Student and Alumni Spotlights

Matthew C. Mai

Navigating risks and trade-offs while formulating concrete remedies to problems

Matthew C. Mai

Public Policy, Class of 2022

  • Hometown: Hackensack, NJ
  • Minor: Critical Intelligence Studies
  • Personal interests: reading books and magazines, particularly about military history, foreign affairs, and political thought, as well as biographies.

Matthew Mai has always been a news junkie with an interest in military and international affairs. Though he has no interest in running for office, he is interested in a behind-the-scenes public policy career and would like to serve either in the Departments of State or Defense or on the National Security Council. Matt would like to be involved in the formulation and implementation of strategic policy, and his goals include using the lessons of history to achieve an objective rather than sitting on the sidelines and watching others make decisions.    

“Public policy provides a framework for considering how to balance different risks and costs to generate prudent solutions for complex issues,” he said. As someone who believes generating constructive change first requires an acute sense of limits, Matt believes studying public policy analysis is critical for learning how to utilize finite resources in the pursuit of strategic objectives.

He chose to major in public policy because it informs students about how they can identify and navigate trade-offs as well as formulate concrete and practical remedies to solve problems. “The public policy major is unique because it teaches people how to develop and enact policy in government. It helps decision-makers and ordinary citizens navigate issues and also offers instruction on how government works and how action is possible by citizens,” Matt said.  He prefers public policy to political science, which he views as too theoretical—public policy has a practical side as opposed to political science.  The practical side of public policy is what drew Matt to the major.

Looking for a way to jump-start his policy career, Matt discovered the John Quincy Adams Society and its Marcellus Policy Fellowship. This fellowship is designed to help the next generation of U.S. foreign policy leaders make their mark by combining knowledge of foreign policy, the craft of effective policy writing, and the ability to publicize their ideas. It also helps fellows develop the ideas and skills necessary to guide American foreign policy in the twenty-first century. Matt applied and received a fellowship.

Matthew with his brothers Daniel (left) and Victor.

The Marcellus Policy Fellowship gives students the opportunity to craft a detailed policy paper and a related policy memorandum and op-ed, providing the student with a writing portfolio for roles in an increasingly competitive career space. During his fellowship, Matt wrote, “A Better Reset: How to Improve U.S.-Russian Relations.”  This policy analysis focuses on the U.S. posture towards Russia and how it can be better calibrated to reduce diplomatic hostility between both sides. Matt identifies what U.S. interests are in Europe today, and proposes policy measures designed to foster constructive engagement while also assessing the limits of what detente can achieve.

Matt also recently concluded an internship with Defense Priorities, a think tank that specializes in defense and foreign policy.  Defense Priorities believes in realism and restraint, arguing that military restraint will lead the U.S. to have a better foreign policy by prioritizing diplomatic statecraft over the use of force and increased troop deployments in the Middle East, Europe, and East Asia. Tasked with providing research and copy-editing assistance for their policy products, he was also able to contribute timely op-ed articles and essays on issues related to U.S. foreign policy and international politics.

Knowing there were numerous opportunities available for students to push themselves academically and professionally at Rutgers, Matthew was able to broaden his intellectual horizons, develop meaningful relationships with professors and peers, and refine his leadership skills. Matt was inspired by Professor Marc Weiner and his Social Movements class in the spring 2021 semester. Matt said that Professor Weiner is very open-minded and lets students express themselves intellectually through a semester-long capstone research project.  He found Dr. Weiner to be very supportive of his goals and professional development.

Matt is looking forward to his graduation in May 2022.  He plans on working for a few years and then going back to graduate school to study foreign and defense policy.

Advice to prospective students: If you’re interested in a specific policy area, go out and read as much as you can about it. Aside from experience, books are the greatest source of knowledge. The most effective policymakers have a good grasp of history and rely on empiricism to help craft prudential solutions to solve complex problems. Education is what you make of it and those committed to pursuing excellence can certainly find ways to make their time at Rutgers worth the financial investment.