Degree: MA 1984
Location: Washington, D.C.
Educated in the British system in Sri Lanka, Patrick Mendis never imagined that he would study in Minnesota’s cold winters. Having visited all 50 states and traveled to and worked in more than 75 countries, Mendis now calls Perham, Minnesota, his “birthplace” in America where he was an AFS high school exchange scholar. He later served on the staff of Minnesota Sen. Rudy Boschwitz in the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, before posts with the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, and State during the Clinton and Bush administrations. Mendis also taught at the Universities of Minnesota and Maryland, as well as Yale University. Most recently, he authored Trade for Peace and Commercial Providence while serving as a visiting foreign policy scholar at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). In honor and memory of his mentor and friend, he established the Edward Burdick Legislative Award at the Humphrey School. Mendis is an affiliate professor of public and international affairs at George Mason University.
Why did you choose the Humphrey School?
When I was working at the Minnesota State Legislature in1984, Edward Burdick of the Minnesota House of Representatives asked what I planned to do after the session. I told him that I had been admitted to a graduate school in Vermont with a full scholarship. Realizing that I would have to readjust into a new environment in New England, Burdick suggested that I stay here because the University of Minnesota has one of the best schools in public policy. He recommended that I talk to Rep. John Brandl, who also was a professor at the Humphrey School. Prof. Brandl spoke to then-Dean Harlan Cleveland and Prof. Jim Jernberg. Soon I then met with these professors and Prof. Bob Kudrle. Naturally I was intimidated by their accomplishments and majestic presence, but they made me wholeheartedly welcome.
These Humphrey professors happened to be the most wonderful and inspirational mentors I ever met. Not only I was inspired by them but also I walked on their shoulders as they made a huge difference in my personal development and professional life. Essentially, they became part of my extended “Humphrey family,” as I often visited Cleveland and Brandl at their homes.
How did your experiences at the Humphrey School influence your career choices?
As I was growing up in Sri Lanka, I always wanted a career in academia and public service. I think that the confluence of Buddhism and Asian culture has something to do with this. I was convinced that it would be the noble thing to do in America as I learned that Professors Cleveland, Brandl, Jernberg, and Kudrle pursued their careers interchangeably between academia and government. Their integrative knowledge that combined theory and practice was fascinating to me, especially in better understanding the intersections between the two.
I still remember when Professor Kudrle talked about monopoly and competition in our seminars, as he often brought in his first-hand experiences to class, accumulated while working with the Anti-trust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Likewise, Professor Cleveland, who served in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, shared with us a range of unpublished stories and events that occurred during the Cuban Missile Crisis and its so-called rational decision-making process. I couldn’t imagine a better place for experiential learning with these mentors than the Humphrey School; these experiences led me to a career in teaching, research, and public service.
What are you doing now?
After finishing up my previous two books at SAIS, I am researching another book on Sino-American relations related to China’s “New Silk Road” naval strategy in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. I am currently enjoying teaching a graduate seminar on U.S.-China geoeconomic relations at George Mason University. Over the past three years, I have been visiting Asia to give book presentations and lectures on American foreign and trade policy issues, including China, where I am a consulting professor of international relations at the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies’ Center for International Strategic and Security Studies (CISSS). During these travels, I have gained insights into Chinese perspectives and try to see China’s development path through a prism of the relatively young American experience compared to the 5,000-year old Confucius China. Tentatively, my colleague and I title the book: Romancing with the Dragon Tail: Is the New Silk Road China’s Hamiltonian Means to Jeffersonian Ends?