News from the Bush School

Bush School Students Meet with Latvian Officials Regarding Research for the Atlantic Council

January 09, 2020

Left to Right: Donnie Hodges, William Franze, Dr. Gabriela Thornton, Jared Ballejos, Kelsey Reichmanis, and Eliana Taylor

Left to Right: Donnie Hodges, William Franze, Dr. Gabriela Thornton, Jared Ballejos, Kelsey Reichmanis, and Eliana Taylor

Students in the Master of International Affairs program at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University, had the unique opportunity to visit Riga, Latvia, for their capstone research project.  Dr. Gabriela Thornton led this capstone, which focused on exploring all the forms of retrenchment in Grand Strategy, looking more into the potential outcomes and consequences associated with engagement versus restraint. The capstone students—Oluwafemi Adeniyi, Jared Ballejos, William Franze, Donnie Hodges, Kelsey Reichmanis and Eliana Taylor—worked with two clients: the Atlantic Council and the Baltic Security Foundation.

The field trip to Latvia was sponsored by the Baltic Security Foundation with the participation of the Latvian Political Science Association, Baltic American Freedom Foundation, and the Jamestown Foundation. The foundation set up an intense, weeklong schedule, allowing the students to meet with and personally discuss strategies on security and stability for Latvia as well as Latvia’s relationship with the United States, Europe, and NATO.

Capstone group and the Baltic Security Foundation members with Latvian Parliament member Dagmāra Beitnere-Le Galla

Capstone group and the Baltic Security Foundation members with Latvian Parliament member Dagmāra Beitnere-Le Galla

During their week in Latvia, the students met with Deputy Speaker Dagmāra Beitnere-Le Galla at the Latvian Parliament; visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia as part of the BSF Young Leaders Mobility Program; and met with Parliamentary Secretary Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica, Advisor to the Minister Gunda Reire, Second Secretary of the American and the Caribbean Division Egils Leimanis, and Third Secretary of NATO and European Security Policy Division Linda Jaunaraja-Janvare. Students had meetings at the U.S. Embassy Office of Defense Cooperation and the NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence and participated in two conferences: Riga Conference Future Leaders Forum and Riga 2019 Conference.

The capstone was honored with an invitation to the Riga Conference Gala Reception, hosted by H. E. Mr. Egils Levits, President of the Republic of Latvia. The capstone participants were delighted to briefly discuss matters of Latvian affairs with the President of Latvia and have a picture taken with him during the Gala.

H. E. Mr. Egils Levitis, President of the Republic of Latvia and the Capstone Group

H. E. Mr. Egils Levitis, President of the Republic of Latvia and the Capstone Group


While students spent most of their time in meetings and conferences, they also had the opportunity to explore Latvian culture and history. They toured the Latvian War Museum, downtown Riga, the former KGB headquarters, and the Baltic Sea.

The students and their professor, Dr. Gabriela Marin Thornton, are deeply grateful to the President of the Baltic Security Foundation, Olevs Nickes (a former student of Dr. Gabriela Thornton); to Dr. Otto Tabuns of the Baltic Security Foundation; and to Liga Lakuca of the European Military Press Association.

Student Jared Ballejos reflected, “The debate and discussion of panel members—which included political scientists, economists, journalists, and government officials—at the annual Riga Conference brought to life the challenges Latvia and its Baltic sister states are facing. Some of the challenges are perceived. Others are sustained in the daily lives of the Latvian people as differences with Russia have made its need for alliances more important. To that end, I take comfort in knowing the United States and NATO support the Latvian government and the Baltic region as a whole.”

“Having the opportunity to sit down with the people who are implementing the policies that affect this nation was eye-opening in ways I could never imagine. It was truly life-changing to hear and understand why some of these officials think the way they do. It forces you out of the U.S. perspective on some of these well-known issues,” student Eliana Taylor said.