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Sié Center Turns 10: A look back at a decade of research and impact

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Courtland Matthews

Communications Manager, Josef Korbel School of International Studies

News  • Article  •
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This fall, the Korbel School’s Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security and Diplomacy commemorates 10 years of vital, path-breaking, collaborative research.

The Sié Center was made possible through the generous gift from the Anna & John J. Sie Foundation. Anna is from Italy and John is from China, so it’s no wonder that international relations is a passion for the Denver couple. Their gifts helped to create the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security and Diplomacy and the five-story Anna and John J. Sie International Relations Complex, a state-of-the-art building that houses the Josef Korbel School of International Studies.

The Sié Center is named in honor of John ’s father, Ambassador to the Vatican for China, Sié Chéou-Kang, a renowned diplomat and educator who worked to forge ties between Europe and China.

“My father dedicated most of his life to building bridges between China and European nations, and we thought the Korbel School was a perfect place to honor him and his legacy—to create diplomacy and mutual understanding rather than an arms race. Anna and I are beyond proud to see the impact that the Sié Center is making at DU and around the world. We believe that the Korbel leadership and the Sié Fellows are making a huge difference on the international stage and will continue to do so for generations to come.”

John J. Sie Lifetime Emeritus Member of DU's Board of Trustees and Cable TV Pioneer
john sie

The newly constituted center sought to provide a strong foundation in the Rocky Mountain region for new knowledge and innovative thinking with the aim of strengthening relationships between researchers, policymakers and practitioners in the broad field of global peace and security.

The Sié Center officially launched in 2011, when Deborah Avant joined the Korbel School faculty as the inaugural Sié Chéou-Kang Chair and Sié Center director.

Starting out as a small team, the center has transformed over the past 10 years into a globally recognized center of excellence with 17 faculty affiliates, two postdoctoral scholars, one practitioner in residence, two staff, and dozens of M.A. and Ph.D. research assistants.

The Sié Center’s expertise ranges from climate change to gender and security, human rights, state and society relations, and economics – all as they relate to peace and security at global, national and local levels.

“The Sié Center’s success is a testament to the innovative research of its faculty and student affiliates who see security not as a ‘stand-alone’ goal but as one intrinsically connected to prosperity and social justice concerns. This broad view of security, along with close ties to policymakers, has led Sié Center researchers to be at the forefront of analyzing critical contemporary security challenges.”

Deborah Avant Sié Chéou-Kang Chair and Sié Center Director
deborah avant

Research and Scholarship

Since its founding, the Sié Center has generated more than $13 million in external research support, launched innovative programming central to the research mission, and established important research partnerships.

The research produced at the Sié Center has resulted in numerous books, articles, and awards, including the Woodrow Wilson Best Book and J. David Singer Data Innovations Awards from the American Political Science Association (APSA); the Ed A Hewett Book Prize from Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies; the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order; and the Nils Petter Gleditsch Article of the Year Award from the Peace Research Institute, Oslo.

Among its many achievements, one stands out: its unique community and commitment to furthering the public good through leading-edge research. “The Sié Center is a community of engaged scholars and students, and the energy and expertise these individuals dedicate to the Center year after year has made it a vital part of the Korbel School and beyond,” says Jill Hereau, Assistant Dean at the Josef Korbel School and former Executive Director of the Sié Center. “The Sié Center is now known globally as a place where innovative research and creative thinking address some of the world’s most pressing problems. “

These thoughtful approaches to engagement and broad expertise have also made Sié Center faculty go-to experts for informing public discussion, with commentary in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, and Foreign Affairs, among others. In keeping with the vision of informing debates in the Rocky Mountain West, faculty have placed prominent op-eds in the Denver Post, established a prominent voice in the blogosphere via Denver Dialogues, brought distinguished speakers to the Front Range community via event series and hosted events and created partnerships with local policy organizations and research institutes.

In 2018, the Center’s commitment to ethical engagement was recognized by a $500,000 award from the Carnegie Corporation of New York to promote more responsible approaches to policy engagement by academics. This program, still underway, develops new knowledge to inform the practice of responsible engagement to help academics engage in the policy world with confidence and thoughtfulness. Cullen Hendrix, Sie Center director from 2018-2020, “As scholars of international relations become more involved in policy-relevant debates, the importance of exploring and offering guidance on the ethical dimensions of policy engagement is only increasing. We’re proud to be spearheading a broader discussion and centering ethical considerations in engagement activities.”

Notably, the Center’s project on ethical engagement is the outgrowth of previous research that brought together the Center’s first group of faculty affiliates—both Avant and Hendrix, along with Marie Berry, Erica Chenoweth, Rachel Epstein, Oliver Kaplan, and Timothy Sisk—and resulted in the 2019 co-authored volume Civil Action and the Dynamics of Violence” published by Oxford University Press in 2019.

Sié Fellows

A key component of the Sié Center is its prestigious Sié fellowship program. Designed to support a new generation of leaders capable of meeting the world’s most pressing challenges, Sié fellowships are highly selective and granted to applicants with both outstanding academic credentials and strong leadership potential. While enrolled at the Korbel School, Sié Fellows work closely with Sié Center faculty and staff to foster their ability to excel in global leadership and service.

“The Sié Fellowship completely transformed my graduate school experience. It opened up a space for me to explore my research interests, meet wonderful scholars, mentors, as well as a thriving alumni community. Most of all, it allowed me the space for imagination and self-discovery, both as a student and as a person outside of graduate school. Without the weight of financial strains to shoulder, I was able to find myself again and again. I’m deeply grateful for the Sié Fellowship and the Sié community; words truly come short to express how grateful I feel.”

Anushka Bose PhD Student at the University of Colorado Boulder, Sié Fellow Class of 2021
anushka bose

Sié fellows have gone on to positions in a variety of prestigious organizations including the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Defense, the World Bank, Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Mercy Corps, and Foreign Policy magazine. The Center is actively engaged with its alumni, which, by the end of this year will total 94 graduates. 

“My time at Korbel was formative both in thought and character, and I experienced a learning/thinking culture that emphasized the importance of combining theoretical approaches with practical insights. I think the Sié Fellowship unites a cohort who value this combination, and who are principled in their beliefs, with a view of looking to be a force for good for their communities.”

Balazs Martonffy Director of the Institute for American Studies – Ludovika, Sié Fellow Class of 2012

What's Next for the Sié Center?

As it looks to the future and another decade of research and programming, the team at the Sie Center is focused on advancing knowledge and practice around some of the greatest issues impacting the world today, from social justice to economic inequality and human security. The Center is well-poised to do so, as the team welcomed ten additional faculty as affiliates this past year: Naazneen Barma, Ilene Grabel, George DeMartino, Alvin Camba, Hilary Matfess, Seth Masket, Chen Reis, Lisa Conant, Nadia Kaneva, and Andrea Stanton. These individuals bring more capacity to some of the Center’s most ambitious projects, among them “Navigating the Future of Governance,” an interdisciplinary project that studies why intergovernmental cooperation is in retreat at precisely the moment when pressing global problems require collaboration and how non-state actors are engaging in the international system in the face of nationalist retrenchment. The Center is also continuing to expand its Inclusive Global Leadership Initiative, a program led by Marie Berry that initiates research, education, and programming aimed at elevating and amplifying the work that women-identified activists are doing at the grassroots to promote peace, justice, and human rights around the world.

“In only ten years, the Sié Center has become a national model for how scholarship can inform practice in international affairs,” says Korbel Dean Fritz Mayer.  “We are indebted to both the Sie family for their generosity, and to the visionary leadership of the Center that has made this possible.”   

Video slideshow produced by Korbel School MA student Babin Dinda