Russia Direct is pleased to introduce our readers to Graham Westbrook, the winner of our first-ever Student Essay Competition.


Russia Direct received so many high-quality, in-depth analyses from all over the world, including the U.S., Russia, Italy, Germany, France, Poland and India. Photo: Rossiyskaya Gazeta

When Russia Direct first launched the Student Essay Competition in October, the editorial team was hoping to find a guest contributor with new ideas and new perspectives on the U.S.-Russian relationship.

Our winner, Graham Westbrook, a junior at Mercyhurst University in the United States, not only came up with a new avenue for potential collaboration between the U.S. and Russia, he also did so in a way that the RD editorial team found to be fresh, original and worthy of further debate. In this Q&A, find out more about our talented young winner, who combined his knowledge of Russian affairs and intelligence studies to write on the emerging field of health diplomacy.

Russia Direct: What inspired you to choose the topic of health diplomacy for your essay?

Graham Westbrook: Two things in particular. The first being a suggestion from my Russian Politics professor, Dr. Surzhko-Harned, to consider the topic of "public health" as a means of improving U.S.-Russian relations.

Graham WestbrookThe second being my experience researching and presenting on public health topics for a recent Mercyhurst intelligence course. Both led me to realize the highly underreported value of health diplomacy to establish common ground.

RD: Can you tell us a little about your undergraduate major of intelligence studies?

G.W.: The Intelligence Studies major at Mercyhurst is a program designed to turn critical thinkers interested in world events into well-informed, unbiased, and competent analysts capable of making relevant estimates. Students can take three avenues of focus: law enforcement, national security, or competitive intelligence. Ultimately, we are trained to analyze information in such a way as to reduce the level of uncertainty for our decision makers and policymakers.

I have chosen the National Security avenue of Intelligence Studies in the hopes of focusing my efforts and analyses on foreign and external affairs.

RD: If I had a month in Russia, I would…

G.W.: Immerse myself in the language, visit Moscow and St. Petersburg, take the Siberian rail, visit Lake Baikal, grab a Baltika and see a Kontinental Hockey League game, and, most importantly, feast on some blini.

RD: The one issue or event that I find most fascinating in the U.S.-Russian relationship is…

G.W.: The true potential for a return to U.S.-Russian bipolarity in the current global system. Little over 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia and the U.S. have a unique opportunity to build long-term stability and reconcile past disputes by becoming global partners. Hopefully, these two giants will be able to bridge the proverbial gap between the past and a more prosperous future.

RD: The person or event that inspired me to become a Russian expert is…

G.W.: Brian Cochrane. Chef, social worker, and international traveler by trade, Brian became a mentor, began to teach me the Russian language, and encouraged me to explore the ins and outs of Russian culture ranging from its cuisine to its rich literature.

The most underrated (or overrated) thing about Russia is…

G.W.: The most underrated thing about Russia is most certainly the beauty of the language. The more I learn, speak, and read in this incredible language, the more I begin to feel a peculiar fondness of Russia itself. Many Americans are missing out. 

The best advice (either academic or professional) I’ve ever received was…

G.W.:To finish well. My father, Stephen, has always encouraged me to complete the tasks set before me and finish with boldness. It has proven an invaluable piece of advice.

My favorite class at the university is…

G.W.: Geopolitics. It enables one to look at the world in such a way as to appreciate both the importance of geography and the complexity of international relations.

The one thing I’m looking forward to in 2014…

G.W.: Getting married! My fiancée is a constant source of loving inspiration and a ray of hope.

What's one thing about your personal background that you'd like to share with readers?

G.W.: I come from a long line of musicians and probably could sing harmony before I could color within the lines. In high school, I played snare in a world-scholastic level drum line and often recorded acoustic guitar in a nearby, Nashville-based studio. Music, I believe, has enabled me to think creatively about the world we live in, and spatially about intelligence analysis.