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Mike McFaul on Knight-Hennessy Scholars

Mike McFaul on Knight-Hennessy Scholars

To solve some of the world's biggest problems, you need a multidisciplinary approach.
Mike McFaul

Michael McFaul opens Cardinal Conversations at the Hoover Institution, January 31, 2018.

Photo: Patrick Beaudouin

Michael McFaul is a member of the Knight-Hennessy Scholars faculty advisory board, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a professor of political science, and director and senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. From January 2012 to February 2014, he served as the US ambassador to Russia.

A multidisciplinary collaborative approach to problem solving is a major focus of the Knight-Hennessy Scholars program. What is the relevance of this approach in the current global political environment?

MM: Here at Stanford I have several hats, but one of the hats that I wear is the director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI). We are an interdisciplinary research institution, designed precisely to try to bring together people from different disciplines, animated by the theory that to solve some of the world's biggest, vexing problems, you can't do it with a singular disciplinary approach. For instance, we have people studying climate change, but there are scientists, hard scientists, as well as economists and big data people, that are trying to bring together the different disciplines to look at climate change and its effects in a more creative way.

Another example is how we view cybersecurity and disinformation issues at FSI. We don't just have people from the department of computer science. We also have political scientists, lawyers, and communications experts, that are looking at the multiple ways from multiple disciplines to try to advance cybersecurity for the United States and the world. One of the most unique things about Stanford is that we value and support interdisciplinary approaches to these kinds of problems in a way that I really don't think any other university does.


Sitting with people with like-minded ambitions from all over the world, is where the real learning takes place. Knight-Hennessy Scholars offers that on steroids. 


The Knight-Hennessy Scholars program aims to develop a community of future global leaders to address complex challenges through collaboration and innovation. What do you think are the greatest opportunities for impact over the next 10 years?

MM: Well, another program I started and participate in as a professor is a mid-career training program we do every summer where we bring people from all over the world for three weeks to FSI and one of our centers, the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law. 

What I'm always struck by at the end of those three-week sessions is, one, just how talented our faculty are. It's always good to be reminded of that. When you're busy during the school year, you don't always get to hear from them. But more importantly, is what those students learn from each other. You think that your fight against corruption in Russia is unique. But it turns out that there are people all over the world trying to figure out new creative ways to fight against corruption. That learning process, not by sitting in the classroom, but by sitting with people with like-minded ambitions from all over the world, is where the real learning takes place in that program.

Knight-Hennessy Scholars offers that on steroids because these are the best and the brightest students from around the world. What a unique opportunity to learn from them in real-time, and then to keep that network alive after you leave Stanford. For me, I did a similar program. I was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. One of the great benefits of that program was, first, just interacting with other Rhodes Scholars at Oxford, but it also has continued to pay off in terms of my intellectual development and professional development afterwards, because that network still is central to what I try to do professionally as well.


I cannot think of a better thing to do for several years of your life than to participate in this program.


Do you have any words of encouragement to students around the world who are thinking of applying to the Knight-Hennessy Scholars program? 

MM: I think it's truly one of the most exciting opportunities for education in the world today. I really do believe Stanford is one of the greatest academic institutions in the world, and I'm proud to be a member of this community. I also think that the strategy and philosophy of this new program, of Knight-Hennessy Scholars, is something unique, creative, and extraordinary. Literally, I can't think of something better. I tell my own students that I cannot think of a better thing to do for several years of your life than to participate in this program.

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