people] have there of the profession of politics,” Matos said. “They are going to be more effective and do a lot more for tolerance.”
Matos said he has run classes for the certificate program through video lecturing and discussion forums, and brought in English-speaking lecturers to add perspective while he translates into Spanish.
Kennedy, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota, said he has engaged faculty and students in strategic planning since he took to the helm to bring the school in line with the University’s goals for globalization and governance. He said the graduate school’s strategic plan would be developed throughout the summer.
During public forums and interviews during the GSPM director search in December, Kennedy first voiced goals of spreading the school’s international presence. Reaching higher global heights would help GSPM differentiate its programs from competitors like Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, Kennedy added.
“Part of what you do when you look at a strategic plan is you look at benchmarks,” Kennedy said. “Our goal is to have our international programs extend beyond Latin America, but we come with a lot of experience there.”