Episode 71: Economic Boom, Income Disparity, and Climate Change in Glendale, AZ

Jeffrey Rathke

Jeff Rathke

President of AGI

Jeffrey Rathke is the President of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at the Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC.

Prior to joining AICGS, Jeff was a senior fellow and deputy director of the Europe Program at CSIS, where his work focused on transatlantic relations and U.S. security and defense policy. Jeff joined CSIS in 2015 from the State Department, after a 24-year career as a Foreign Service Officer, dedicated primarily to U.S. relations with Europe. He was director of the State Department Press Office from 2014 to 2015, briefing the State Department press corps and managing the Department's engagement with U.S. print and electronic media. Jeff led the political section of the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur from 2011 to 2014. Prior to that, he was deputy chief of staff to the NATO Secretary General in Brussels. He also served in Berlin as minister-counselor for political affairs (2006–2009), his second tour of duty in Germany. His Washington assignments have included deputy director of the Office of European Security and Political Affairs and duty officer in the White House Situation Room and State Department Operations Center.

Mr. Rathke was a Weinberg Fellow at Princeton University (2003–2004), winning the Master’s in Public Policy Prize. He also served at U.S. Embassies in Dublin, Moscow, and Riga, which he helped open after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Mr. Rathke has been awarded national honors by Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, as well as several State Department awards. He holds an M.P.P. degree from Princeton University and B.A. and B.S. degrees from Cornell University. He speaks German, Russian, and Latvian.



Melanie Mello

Educational Consultant & Specialist for German

Melanie Mello has been teaching English and German as a Foreign Language in the United States and abroad since 2008. In 2019, Melanie was one of the five finalists for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages' Teacher of the Year Award, after being chosen as the Teacher of the Year by both the Southwest Conference on Language Teaching and the Arizona Language Association. In her roles as GAPP/GAVE and SPARK coordinator, German Educational Multiplier and coach in the Goethe-Institut’s Coaching Program, and Past-President of the Arizona Chapter of AATG and the Arizona Language Association, she promotes and supports the teaching and learning of world languages and their cultures, customs, and traditions.

Rohat Akcakaya

Peking University and London School of Economics

Rohat Akcakaya is a student in the double degree program "Public Administration & Government" at Peking University and the London School of Economics and Politics. As the son of two hearing-impaired parents and with his Turkish and Kurdish migration history, he took responsibility for his family and his home region at an early age and got involved socio-politically in student groups, a soccer club, and religious institutions. In addition to his experience abroad in foundations and universities in Beijing, Istanbul, Tel Aviv, and London, he also founded his own sports clubs and community initiatives and worked as an advisor to local authorities and associations to promote an inclusive society.

Susanne Dieper

Director of Programs and Grants

Susanne Dieper is the Director of Programs and Grants at AICGS. She oversees the Institute’s programs and projects within the three AICGS program areas, manages all AICGS fellowships, and is in charge of grant writing. Her current focus is on issues related to transatlantic relations, immigration and integration, diversity, the next generation of leaders, workforce education, and reconciliation. She develops programs that align with the mission of AICGS to better understand the challenges and choices facing Germany and the United States in a broader global arena.

Previously, Ms. Dieper was in charge of organizational and project management at AICGS as well as human resource development and board of trustees relations. Prior to joining AICGS, she worked in transatlantic exchange programs, language acquisition, as well as the insurance industry in Germany.

Ms. Dieper holds an MBA from Johns Hopkins University with a concentration in International Business and an MA in English Linguistics and Literature, History, and Spanish from the University of Cologne. She has completed course work in nonprofit management at Johns Hopkins University.


sdieper@aicgs.org | 202-900-8331

On this episode of The Zeitgeist, AGI President Jeff Rathke talks with participants in the AGI project on social divisions in Germany and the United States, which recently visited Glendale, AZ. Melanie Mello, educational consultant and specialist for German; Rohat Akcakaya, master’s student in public policy at Peking University and the London School of Economics ; and Susanne Dieper, AGI Director of Programs and Grants, share their impressions and findings. In Glendale, the participants explored the experiences and challenges related to economic and demographic change as well as their impact on society and politics with representatives of local government and civil society organizations. Melanie Mello and Rohat Akcakaya discuss the local challenge of population growth, income disparity, and consequences of climate change, despite an economic boom. They recount creative efforts to bridge social and economic divisions, including the local government initiatives to connect with young generations of residents and engage people from diverse backgrounds in local policy making.

The AGI project “Social Divisions and Questions of Identity in Germany and the United States” seeks to establish new connections within and between communities and is supported by the Transatlantic Program of the Federal Republic of Germany, funded by the European Recovery Program (ERP) of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK).


Jeff Rathke, President, AGI


Rohat Akcakaya, master’s student in public policy, Peking University and the London School of Economics
Susanne Dieper, Director of Programs and Grants, AGI
Melanie Mello, educational consultant and specialist for German

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American-German Institute.