Jill Marie Dougherty, a December ’13 graduate, maintained a 4.0 cumulative GPA in pursuit of her Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) degree while serving as a CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent covering the State Department and international affairs.
From her study of the Russian language at age 13 to her MALS thesis on Russia’s Soft Power Diplomacy, her primary academic focus has been Russia. Professionally, her range of reporting has reached more than 50 countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Russia and North Korea. She served as Moscow Bureau Chief and Correspondent, White House Correspondent, US Affairs Editor, and Managing Editor for CNN International Asia-Pacific, based in Hong Kong.
After three decades with CNN, she departed the news network in January 2014 when she was selected as a Fellow at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Dougherty received the MALS Outstanding Student Award during the School of Continuing Studies' Tropaia Ceremony on May 14, 2014. "Tropaia" comes from the ancient Greek word for "trophies," which refers to a monument constructed to celebrate a military victory. Georgetown preserves and extends this meaning to honor outstanding members of the university community.
What made you choose Georgetown's MALS program?
My father graduated from Georgetown Law School and three of my relatives went to Georgetown so it was a natural choice for graduate study. I actually heard about the Liberal Studies program from a friend. I enrolled just for the intellectual challenge of it – I have always loved school – and with the idea that if I ever wanted to teach in the future, I would need a master's degree.
How long have you been interested in Russia?
Russia has been my abiding passion since my high school years in Scranton, Pennsylvania. I studied with a truly spectacular teacher, Michael Peregrim, whose first language was Russian. In our fourth year, my sister and I were the only Russian Language students left and the school did not permit classes for fewer than six students. Mr. Peregrim dedicated his free period to us so we could complete four years.
My sister and I spent two years as Russian majors at Emmanuel College in Boston then transferred to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, a center of Slavic Language studies. We both received a B.A. in Slavic Languages and Literature from Michigan and also got fellowships to study at Leningrad State University, Vladimir Putin's alma mater.
Shortly after graduation, my sister and I worked as Russian language guides on US Information Agency exhibits in Russia where we spoke with literally thousands of Russians daily.
My first job was at the Voice of America where I was a Russian language broadcaster to the Soviet Union. Then I got into television.
Any memorable moments from your international reporting assignments?
I have reported from many places, but one story that will always stay with me is covering the aftermath of the terrorist attack on Beslan in the south of Russia. In that attack, 380 people died, many of them schoolchildren. It happened on the first of September, traditionally the first day of school in Russia. Terrorists herded more than a thousand parents and children into the gym and held them hostage. When Russian forces freed them, the school caught on fire. It was horrible. I remember the graves for the children, the parents who had lost what was most precious to them, the cruelty of the terrorists, the futility of it all. I still remember the cries of one father who roamed the halls of the burnt-out school one night, shrieking in pain at the loss of his child.
That night still haunts me. Why did it have to happen? Five years later, when I was at Georgetown, I would think of the ethical issues I struggled with that night. How could the terrorists justify what they did? How did the Russian government respond? What does a tragedy like that one do to a community?
Who was your favorite MALS professor?
From the moment of my first class with Fr. Francis X. Winters, I was hooked. His focus on ethics and its role in history deeply affected me. I kept taking courses with the aim of concentrating in international relations, but as Foreign Affairs Correspondent for CNN, I had just begun covering the State Department. Part of my job was traveling with Hillary Clinton, who had just been named the Secretary of State. She racked up a lot of miles and I honestly wondered whether I could ever find the time for my classwork.
Somehow, with the encouragement of Dean Anne Ridder, I got through. Writing my thesis allowed me to focus on Russian President Vladimir Putin and his "soft power" strategy which was just beginning at the time. My thesis led me to the decision to leave CNN after three decades and devote myself to further studies of Russia. That decision, in turn, led to the fellowship at Harvard. This fall I hope to start writing a book.
Receiving my master’s degree from Georgetown was a high point of my life. It was something that I, as an adult, set out to enjoy – and accomplish. It was challenging, of course, but also the most fun I have had in many years. I loved the sheer intellectual pleasure of studying, reading and thinking. In my job I had to react very quickly and my TV deadlines were immediate, with just seconds to think. It was a gift to be able to really give my mind time to expand and think about what it all means.
How has MALS helped you in your career?
Getting the degree opened up a whole new chapter in my life. Without it I might never have had the courage to strike out on my own and follow my heart to do what I really want to. It re-invigorated me and gave me the tools for a new direction.
What advice would you give prospective MALS students?
I would tell anyone who is considering enrolling in Georgetown’s MALS program to do it. If I could find the time for classes and studying, I am sure anyone can. It could change your life.
Master of Liberal Studies program
CNN bio of Jill Marie Dougherty
Recent Huffington Post article by Jill Marie Dougherty