Carnegie Mellon University

Alex Pasch Carnegie Mellon Institute for Politics and Strategy

May 04, 2021

Exploring the intersection of law and international trade with Alex Pasch

By Bill Brink

Alex Pasch knew she wanted to study abroad. That’s one of the reasons she chose Carnegie Mellon University, because the flexibility of the curriculum would allow for a semester overseas. She didn’t know where, she didn’t know why, but she knew she wanted to go.

Her experience in Brussels, Belgium gave her direction. Now Pasch, who graduated with degrees in both International Relations and Politics and Ethics, History, and Public Policy in 2017, and a Master’s in IRP the following year, is in the second year of law school at Georgetown, focusing on international law and trade.

“I kind of fell into this international trade, national security space, and now I am down this rabbit hole of export controls and economic sanctions,” she said. “Which, most people are like, ugh, that’s so boring, but I actually find it really cool and interesting.”

Before Carnegie Mellon, Pasch knew she wanted to go to law school. She didn’t know where, she didn’t know why, but she knew she wanted to go. One of her high school advisors recommended Carnegie Mellon and Pasch felt that the Institute for Politics and Strategy, with its International Relations and Politics major, as well as the Ethics, History, and Public Policy curriculum would serve as a good launchpad for law school. During her sophomore year she took a course called Judicial Politics and Behavior with Dr. Geoffrey McGovern that changed the way she viewed the legal system. 

“One of the punch lines of the course is, maybe judges are political actors,” Pasch said. “Maybe they’re not sitting up in that ivory tower being impartial, but maybe they also have a political agenda. That was really cool to me because in high school you’re taught that judges give you a fair interpretation of the law, that they’re not arguing one way or another, and [McGovern] spun that on its head.”

In the spring of her sophomore year, Pasch participated in the Carnegie Mellon University Washington Semester Program. An internship in her home state of New Jersey the summer before, in the office of Senator Cory Booker, laid the groundwork for an internship on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during her semester in Washington. While there, she worked on Europe and Eurasia issues and heard about an internship in Brussels with the US Mission to the European Union. Her boss, a formidable mentor, passed along Pasch’s resume and made the introduction. Pasch got the position and set about fitting a semester in DC and a semester abroad into her academic requirements.

When she returned to Pittsburgh, Pasch reached out to IPS Deputy Director Emily Half for advice on the internship opportunity and curriculum logistics. “When I went in to talk to Emily about it, she was really supportive and helpful in making sure that all my requirements were going to be fulfilled on time,” Pasch said.

Pasch thought she would continue to work on issues like the Greek financial crisis or the Syrian refugee situation, the issues she had researched in the Senate. Then one of the terrorists behind the November 2015 attacks in Paris fled to Brussels and everything changed.

“It was really cool to see what was being discussed publicly on the news and then to go into work and see what was happening behind the scenes,” said Pasch, who had a security clearance for her role.

After the nature of her work shifted, Pasch became interested in substantive security issues and wanted to learn more. “This was around the time that Carnegie Mellon announced the Accelerated Master’s Program [in International Relations and Politics],” she said. While in Brussels, Pasch emailed Emily Half about applying to the graduate program.

Pasch liked the flexibility of the MS IRP-AMP program. She wrote her thesis about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which further exposed her to the overlap between law and international security. Her work in that sector continued in law school, specifically with her internships.

In the summer of 2019, Pasch served as a Judicial Extern for Judge Edmond Chang in Illinois’ Northern District. One of the cases she observed was an FBI sting operation in which an undercover officer induced an ISIS sympathizer to purchase cell phones, under the guise that those phones would be sent through Turkey to Syria and used in the construction of improvised explosive devices. 

“I had never sat in on a court case before, so it was really cool to get that experience, to sit through trials, to hear attorneys argue on behalf of their clients, question witnesses, and hear when a judge interjects,” Pasch said. “And then, afterward, to go back to the judge’s chambers and sit with him and his clerks and listen to the discussions back and forth – what does he think of this issue and that issue, and really seeing the major role that clerks play in this process.”

What was supposed to be a summer internship with Lockheed Martin last year turned into a year-long stint. She received exposure to several different areas of law, but when Lockheed Martin asked Pasch to stay on in August, she worked exclusively with their international trade compliance team.

“I think, at least for now, this is what I want to try to pursue,” Pasch said. “I have an internship lined up this summer at Baker McKenzie in their DC office, to further explore international commercial trade.”

Carnegie Mellon gave Pasch the organization and time management skills that she needs in law school, where she must set her own deadlines. Her time at CMU also taught her to comprehend and condense large amounts of reading material. She recommends it to students who want a challenge.

“The professors are phenomenal,” she said. “They’re fantastic mentors and resources. I think professors are the game-changers of your entire [Carnegie Mellon] experience.”