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Jonathan Liu came to the Sanford School by way of the Far Out Music festival in Los Angeles with a detour to the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan.

Beautiful night, moon in distance, two men outside, mountains
Jonathan with his father at a viewpoint overlooking the city of Naryn in Kyrgyzstan.

Liu started the public music festival while he was still an undergraduate at UCLA after he and some friends realized there wasn’t a good showcase for student musicians.

The students made their idea happen; they partnered with the community of Westwood to run a two-day music festival that featured more than thirty artists.

After graduation, Jonathan handed the reins of the festival to others and joined the Peace Corps. He headed to Kyrgyzstan, a place he calls “magical and surreal.” He lived with a host family of subsistence farmers, surrounded by snow-topped mountains. He taught English to kids, trained teachers, and helped his host family farm.

Hard Work, Beauty and Finding Sanford

Liu recalls both hard work and beauty in Kyrgyzstan. One night they went out after dinner to cut a field of flowers and grass with a scythe to feed the sheep. “There were butterflies everywhere,” he says. “Literally dozens, hundreds -- they were flying into me.”

Liu decided to focus on public policy around the time he was teaching a lesson to kids about climate change. He says during the lesson, he felt hypocritical because he knew carbon dioxide emissions from people in Kyrgyzstan pale when compared to emissions from the U.S.

“This was the first time I was like, ‘Wow, I’m in a position of power, and privilege, and there’s so much more I could be doing rather than coming here and giving them a message on climate change,’” he remembers.

When Liu had to cut his service short due to COVID-19, he discovered that Sanford was recruiting Peace Corps workers and had a special program for them, the Coverdell Peace Corps Fellows Program.

Liu thought he would focus on environmental policy, but after participating with other Master of Public Policy students in team-based cyber policy competitions, he changed his mind. He will graduate with an MPP degree, including a specialization in the emerging field of tech policy.

“I’m grateful to Sanford for the opportunity to study here,” Liu said. “The Coverdell Fellowship opened a lot of doors for me.”


About Our Graduates

Students graduate Friday May 6 from the Sanford School with undergraduate, Master of Public Policy, Master of International Development Policy,  international Master of Environmental Policy and PhD degrees.  

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