Student Spotlight: Shawn Backe C’21

Student Spotlight: Shawn Backe C’21

 What attracted you to Drew?

I moved to Madison from Long Island and started my education at the County College of Morris. I met Sunita Bhargava, Drew’s Director of Transfer and Continuing Education, at one of CCM’s events, and she convinced me to apply to Drew. Sunita was great to speak to because she had also been a non-traditional student with a pathway similar to mine. I applied to Drew a few days later.

Did you know what you wanted to major in when you started at Drew?

Originally I was on the B.A./M.A.T. track but I was unsure about a specialization.  I took Intro. to International Relations with Dr. Timothy Carter and I was hooked. After this course, I applied and was accepted to Drew’s Semester at the United Nations in the fall of 2019. While attending a speaker forum on “Modern Slavery: 21st Century Solutions” at Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ, I had the distinguished opportunity to meet and speak with Nadia Murad, the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize co-recipient. The forum was organized by the NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking, and featured survivors, federal and state legislative advocates, awareness programs and direct service providers, and many experts in the field of Trafficking in Persons. I was moved by the strength and resiliency of the survivors, the meaningful work and compassion of the advocates and service providers, and I was inspired to take action. All of these things combined helped me realize that International Relations was the right major for me.

Nadia Murad, the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize co-recipient and Shawn Backe at a forum on “Modern Slavery” at Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ on September 27, 2019

What excites you about International Relations, History and Law, Justice and Society?

There are many areas of concentration within the field of International Relations including, environmental, economic and development, conflict resolution and peace-building, etc., but I am most interested in international law and human rights. History offers some of the necessary context to understand how countries have developed the way they have, and Law, Justice & Society further expands my understanding of human rights and more broadly, International Relations.

Have you done any internships?

I participated in an internship during my Semester on the United Nations with Covenant House, NJ in the fall of 2019.  It was an amazing opportunity. I worked for the Executive Director on a special project related to human trafficking. CHNJ’s youth clients are often affected by housing and food insecurity, but 17 percent of their youth have also been exposed to some form of sex or labor trafficking. I worked with CHNJ staff in the field doing outreach and met with vulnerable youth. Not everyone needs the same things, however, CHNJ is able to connect each client to services that match their needs and goals. The first priority is to stabilize the young person with safe housing. Covenant House then helps with employment, vocational training and school (GED or college), legal advocacy, and health care and counseling services. My internship with CHNJ gave me an opportunity to see first hand the effects that civil-society organizations can make in the lives of youth who experience homelessness and other insecurities.

Do you have any mentors at Drew? 

Political Science and International Relations Professor Dr. Carlos Yordan. Professor Yordan’s insight and guidance was invaluable in catching me up in the IR major requirements that I was behind in. His in-depth knowledge of the United Nations and the U.N. Community, Terrorism, and International Law inspired me to concentrate on human rights.

What issue in the world means the most to you?

The most important issue for me is human rights specifically how child separation and immigration are resulting in human rights abuses.  I am currently researching the U.S. policy on child separation at the border in the context of torture: “Is child separation torture?”

 What are some of your favorite memories of Drew?

One of my favorite memories occurred my first year at Drew when I went on the alternative spring break, Civic Engagement trip to Appalachia in Kentucky. The purpose of the trip was to learn about mountaintop removal of coal and its environmental, cultural, and economic impact of coal mining. This community, in Harlan, KY is in the heart of “coal country” and has endured significant environmental damage, as a result. Some members of the community feel that the jobs and incomes provided by the coal industry should outweigh any potential health concerns. This is a work in progress. We also cleared and built trails, planted trees, and attended community and cultural events. The highlight was cooking and eating meals with my fellow classmates. We spent evenings bonding and reflecting on each day’s events.

What advice would you give students who are just starting out?

Do not be afraid to explore. Take a class that is unrelated to your major: Anthropology, Art History, Conflict Resolution. Try not to wait too long before you get started on your upper level credits.

What are your career goals?

I am considering law school or enrolling in a Master’s Degree program. I have recently applied to both the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Human Rights Watch. I plan on working right after graduation, so the pursuit of my graduate degree will likely be part-time.

Are there any fun facts you would like to share?

I am a grandfather. I also served in the Marines. My favorite city is Washington, DC when the cherry blossom trees are in bloom.

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