Category: Alumni Spotlight

Title: Alumni Spotlight: Aidan Powers-Riggs (MASIA ’23)

Aidan Powers-Riggs Headshot

What year did you graduate, and what was your area of concentration?

I graduated in the class of 2023, and my area of concentration was Politics and Security.


Please tell us abut yourself. What led to your interests in Asian Studies?

I grew up in San Francisco, which is a very diverse and international city with a substantial population of immigrant communities from around the world. It’s a pretty remarkable place of cultural exchange.

Case in point, from K-8th grades I attended a public Chinese-language immersion school, where I learned to read, write, and speak Chinese from the age of five. We initially were taught in Cantonese, and Mandarin was added starting in middle school. It was a very unique experience that gave me a strong early foundation in the language and exposure to Chinese history and culture. We even had the opportunity to travel to China on a cultural exchange trip in 8th grade, which was the first time I had any real first-hand exposure to someplace outside of the U.S.

Fast forward to my years in undergrad at UC Santa Barbara, where I began to develop a strong interest in international relations and political science. The challenge of explaining how countries behave and interact with each other was captivating to me. At the time, China’s rise was becoming a major focus in the field, and it didn’t take me long to realize that my background offered me a unique perspective and skillset to focus on that issue. In my senior year, I studied abroad in Shanghai at Fudan University and took classes from Chinese faculty there on international affairs and U.S.-China relations. It was an eye-opening experience and helped push me to pursue a career in the policy world working on issues relating to U.S.-China relations. And that’s what led me eventually to MASIA.


How did the Asian Studies Program at Georgetown University prepare you for the challenges and opportunities you face today?

Asia is at the center of a lot of incredibly important global trends, and there is a huge and growing demand out there to understand the region better. Having gone through MASIA has helped me be able to translate and distill some of that complexity for stakeholders and decisionmakers in government, the private sector, and civil society. I’d also add that even though my focus is on China, MASIA allowed me to develop a deeper understanding of broader regional issues that has been extremely helpful to my work as a China analyst.


What specific skills and knowledge did you gain from Asian Studies courses at Georgetown?

There’s a lot I could say but I’ll just highlight a few. First, your classes force you to really get into the wonky details of the most important dynamics shaping the region. Whether it’s history, politics, economics, security, climate, energy, law, or anything else you can think of, you have an opportunity to learn from the best scholars and practitioners and go way beyond the surface-level information you see in the news. You’ll become familiar with the main debates and pressing policy questions impacting real-world decision-making, and be in a position to form informed opinions of your own.

Second, you will learn new skills or strengthen existing ones that will be extremely valuable in the workforce. That includes things like foreign language skills, policy writing, research design, data analytics, or even more technical skills like coding and GIS.

Third, your classmates, professors, faculty, and alumni at MASIA will be a huge help as you navigate your experience in the program and after. They all have an enormous wealth of experience and knowledge and want to see you succeed. There’s a great collaborative spirit in MASIA that sets it apart from other graduate programs.


What advice would you give to prospective/current students in the Asian Studies Program?

For prospective students, I really encourage you to have a strong understanding of what you hope to get out of the program before you enroll. You’ll have a much easier time maximizing your experience at Georgetown if you come in with intentionality. The best way to do that is to talk to current students and alumni, so please reach out to us!

To current students: take care of yourselves and each other, slow down, and remember to enjoy your time at MASIA—it flies by.