|Current Job:||Chief of Staff at Boeing Defense, Space & Security|
Following obtaining his bachelor’s in International Affairs and Modern Languages, Rizwan Ladha went on to pursue his Master’s and PhD in International Security Studies from the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Rizwan served as a visiting fellow at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, as well as a national security fellow at George Mason University. Currently, he is the chief of staff at Boeing Defense, Space & Security. His previous role was as the strategy lead of ICBM and Missile Defense Systems for Boeing.
How did Tech and the Nunn help you get where you are?
In my field of study and work, I must constantly jump between technical issues and the policy world. Georgia Tech students, owing to the school’s reputation as a premier engineering and science institution, often have a very unique perspective on world events, and as someone who has been through the core curriculum that all Tech students must complete, I am a huge fan of having Ivan Allen College students take advantage of the wealth of technical resources at their fingertips. I did just that as an undergrad, and my attempt to satisfy my intellectual curiosity as a student (which ironically only left me wanting more) has served me well since then.
Further, the Nunn School professors are brilliant, are passionate about their work, and genuinely care for their students and only want to see them succeed. In my modest endeavors since graduating from the Nunn School, I have reached out time and again to those professors with whom I developed a close relationship, and they have provided invaluable advice, recommendations, and guidance as I develop myself professionally and academically.
Finally, I took part in the co-op program. Georgia Tech has one of the biggest and best voluntary co-op programs in the country, and I was accepted in my freshman year to work at Bank of America in their business development department. I worked there for four rotations, opting to do a study abroad program before my fifth and final year instead of going back for a fifth rotation. I could have interned every summer and graduated in four years, but instead I chose a different path, and it has paid dividends many times over since then.
What advice you would give current students at Tech as well as the Sam Nunn School specifically?
To students, and to undergraduates specifically: think outside the box. You’re young, you have myriad opportunities at your feet, and you should explore. If, for example, you’re interested in environmental issues and global warming, you don’t necessarily have to sign on with Greenpeace right away. Instead, you could join a firm that works to bridge the gap between the private sector and civil society, and seeks to leverage that partnership to implement self-sustaining and low-impact agricultural methods in a developing country at a grassroots level. Or if your cup of tea is national security, you don’t have to join the Department of Defense or any other three-letter acronymic government agency. Instead, you could get in with a think tank that has a strong focus in your particular topic(s) of interest. Even if it’s part time and you’re just completing simple office tasks, you are associated with that organization, and you have immediate access to some absolutely brilliant minds with whom you can and should network.
The great thing about the Nunn School is that it opens a lot of doors, so if you know exactly what you want to do and are ready to drill down, you can do that. But as someone who wasn’t 100% sure what he wanted to be when he grew up, and imagining other students may be feeling the same way, I say make the most of the curriculum while you’re at Tech. Take classes you wouldn’t take otherwise. Even if you can’t take it for credit, talk to the professor and sit in. If you choose to intern, don’t go back to the same place more than once, unless there is a particularly compelling reason. Study abroad. Multiple times. In short, explore.
To the Nunn School: I speak like I’m an old-timer, even though I only graduated thirteen years ago, but having been there for five years, I have seen the school grow by leaps and bounds. The implementation of the International Affairs and Modern Languages degree, and the enlargement of the school in terms of faculty, degree programs and ancillary opportunities (like study abroad) have reinforced the Nunn School’s reputation as a top-notch, tightly integrated school of international affairs. The School’s acceptance into APSIA as a full member has only further enhanced its profile, and I’m proud to be an alumnus. Keep doing what you’re doing, but my advice is to not grow too much or too fast. The School’s strength, at least from my perspective, comes from its small size, tight-knit community and relative selectivity. Keep those elements in place.
What is something that you got from studying International Affairs and Modern Languages at Tech?
From my time at Tech, I took away a few key lessons that have served me well in life. First, I learned how important it is to not constrain oneself, especially early on in one’s career. Because the Sam Nunn School fits so nicely into the larger Tech community, I took advantage of those mandatory computer science and mathematics courses that seem, at first glance, to be irrelevant to the International Affairs curriculum. But rather than take them at face value and get through them just to fulfill a requirement, I took the time to learn more about the subject material. This approach, combined with my Nunn School education, provided me with the foundation I needed to take a private sector consulting job after graduation that sent me to live in India for the better half of a year working on offshoring and outsourcing issues.
Second, I took advantage of the many benefits that come with studying in a smaller but well-established program. Many of these benefits are latent – immediate access to faculty, more intimate class sizes, etc. But to really get the most out of my Nunn School education, I attended every event possible – from the Cypriot ambassador to the US speaking about the possibility of Turkey’s accession to the EU, to a former US foreign service officer sharing his thoughts on the future of the Middle East. I listened, took notes, asked good questions, and networked.