Alumni Spotlight: Ali Munden
By Bill Brink
One of Ali Munden’s friends dropped by her dorm room freshman year and asked what she was working on. Some assignment for one of her International Relations and Politics courses, she told him. “Yeah, it’s great.”
He paused for a second.
“Wait,” he said. “That wasn’t sarcasm.”
“I said, ‘No, it wasn’t,’” said Munden, who graduated from Carnegie Mellon in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Politics and minors in both Cybersecurity and International Conflict and Business Administration. “I really enjoy what I do. I enjoy my classes. I think our professors work extremely hard to make classes interesting, for us to feel engaged, for it to feel meaningful, for it to feel applicable.”
It’s Munden’s turn to make classes interesting, engaging and meaningful. She is a special education teacher at Liberty Collegiate Academy, a public charter school in Nashville, Tennessee, as part of Teach for America, teaching seventh-grade literacy, reading and math.
A high school education at the Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach, Fla., instilled in Munden the drive to seek the most rigorous collegiate education she could. As she researched colleges, she liked that CMU’s Institute for Politics and Strategy offered a degree that combined international relations and political science, and she wanted to participate in its Washington Semester Program.
Her introduction to IPS brought her interest and engagement from Geoffrey McGovern, senior lecturer, Institute for Politics and Strategy. McGovern taught the class, “Decision Processes in American Political Institutions.”
“I think Professor McGovern is an awesome professor to have as a freshman because he’s so energized about the topic,” she said. “He loves what he teaches, and he loves teaching, and I think it’s really infectious. It helps you get started in the department feeling really bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to go.”
She continued to enjoy the IPS faculty when she arrived in Washington, D.C. in the spring of 2019. Munden appreciated the individual attention from Fred Crawford, who spent three decades as a government lawyer and teaching “Implementing Public Policy: From Good Idea to Reality.”
“He met with us once a week in the coffee shop right by our apartments to make sure we were doing everything right, because I was absolutely clueless in his class,” Munden said. “I had never written policy before and I had no idea what I was doing. I needed a lot of help, and he was always there and always ready to help me. Even now, he still does. That is definitely someone who inspires you to pursue what you’re passionate about, and I think that played a huge role in me choosing the path that I had.”
Munden initially planned to go straight to law school, but she liked the opportunity Teach For America offered.
“If I go into the policy world, education is going to be relevant,” she said. “It will be nice to have had that experience and used the time while I was young to serve.”
Munden graduated during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and attended teacher training via videoconference. Her first year of school was virtual. When schools reopened in the fall of 2021, she found herself switching gears surprisingly easily, moving about the classroom, checking on students. Her favorite part of the job is her students, who make her laugh and have a feel for nuance beyond what she remembers of her seventh-grade self.
“If I don’t have the same level of energy that I normally do, kids will say, ‘Oh my gosh, are you OK?’ They’re really perceptive as well,” she said. “I’ll have a Band-Aid on my finger and they’ll say, ‘Oh my gosh, are you OK?’ They’re so sweet.”
Munden has found more connections than she would have thought between her studies at CMU and the teaching profession, connections she couldn’t have seen without the benefit of hindsight.
“I think the strategy piece of our curriculum that we had when we were in undergrad has proven to be very helpful in my work,” she said. “Thinking about logistics and making sure systems are efficient and how we make decisions, thinking back to taking decision science and evaluating it from a scientific perspective, has helped me a lot professionally and helps me navigate as I go through a classroom every day.”