Alum Highlight: Walter Ratliff
The good that can spring from religion and the cruelties people inflict on one another in its name have preoccupied Walter Ratliff for nearly two decades; and he has an urge to explain these phenomena, as well as they can be explained, to a broader, secularized world that is often mystified by both.
In 2000, the year before beginning Georgetown’s Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program, Ratliff—then a freelance television producer—traveled to Kaduna, Nigeria, where the adoption of Shariah law had sparked cyclical waves of violence that killed hundreds of Christians and Muslims.
Ratliff dutifully covered the tragedy for his documentary, but he felt he needed to understand it more deeply: He wanted to know why. His opportunity came via Georgetown’s program, which by nature, is interdisciplinary and self-directed, in concert with the University’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
“It was a chance to study under leading scholars in a field that was becoming increasingly significant on the world stage,” said Ratliff, now Content Manager/Editor for the Associated Press’s National Religion Beat. “What Georgetown was offering seemed like a custom fit.”
Ratliff master’s degree focused on Islam and Christian-Muslim relations. He has written several books on the subject, including “Pilgrims on the Silk Road: A Muslim-Christian Encounter in Khiva,” which uncovered remarkable stories of interreligious cooperation following the late 19th-century migration of Mennonites from southern Russia to Uzbekistan. The book won a gold medal in the Readers’ Favorite book awards.
In his books and daily journalism, Ratliff explores what he calls “the intersection of faith and public life.” And he credits his experience at Georgetown—both the academics and the relationships he built with faculty and other students—with giving him a deeper understanding of this complex and powerful relationship.
Alum Highlight: Mark Woodson
If you want to encourage young people to work hard and aim for college, you could tell them all the things they’ve no doubt heard (but not necessarily internalized) about the benefits of a college degree. How it will help them find a better job. How they could make more money than their peers with less education. How—to use some well-worn phrases—it can open doors for them, enrich their lives, and be the key to their success.
Or you could simply lead by example.
Mark Woodson, Dean of Students at Maryland charter school College Park Academy, takes the first approach, to be sure, but his life is a testament to the second.
“I loved being a college student. I love school,” said Woodson, a 2015 graduate of Georgetown’s Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program. “I just enjoy learning for the sake of learning.”
College Park Academy, which is affiliated with the University of Maryland, has about 500 students from a variety of backgrounds, but a large portion receive free or reduced-priced lunch and would be the first in their family to attend college. It is with these students that Woodson spends much of his time.
“There are students here who don’t have the academic foundation you want in middle school and high school,” he said.
A Rutgers graduate with a degree in sociology, Woodson helps teach Introduction to the Social Sciences in the University’s Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies program. He draws on his Georgetown experiences—both as a student and teacher—to show young people that there are many routes to a college degree.
“It’s not just about the content,” he says of these conversations, “but about what it takes to do well as a part-time student who’s also working.”
Alum Highlight: Tim Embree
If you work for the federal government, it’s easy to get discouraged by the hyper-partisanship, drama, and general rancor of today’s Washington. That’s what happened—for a moment, at least—to one of Tim Embree’s colleagues recently at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“Oh, this is a dark day,” she said.
Embree, a graduate of Georgetown’s Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program, tried to reassure her: “It’s really not as bad as when the vice president tries to overthrow the government.”
That made her feel much better.
Or maybe not. But, for the record, Embree was referring to former Vice President Aaron Burr, who was tried unsuccessfully for treason in 1807 for allegedly planning to create an independent nation in parts of what is now the Southwestern United States and Mexico. (He also shot Alexander Hamilton a few years earlier, so the point is: It could be worse.)
Embree may be an optimist, but he’s hardly a naive one. His worldview comes from years of experience in government, politics, and the military, including two tours of Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves and a two-year stint as Special Assistant to former St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.
In his work as a Congressional Relations Officer, Embree liaisons with eight North Atlantic state congressional delegations and is a staff member for the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.
“We’re fortunate. We deal with a very bipartisan—nonpartisan, really—committee,” he said. “That makes a world of difference.”
He chose the Master’s in Liberal Studies program for its similarly evenhanded—and rigorous—approach to subjects such as history, philosophy, economics, business, and law. For his Capstone, he explored the origins and development of republicanism, America’s form of government.
Georgetown’s rigorous program attracts people from all walks of life, but they have one thing in common, Embree said.
“They appreciate the opportunity to be held to that level of excellence.”