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UMass Boston News: Maria Ivanova Proves to be a Changemaker in UMass Boston PhD Programming

Mentorship at the McCormack Graduate School is an integral part in ensuring success on and off campus. It supports and solidifies a shared commitment to an interdisciplinary education that helps to empower our community to tackle the most important social, political, economic, and environmental issues of our time. While many members of our faculty continuously – and proudly – act as mentors for students, they also learn from those they teach.

For Associate Professor Maria Ivanova, her multidisciplinary and innovative approach started during her early years as a student. Double majoring in international relations and environmental issues, Ivanova sought to create her own major in international environmental policy during her undergraduate years at Mount Holyoke College. The integration of her passion for policy and determined drive led her to pursue an interest in global environmental governance that would have a major role with peers and pupils alike.

While becoming a significant changemaker in spurring students and scholars to pursue opportunities at the intersection of policy change, environmentalism, and international relations, Ivanova found that environmental reform plays a foundational role across the globe. Bulgarian born, she utilized bits and pieces from her European Studies classes, global governance, and human security to receive her PhD from Yale. Her passion would bring her to UMass Boston, creating the Global Governance and Human Security PhD program and becoming the Director of the Center for Governance and Sustainability.

Having experienced firsthand the value in two-way relationships between professors and staff, Ivanova wanted to foster a cohort experience. “We didn't have a cohort system [in my own studies] and I saw how important it is to work with other members of your class,” she says. “[I wanted to] create a common space where we all come together [and] ask similar questions even though they come from various perspectives…I'm very grateful for the opportunity of having this, in a sense, blank slate of creating something new and that we created a PhD program that is transdisciplinary.”

While she remains a strong mentor in global environmental relations and sustainability, she says that her students’ ability to influence her in the fight for policy change and environmental reform has been just as influential as her role as a professor. “[McCormack has] the space to share stories, and then mandate to take next step, and say what ought to be,” said Ivanova. “It is crucial for the student intellectual development, so that they can go on to be changemakers in the future.”

Ivanova’s exemplary track record of going above and beyond to break some of the traditional aspects of academia all serves in her effort to bring her students intothe room where it happens.’ “What UMass Boston and McCormack bring to the world is this acute sense of who we are as intellectuals, that we are public intellectuals, not just scholars of a particular issue. We have a responsibility to the public within which we operate to not only raise awareness about problems but also how we can empower our students and our communities to imagine a better world where new solutions, new options, new policies and new mindsets are created,” Ivanova says. “The way they influence me is through their stories, because who's going to tell your story?” she quotes twice from the musical, Hamilton.

Natalia Escobar-Pemberthy, one of Ivanova’s first PhD students explained “Professor Maria Ivanova had a huge impact on my experience as a PhD student. I joined the program after I met her and had the chance of learning from her directly what a huge opportunity it was going to be part of the first cohort of the PhD in Global Governance and Human Security.” Escobar-Pemberthy continues by stating, “Maria is an academic that is directly connected to the policy world, and for me, that was an essential factor going to get my PhD. She gave me multiple possibilities to take part in policy processes and was an amazing mentor, supporting not only my academic learning but also my participation in several events.”

Ivanova continues to create, foster, and support the McCormack Graduate School community, now counting successful author among her many accomplishments. Her book, The Untold Story of the World's Leading Environmental Institution: UNEP at Fifty, and recent appearance on the Living on Earth podcast are just some of the latest examples of Ivanova’s thought leadership as a powerhouse in environmental governance. “I think what's important is that we bring the world to UMass Boston, and what UMass Boston brings to the world. And I would like to be in a place where it is my responsibility, and my authority, to make that happen.”

About McCormack Graduate School The McCormack Graduate School was founded in 2003 to create a dynamic academic and research center in policy studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston. The school was built upon the foundation of its predecessor, the McCormack Institute, established in 1983 and named in honor of U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John W. McCormack. In 2010, we changed our name to the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies to better reflect our expanded global mission. Nationally recognized as a model for public service schools, the McCormack Graduate School is committed to social justice and equity. We offer an interdisciplinary education and conduct cutting edge research that seeks to understand and remedy some of the most important social, political, economic, and environmental issues of our time. We welcome new students, research partners, and community collaborators to help us build a better world for all. Noting the public service mission of the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, ranks UMass Boston 29th in its list of the 50 Most Innovative Public Service Schools in the United States. To learn more, visit


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