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Jocelyn Young (’21): Fighting Disinformation and Promoting Civic Engagement

“IWP gave me years of experience in one graduate program. I started my career with a greater understanding of the work, the global context, and the challenges we face – it has made all the difference.”
-Jocelyn Young (’21)

Jocelyn YoungJocelyn came to IWP with a background in communications. After realizing her passion for international affairs and the political side of communications, she left her Ph.D. program in communications and enrolled in IWP’s M.A. program. While at IWP, she took Prof. Santoli’s course on cultural engagement and studied media literacy. She now works for the International Research and Exchanges Board, where she helps fight disinformation and promote democracy across the world.

Jocelyn grew up in California and went to Santa Rosa Junior College and UC Davis, where she received her associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in communications. Jocelyn was a year into a Ph.D. in communications when she realized her passion for international affairs and political communications. “I wanted to be hands-on and make a difference,” she said.

She began looking for a graduate school that matched her interests and found IWP.

A hands-on graduate school

Jocelyn knew IWP was the right fit from her very first campus visit. She was in town to visit IWP, and the school received a tornado warning within the first 15 minutes after her arrival. She went to the basement of Marlatt Mansion with Dr. John Lenczowski, IWP’s founder and President Emeritus, other professors, and students.

“I was stuck in a basement with people who knew IWP the best.” Jocelyn waited out the weather while getting an incredibly unique introduction to IWP and its community. “There was no way I was leaving that basement and not going to IWP,” she remembered.

Jocelyn quickly realized the scholar-practitioners at the school had done the kind of work she wanted to do. Instead of enrolling in classes right away, she decided to apply as a research intern. She knew it would be a good way to become more familiar with the school before enrolling. After sitting in on classes and doing research on journalism and national security strategy recommendations for China, she said, “I got so excited that I couldn’t possibly pass up an opportunity to study.”

She soon enrolled in the M.A. in Statecraft and International Affairs.

From a nontraditional background

Growing up in California, Jocelyn was never very involved in political activity and did not have the same national security background as many of IWP’s students. Her background in communications made her a nontraditional student, but she didn’t let any of this deter her. She found there was some overlap between her communications background and what she studied at IWP, especially in the areas of political and intercultural communication.

Although she had a learning curve, Jocelyn worked hard to catch up to her peers. “I read so much more news and listened to so many podcasts outside of my course readings to get myself up to speed,” she said, joking, “Learning all the acronyms is especially challenging when you haven’t been in this field before.”

She also found that her professors and fellow students were more than willing to answer her questions and help her catch up.

Students at an IWP Christmas Party
Jocelyn with a group of fellow students at an IWP Christmas Party.

Educating international audiences on civics and disinformation

Jocelyn uses what she learned at IWP in her daily work with the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX). IREX is a global development and education organization that works to drive positive social change in 100 countries across the world.

“I see my work as part of a preventative strategy,” said Jocelyn. “We are building resiliency against disinformation from bad actors. Manipulative information can cause problems everywhere. Preventing its impact in the first place and giving people tools to push back is powerful.”

Currently, Jocelyn is working with several places, including Liberia and the Baltics. Thanks to her participation in IWP’s Baltic Storm, which is a war game of a crisis between Russia and NATO, she was already familiar with the Baltic region and some of the challenges presented by Russian aggression prior to her work at IREX. Most of her work consists of training young people and emerging leaders in civics and media literacy – the ability to discern manipulative information and think critically when engaging with all kinds of media. She said the media literacy curriculum is especially important in the Baltics because Russian disinformation is ubiquitous in the region.

In the Baltics, IREX works with future journalists who are still in school to help prepare them for their career in the modern information environment. Jocelyn frequently gets to see the impact of her team’s work thanks to the projects of these students – which have included an exhibit on the dangers of TikTok, board games that teach critical thinking, and even wide-reaching social media campaigns.

Jocelyn has also worked in Liberia on civic education. Her team is training young people to become democratic leaders and to take part in the civic process, and they are now seeing youth run for office and manage voter registration campaigns across the country as a result.

John Lenczowski, Leanne Young, Jocelyn Young
Jocelyn (right) with her mother (center) and Dr. John Lenczowski (left)

The IWP education in action

“A lot of what I learned at IWP is immediately translatable to what I’m doing now,” said Jocelyn. “I learned many things that have made my job so much easier – I was able to start and hit the ground running with the background that IWP gave me.”

For instance, in Professor Santoli’s course on cultural engagement, she learned about the importance of cultural contexts and understanding which challenges are the most pressing in different regions. She also did research on extremism, conflict, and the role of media literacy in violence prevention.

Today, she takes these lessons into account as she adapts media literacy curricula for audiences in different countries. “Language matters, but so do the unique challenges in different spaces. In some places, hate speech or Russian disinformation is much more common.” Jocelyn said. “It is important to shift the approach to those challenges depending on the environment.”

Additionally, Jocelyn said that she appreciated learning about the bigger picture at IWP. “We learned a lot about integrated strategy, and that informs how I do the work that I do. As I think about how our work, whether that’s working with the State Department or NGOs on the ground, I’m thinking about how it fits and plays a role in our global strategy around the world.”

Jocelyn plans to stay at IREX for the foreseeable future, where she can continue to see the firsthand impact of her work.

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M.A. in Statecraft and International Affairs

Jocelyn Young in front of an IWP banner