Charles Wright, BS IAML '04, is currently a refugee officer, with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. After graduating from Tech, Charles went to Mexico for a year to work in a nonprofit. He then decided to continue his studies by earning a Masters in foreign service at Georgetown University, with a focus on U.S. foreign policy. We are glad we had the chance to catch up with Charles and ask him a few questions about his life since Tech.
What did graduate school do for you?
I wanted to do foreign policy, and in the foreign policy arena, education above an undergrad is necessary to succeed. Graduate school gave me access to the field in the form of professors, experts, internships, etc., and it gave me the credentials to be accepted by the foreign policy community. It is a self-starting environment where you get what you put in to it. There are lots of opportunities to excel, but you have to take advantage of them. There is a ton of writing involved and a strong focus on economics. If you know that you are going to do graduate school, those are great skills to hone while you are an undergrad. I also got to work with some great people. One of my highlights was being a TA for Madeleine Albright. Working with her, beyond the regular class sessions, I also researched, ran simulations, and participated in conferences. It taught me to be well-prepared professionally.
What do you think that Tech and INTA gave you?
It was great in the quantitative and technology part—that's really undervalued in most liberal arts degrees. I remember reading The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman, when he talks about Georgia Tech and how the school is combining an appreciation for technology and an international liberal arts education. I also value the diversity of the student body and the doors that were opened to undergrads in the form of studying abroad and research. Michelle Dion's class on international political economy placed a strong emphasis on succinct coherent writing skills and had a great focus on economics. My senior seminar class with Professor Wang helped me to develop my presentation skills, and I enjoyed the verbal interaction of the small class. My Introduction to International Affairs class with Professor Weber also was a great way for me to get an overview of the important issues in international relations.
What advice do you have for students looking at graduate school after Tech?
First, I think that students should realize that each graduate school has its strengths and weaknesses. The right school can offer you the right connections to where you would like to go, so I recommend that students take some time off to allow for direction. If you think that you want to attend graduate school, you should decide whether you want to be an academic or a practitioner. If you want to practice international relations, Washington D.C. and New York are hubs of the field in this country. So, get some international experience. I lived in Mexico and Germany, and while there, I perfected not only the language but also the ability to live in diverse situations. I really cannot stress enough the value of solid language skills. Lastly, my advice for students is to never underestimate the power of continued networking. As you and your peers progress professionally, you can support each other. Try to find an older mentor who can direct you and help you to avoid pitfalls.