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Travis Gidado was recently named a 2020–21 fellow of the prestigious Stanford US-Russia Forum (SURF). Now in his third year as a joint-degree JD/MBA student and a member of the Doctoroff Business Leadership Program at the Law School, Gidado is in the middle of a busy year, with hopes for a productive career in business, law, and policy. He recently served as an intern for the US House of Representatives’ Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. On the last day of the internship, Gidado received the call that he’d won the fellowship.

“It was an unbelievable bit of news,” Gidado said. “I just finished this really big part of my life, and now I’ve been tasked with a very interesting, cross-cultural collaborative project.”

The SURF fellowship brings together students from across the world to work on research projects exploring relations between the United States and Russia. More than 700 people applied for this year’s SURF fellowship, and Gidado was one of just 51 scholars who were accepted.

Gidado is excited to learn more about the complex, often combative relationship between the United States and Russia. Both countries carry large nuclear stockpiles, wield vast global influence, and have a long history of cooperation and rivalry. He’s excited to dig into their unique relationship with one big question in mind: “What opportunities, if any, exist for improvement?”

“The goal is to find even the tiniest kernel of opportunity for collaboration. Maybe that’s overly optimistic given recent challenges. But that’s part of the beauty of having a group like us think about things through a fresh set of eyes.”

— JD/MBA student Travis Gidado

Already, Gidado has started collaborating with other SURF fellows in a group dedicated to researching counterterrorism. The group is searching for points where the United States and Russia could potentially cooperate and writing a paper that they hope to publish. Thus far, Gidado said, they’ve thought about cyber warfare, nuclear weaponry, and intelligence, among other issues. He hopes that they’ll soon be able to interview academics, former policymakers, and people who have experience in intelligence.

While Gidado knows that they aren’t likely to bring forth massive change over an eight-month fellowship, he believes that he and other fellows offer an opportunity to give the US-Russia relationship a fresh perspective, drilling into issues others may have left aside.

“The goal is to find even the tiniest kernel of opportunity for collaboration,” Gidado said. “Maybe that’s overly optimistic given recent challenges. But that’s part of the beauty of having a group like us think about things through a fresh set of eyes.”

As Gidado works on research in his fellowship, he’s continuing toward degrees in both law and business. The double program makes for a busy life—free time is often hard to come by, he said—but Gidado is passionate about learning all he can. After he turned 30 this past year, Gidado said that he’s thought a lot about how he uses his time. Life is truly short, he mused, so he prioritizes interesting opportunities to work on unique projects and further educate himself, even if that means a tightly packed schedule.

“My hope is that as I get older, I’ll be able to continue balancing the various interests that I have,” Gidado said. “When you are presented with new opportunities, given your interests, I think pursuing them, seeing where they lead, and fitting them together as you go along is important.”

Gidado is preparing himself for a career in corporate transactional law after graduation. Then, Gidado said, he’ll leave the door open to pursue partnership at a big law firm.

“At some point in the future, I hope to find opportunities to positively influence public policy after a robust career in the law,” Gidado said. “I just know that, given my background—I’m the son of Nigerian immigrants—I’ve been blessed throughout my life to have incredible academic and professional experiences that my parents never could have imagined. It would be an honor to give back to the public sphere in some way.”


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