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TFAS alumni discuss “Philanthropy and Liberty” at Curriculum of Liberty Seminar


Twelve outstanding alumni of The Fund for American Studies’ (TFAS) programs came together to discuss the history, purpose and future of philanthropy during a Curriculum of Liberty Seminar. The three-day conference, entitled “Philanthropy and Liberty,” was held in partnership with Liberty Fund, Inc. on Oct. 5-7 in Arlington, Virginia. Participants discussed the works of famous free thinkers like Adam Smith, Alexis de Tocqueville and F. A. Hayek while exploring the uniquely American tradition of philanthropy.

The participants have backgrounds in different subject areas – political science, communications, public policy, business and finance, higher education and law – and diverse interest areas – U.S.-China cooperation in Africa, state governmental reporting, urban and micro-farming, Eurasian security issues, digital literacy and civic engagement. Despite these distinctions, the one area all participants have in common is a personal and professional interest in advancing the conversation surrounding the role of philanthropy in a free society.

Curriculum of Liberty Seminar participants engaged in six sessions – “Human Nature and the Charitable Impulse,” “Communities and the Extended Order,” “Charity Before the Rise of the State,” “The Historical Origins of Philanthropy,” “The Purpose of Philanthropy” and “The Future of Philanthropy” – which connected the assigned readings and enabled robust debate on the many different aspects of philanthropy in democracies.

Rebecca Trout (ICPES 10) said the seminar challenged her personal opinions in a healthy manner and allowed her to engage in debates she normally would not.

It was intellectually stimulating and forced me to flex those academic muscles that aren’t always utilized in the workplace.”

– Rebecca Trout (ICPES 10)

Atif Choudhury (IPVS 10) said he left the seminar encouraged and excited to further connect with TFAS alumni.

“It proved to be an unforgettable weekend, featuring some of the most invigorating discourse I have ever had the honor of participating in and benefiting from,” Choudhury said. “I cherished the opportunity to learn from the wisdom and expertise of both of our conveners, Dr. Richard Gunderman and Michelle Jeffress Le, our organizer Brenda Hafera, and all of my fellow participants.”

The focus – and success – of this seminar was in the civil discourse that cultivated an atmosphere of learned fellowship shared among attendees.

I deeply appreciated the opportunity to frankly share my perspectives and views on issues that I am deeply passionate about and invested in,” Choudhury said. “Over the entirety of this weekend, the spirit of open dialogue and engagement that was not just tolerated but celebrated in the great American tradition of freedom of expression. I felt that we truly connected on so many issues relevant to both our professional and personal lives, and the ideas we shared and bonds we formed will not be easily forgotten.”

– Atif Choudhury (IPVS 10)

Gunderman facilitated the discussions, focusing on what obligations individuals have to one another in a free society, what should be considered when deciding whom and how to help and what incentives should be established by those wishing to help. Dr. Gunderman, a professor at Indiana University with a background in both medicine, philanthropy and philosophy, encouraged Curriculum of Liberty participants to consider often-overlooked questions and long-held ideals.

“The conversation around the table was so thought provoking, and I was thrilled to be able to listen and engage,” said Lucero Pina (IPVS 14). “I am proud to be a part of a network like TFAS!”

Learn more about the Curriculum of Liberty Seminar program and other continuing education opportunities for TFAS alumni.

Meet the TFAS alumni “Philanthropy and Liberty” participants

Atif Choudhury (IPVS 10) was born in Bangladesh but raised in Columbia, South Carolina. He graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2011 with a B.A. in political science and medicine, health and society. He also has a J.D. from William and Mary Law School (2015) and a LLM in public international law from Queen Mary University of London (2017). During his legal studies, Choudhury drafted legal memos and research reports on maritime law, foreign election law and legal education initiatives. He also helped draft Timor-Leste’s first State of Legal Aid Report. Choudhury is currently a senior program associate with the Carter Center’s China Program. His work with the China Program involves providing research, technical, operational and programmatic support with a particular focus on African-based projects involving US-China cooperation and synergy. Choudhury’s professional interests include international economic and social development, rule of law development, governance, national security and foreign policy. Choudhury is passionate about cricket (go Bangladesh!) and soccer (i.e. the real football). He is an ardent supporter of FC Barcelona, as well as the Argentine and U.S. national teams.

Lauren Dickinson, 2018 Curriculum of Liberty Seminar Scholar

Lauren Dickinson (IPJ 11) is a communications officer at the Knight Foundation, a national grant-making organization based in Miami, Florida, that invests in journalism, arts and communities. As a communications officer, Dickinson executes editorial and digital strategies to advance the work of Knight and its grantees. Prior to joining Knight, Dickinson led communications strategy at the United Nations Association of the USA, a program of the United Nations Foundation, in Washington, D.C. She previously served as a senior communications associate at the Pew Charitable Trusts, where she supported the organization’s fiscal and economic policy portfolio. Dickinson also worked as a researcher and contributing writer for the 2014 edition of the National Journal’s “The Almanac of American Politics.” Dickinson participated in The Fund for American Studies’ Institute on Political Journalism (IPJ) program in summer 2011, and she was an IPJ program advisor the following year. Dickinson earned her master’s degree in media and public affairs from George Washington University, where her research assessed the strength of state government reporting. A native of Florida, she received her bachelor’s degree in media and communication studies from Florida State University. In her spare time, Dickinson enjoys bike riding with her puppy Simon, going to the beach and exploring hidden gems in South Florida.

Mike Jayne, 2018 Curriculum of Liberty Seminar Scholar

Mike Jayne (ICPES 07, PPF 13) grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida, enlisting in the Marine Corps directly from high school to serve as a communications equipment operator with an infantry battalion. He attended the University of Florida on the G.I. Bill, majoring in journalism and political science and catching Potomac Fever as an intern with the U.S. House Armed Services Committee as a 2007 ICPES participant. He returned to D.C. upon graduation for stints with Teach for America and a policy-focused nonprofit before enrolling at the George Washington University Law School, graduating in May 2017. During law school, Jayne gained experience with the U.S. Justice Department and U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, at a boutique litigation firm and as a student attorney with D.C. Law Students in Court. Jayne was also a 2013 TFAS Public Policy Fellow.

Thomas Kraemer, 2018 Curriculum of Liberty Seminar Scholar

Thomas Kraemer (IBGA 06, PPF 15) grew up in southern Indiana and graduated with honors from Emory University in 2008 with a bachelor in business administration, concentrating in finance and organization and management. He completed the Institute on Business and Government Affairs summer program with TFAS 2006. He was later awarded a scholarship through Emory University’s Institute for Developing Nations during which he conducted an independent research project at the University of Cape Town in South Africa that focused on urban forms of micro-finance. Following graduation, he worked as a research intern at The Heritage Foundation on the Index of Economic Freedom. He previously worked for The Federalist Society, an organization devoted to upholding the rule of law and constitutional government, in fundraising, operations and managerial capacities. While there, he successfully completed the Koch Associate Program, a yearlong management program sponsored by the Charles Koch Institute. He then worked for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). In his position at USCIRF, he focused on enhancing the organizational performance of the commission while ensuring smooth operations, as well as management of overall finance and administrative matters. Kraemer currently serves as the director of finance and accounting at the Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF). In this role, he manages many aspects of VEF’s finances, operations and compliance. His goals include continued learning in the areas of classical liberal thought and making an impact in promoting a freer and more prosperous society.

Ravi Kumar, 2018 Curriculum of Liberty Seminar Scholar

Ravi Kumar (IPVS 09, PPF 13) is a civic technology and data leader. For almost a decade he has leveraged technology to create opportunities for people. Currently, he is leading a digital strategy team at the World Bank that supports 700 staff in ninety countries. Kumar is also helping to build capacity for evidence-based policymaking in Nepal through a World Bank project. He is the founder of Code for Nepal, a nonprofit working to increase digital literacy and the use of open data in Nepal. Via the nonprofit, he is opening up Nepal’s data to make it more accessible and understandable and has launched scholarship programs to help youth and women in Nepal become digitally savvy. He has been named in Forbes 30 Under 30’s list of social entrepreneurs in Asia. In 2009, he co-founded Grassroot Movement in Nepal, a nonprofit that has rebuilt twenty-five schools. His projects have been profiled in the New York Times, NBC and BuzzFeed. He has published in TIME, Huffington Post and Devex. He serves on Buena Vista University’s President’s Advisory Council and has given lectures at universities in the U.S. and Nepal. He holds a master’s from Columbia University and a bachelor’s from Buena Vista University.

Michael Lyons, 2018 Curriculum of Liberty Seminar Scholar

Michael Lyons (ICPES 10) is a 2010 alumnus of TFAS’ Institute on Comparative Political and Economic Systems (ICPES). After graduating from the Ohio State University with degrees in political science and economics, Lyons began a years-long career in political campaign management and fundraising, working in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, area before moving to Washington, D.C., in 2012. While also earning degrees in government and applied economics from Johns Hopkins University, Lyons transitioned from politics to working in higher education. During his tenure at the Charles Koch Foundation, he spent three years laying the groundwork for their Framework for a Free Society, developing strategic resources for university and public communications, building teams and processes for their scholarship grant partnerships and teaching and leading several courses in both the Charles Koch Institute’s internship and associate professional development programs. Today, Lyons is a strategic leader with EAB, providing implementation and deployment guidance to college partners across the country that are utilizing EAB’s one-of-a-kind student success management system technology. He lives in Arlington, Virginia, with his wonderful wife, three beloved children and his trusted Wheaton Terrier companion.

Chris Mercincavage, 2018 Curriculum of Liberty Seminar Scholar

Chris Mercincavage (AIPES 10, IIPES 11) is currently a senior principal giving associate at Cornell University. In his role, Mercincavage partners with a principal gifts officer to work with some of the university’s closest and most generous families. Along with development colleagues, faculty and university staff, Mercincavage works to secure support for teaching and research programs and university priorities from individuals and personal foundations. Before Cornell, Mercincavage worked as a public affairs assistant at the New York State Senate and as an evaluation associate for Grant Evaluations, Inc. Educationally, Mercincavage is pursuing an M.P.S. in information science from Cornell and holds a master’s in history from La Salle University, a bachelor’s in government from Regent University and a B.R.E. in religious studies from Davis College. He is also an avid traveler who has taken part in study abroad opportunities including TFAS programs such as AIPES in Prague, Czech Republic and IIPES in Chania, Crete, Greece. He has also studied in Lithuania and Russia. Mercincavage’s interests include university development, philanthropy, the role of academia in society, foreign affairs, emerging technology, block chain and cryptocurrency and security and privacy policy. Mercincavage resides in Ithaca, New York, along with his wife, Ani, and their son, Max. He enjoys spending time there exploring the scenic outdoors of upstate New York. He also enjoys hunting, fishing, boating and reading books on history, science fiction and technology.

Cheryl Miller, 2018 Curriculum of Liberty Seminar Scholar

Cheryl Miller (Noavk 17) directs educational programming for the Hertog Foundation. Previously, she served as program manager at the American Enterprise Institute and as head news clerk and editorial researcher at the New York Times. She was deputy director of research in the Office of Presidential Speechwriting. Her work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, The Weekly Standard, and the Claremont Review of Books. She graduated from the University of Dallas with a bachelor’s in English and politics.

Ashley Philippsen, 2018 Curriculum of Liberty Seminar Scholar

Ashley Philippsen (IPVS 06) serves as the executive director of the MET Cares Foundation, an organization committed to partnering with area leaders to create meaningful change in north Tulsa. MET Cares Foundation works to create a vibrant community through establishing excellent schools, igniting stronger civic engagement and creating economic development opportunities. Philippsen previously worked as the program director of Lead North, a leadership development program focused on building knowledge, skills and networks for north Tulsans and managing director of Teacher Leadership Development for Teach for America. She began her career as a 2007 Teach for America corps member at YES Prep Southwest in Houston, Texas, and in 2009 was the founding Dean of Students at YES Prep Brays Oaks. Philippsen supports community and advocacy endeavors with her expertise and time. She volunteers with Junior League of Tulsa, is vice president of diversity at Tulsa Area Human Resources Association and a Sunday school teacher at First United Methodist Church to name a few. Philippsen is currently based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with her husband and son, but she claims Texarkana, Texas, where she spent her formative years, as home. In her personal time, she enjoys cinema, literature, live music, exploring the outdoors, the power and utility of imagination and spending time with family and friends.

Lucero Pina, 2018 Curriculum of Liberty Seminar Scholar

Lucero Piña (IPVS 14) serves as the manager of partner relations with the Cristo Rey Dallas Corporate Work Study Program. In her role, she implements organic job growth with partners and cultivates community and supervisor relationships. Before joining Cristo Rey Dallas, she served as the associate director of chamber management at the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. In her role, she served as the liaison for over 200 local Hispanic chambers around the country and delivered educational programing. Before joining the chamber, Lucero worked at the USHCC Foundation as the senior program manager, and The Fund for American Studies as an alumni and development associate. Piña was raised in Dallas, Texas, and is a graduate of Southwestern University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and minors in communications and race and ethnicity studies.

David Stoffey, 2018 Curriculum of Liberty Seminar Scholar

David Stoffey (AIPE 15, PPF 16) is from San Francisco, California, and currently resides in Arlington, Virginia, where he is a foreign policy analyst for the Charles Koch Foundation. He focuses on Eurasian security issues and grand strategy. He has published in several academic and news outlets and has a regular column in Charged Affairs, a foreign policy journal. David holds a bachelor’s in economics and political science from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and a master’s in national security studies from the Institute of World Politics. In his spare time he enjoys cycling and reading.

Rebecca Trout, 2018 Curriculum of Liberty Seminar Scholar

Rebecca Trout (ICPES 10) is the membership development coordinator at the National Civic League in Denver, Colorado. In this role she works with members of the league to advance civic engagement to create equitable, thriving communities. Trout has over five years of membership and project management experience. She worked in the access department at the National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) from 2011 to 2015, where she helped expand access to quality end-of-life care to typically underserved populations. Trout left NHPCO to pursue a passion of international service and travel with the Peace Corps. During her service in Botswana from 2015 to 2017, Trout helped to coordinate her village’s HIV/AIDS intervention plan. Additionally, she was part of a team which solicited a U.S. Embassy grant to fund and open a community youth center. Trout attended William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, where she graduated Magna Cum Laude with degrees in political science, international relations and critical thought and inquiry. Also during her time at William Jewell, she was the recipient of the Hall Grant and attended The Fund for American Studies’ Engalitcheff Institute on Comparative Political and Economic Systems (ICPES).


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