For a while, Katrine Westgaard ’23 resisted the pull to follow her parents and four older brothers into a career in political science.
But soon after her arrival on campus at William & Mary, she knew international relations was where she wanted to be.
“My parents laugh about it now,” Westgaard said. “They say, ‘We told you this entire time, and it just took you a few years to catch on.’”
Westgaard already has her next step planned as she embarks on a bright career. She was one of 18 students nationwide to receive a distinguished 2023-2024 fellowship to the James C. Gaither Junior Fellows Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), a foreign policy think tank located in Washington, D.C.
Westgaard, an international relations major from Norway, is scheduled to start her 10-month appointment in September.
She is still firming up her specific plans with the Gaither Fellowship, but she knows she will contribute in some way to the CEIP’s Europe program.
“I’m really excited,” Westgaard said. “I didn’t think I would have the opportunity to work in this field right out of undergrad, especially working on something that’s so central to what I want to do later on in studying Europe and the transatlantic relationship.”
Westgaard is the fourth William & Mary student to receive the elite foreign policy fellowship, all within the last three years. She joins Grace Kier ’20, Caroline Duckworth ’21 and Nitya Labh ’22 as recipients from the university.
Westgaard worked with Labh and Duckworth at W&M’s Project on International Peace & Security (PIPS) research lab at the Global Research Institute. She consulted with both during the application and pre-interview process.
“They read over my application materials and offered advice ahead of the interview,” Westgaard said. “They were very important people in the whole process, from encouraging me to apply to also telling me, ‘You can do it.’
“I don’t think I would be here if it wasn’t already established that it’s a possibility for students from William & Mary to go there.”
Both of Westgaard’s parents were Norwegian diplomats. Her family moved around a lot during her childhood, with stops in London, Belgium, Texas and Washington, D.C.
“I grew up with an international background and focus. My mom always said, ‘You’re a third-culture kid. You’re not just one person. You’re not just one country. You’re taking in everything as you grow up,’” Westgaard said.
Westgaard’s parents studied political science, as did all four of her older brothers. The natural expectation was that Westgaard would follow all of them down that path, but she wanted to explore a career in public health to intersect her love of science with policy and current events.
Westgaard’s father made her promise to take one international relations course her freshman year. She obliged, taking Dennis Smith’s introduction to international politics course, and was hooked. She decided to become an IR major from that point on.
“Katrine is one of the top independent researchers that I have encountered in my 16 years at the college,” said Smith, co-director of PIPS. “She is analytically astute, creative, hardworking and a fantastic team player.”
Westgaard always thought she would blaze her own trail, but the many influences throughout her formative years started to take hold.
“We always had discussions around the dinner table about what was going on, and whenever we had guests, my parents would let me sit with them,” Westgaard said. “And we obviously had guests that were from very different backgrounds working in politics.
“I remember even my brothers teaching me about trickle-down economics with cookies when I was around 9 years old. They came home from college and said, ‘Katrine, this is what it is. What if you got a smaller bit of the cookie?’ And I said, ‘That’s unfair,’ and they said, ‘Exactly.’”
The future is wide open
Westgaard’s accomplishments at William & Mary are many. She is a senior research fellow at PIPS. Her research led to the publication of a white paper titled “The Lady Macbeth Paradox: The Strategic Role of Female Leaders in Far-Right Populist Parties.”
Westgaard has built on that work with her honors thesis titled, “The Absence of Men in Norwegian Whaling Communities Impacting Women’s Engagement in Civil Society.”
She also participated in a faculty-led research trip to Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia last summer.
“Katrine is at the beginning of an outstanding career as a scholar and policy analyst,” said Amy Oakes, co-director of PIPS.
Westgaard said she has benefitted greatly from how much agency she has had over her work at William & Mary.
“Sometimes you think, ‘Why is my voice important?’ or ‘Why would people listen to me?’ But I’ve had people along the way encouraging me to just keep going,” Westgaard said. “And so all the projects that I’ve been involved with have helped me find my voice in different ways.”
She mentions professors like Smith, Oakes and Government Professor Dan Maliniak among her biggest influences at William & Mary.
“Her love of discovery and her creative analytical ability are inspiring,” Oakes said. “I anticipate that she will someday be a colleague — one who is both an innovative IR scholar and incisive policy analyst.”
Westgaard is still working on her career goals. “I’m open to see what happens,” she said.
The more she makes plans, the more she realizes that those plans can change on a dime.
“Everything that’s happened to me has kind of been serendipitous,” she said. “Obviously, I’ve taken charge of what I want to do, and I wouldn’t have gotten here if I hadn’t applied or pursued things that I thought were interesting. But also where I saw myself in five years four years ago was completely different from where I’m at now.”
Westgaard acknowledges William & Mary for the many opportunities she has been afforded to discover her career passions and embark on life-changing experiences.
“I wouldn’t have been doing research in the Republic of Georgia or getting the Gaither Fellowship if I had been anywhere else,” said Westgaard, who also credits the Norwegian Student Loan Association for helping her finance her education. “I’m really happy with where I ended up and how I’m leaving things here.”
Current W&M students interested in applying for a Gaither Fellowship should contact the Office of Undergraduate Academic Affairs.
Nathan Warters, Communications Specialist