Global studies scholar aspires to diplomacy

After earning a master’s degree, Kat Goodpaster became assistant director of Carolina’s Russian Flagship Program.

Kat Goodpaster standing in front of building wearing black top with her hair down.

From Global Scholar to assistant director of the Russian Flagship Program, Kat Goodpaster has prioritized pursuing a global education and helping others navigate international learning.

Growing up in a family who found joy in learning new languages gave her a good foundation for her career path.

“We have a large multiethnic family, so language learning is something that we take very seriously,” said her father, Jeremiah Goodpaster. “With it comes a deeper understanding and appreciation of not just each other but cultures around the world.”

When he started learning Russian, he challenged his daughter, then in high school in Raeford, North Carolina, to join him. “When one of us is learning a new language, we label the house with sticky notes, so all the words become second nature,” he said.

At SandHoke Early College High School, Goodpaster enrolled in the Scholar of Global Distinction Program. The partnership between community colleges and UNC World View allows students to earn a “Graduated with Global Distinction” notation on their transcripts.

She aimed to complete an associate degree alongside her high school diploma. This early exposure fueled her curiosity, eventually leading her to the National Security Language Initiative for Youth scholarship and a transformative six-week study abroad experience in Moscow that honed her Russian language skills and fostered personal growth and resilience. Returning home, Goodpaster crafted a capstone project on the Russian government’s media monopoly.

Then Goodpaster set her sights on Chapel Hill. Because of her ambitious educational path, she was set to complete her bachelor’s degree at the age of 19. She determined to make the most of her short time on campus. Goodpaster majored in peace war and defense and minored in Russian, took on leadership positions and participated in campus recreation.

Feeling the need for more life and work experience before applying for careers in national security, she decided to continue her education in Carolina’s Global Studies master’s program, concentrating in Russia and Eastern Europe. Goodpaster expanded her capstone project into a master’s thesis on the Russian government’s use of conspiracy theory and surveillance to justify its actions.

Goodpaster also embraced a role as the program assistant for the Russian Flagship Program. As she completed her master’s degree, an unexpected opportunity arose — the position of RFP assistant director.

“I thought it was kind of too good of an opportunity to turn down,” Goodpaster said. “Since going abroad myself, I have been very passionate about international education. So for me it kind of made sense to take that next step.”

Her commitment to international education remains unwavering. She advises students on critical language scholarship applications and orchestrates program events. In the Russian Flagship Program, she collaborates with other programs across the country, reviews applications and makes decisions on prospective students.

“Kat’s work ethic is simply incredible,” said Sebastian Farris, 2022-23 Student Ambassador for the RFP. “Her organizational skills are otherworldly, and I think it stems from true passion — a genuine care for the RFP’s mission to turn standard undergraduate students into globally literate professionals. If you want a job done efficiently and well, call up Kat.”

Goodpaster envisions a career in national security someday, a path shaped by her interactions with UNC Global Affairs’ Diplomacy Initiative. Its Diplomatic Discussions series opened her eyes to the diverse career paths within foreign affairs, sparking a keen interest in diplomacy.

“It’s important to know about the world and about other cultures, to be more respectful, to have more cultural understanding, and to be able to overcome boundaries and barriers, in order to really understand people,” Goodpaster said.