|Current Job:||Senior Economic Officer, U.S. Embassy to Chile|
How did Tech and the Nunn School help you get where you are?
I came to Georgia Tech and to the Sam Nunn School as a kid with a vague notion that I was interested in learning about other countries. The Nunn School took that kid and made me into a sophisticated foreign policy observer, able to grasp and articulate the nuances in international relations (IR) theory and its practice all around the world. It accomplished this through a combination of excellent course offerings, dedicated and passionate instructors who truly cared about our learning, and incredible study abroad programs. I do not exaggerate at all here: my career has put me in contact with graduates from IR programs around the world, including the most prestigious universities, and my interactions with them have convinced me that the quality of the education I received at Georgia Tech is at least comparable to that offered by any other IR program in the United States, maybe even in the world.
But when you enroll to study something like international affairs at Georgia Tech, you sign up to learn more than just political science. You also sign up for a course of study that gives you opportunities (and sometimes requirements) to study a range of quantitative and technical subjects that most IR students at other universities would balk at. Things like calculus, computer science, advanced statistical analysis, and courses that explore the intersection between technology and IR. Often, INTA students grumble about these courses; I know I did. ‘How could I possibly need to know calculus, or computer programming, to pursue a career in international affairs?’ you may ask.
For me, the answer was that my technical skills allowed me to stand out, by doing things that others in my field could not do. Things you wouldn’t normally associate with a career in IR, it is true, but that helped me get ahead nonetheless. For example, during my first tour in the Foreign Service, I used the skills I had acquired in a computer programming course to design a webpage providing information to the public on the consular services the Embassy offered. As I transitioned into economic and political assignments, the statistical analysis skills I gained at Georgia Tech helped me to stand out in my ability to apply quantitative analysis to things like program evaluations and economic reporting. Last year, I was selected for one of just two State-sponsored opportunities to study advanced economics at a graduate university academic institution, in my case the Harvard Kennedy School; the math skills I gained in those 8:00 am classes freshman year played a critical role in allowing me to qualify for that incredible opportunity. Honestly, you never know when this stuff will pay off.
What advice you would give current students at Tech as well as the Sam Nunn School specifically?
If you’re really interested in a career in foreign policy, you can pursue one. I know it seems far and difficult to attain from the reality of day-to-day life in Atlanta, but there are many ways to work in this field. I chose perhaps the most traditional route—a career in the Foreign Service, which I have loved, though it has not been without its challenges. If you believe the Foreign Service is the career you wish to pursue, I want to stress that it is never too early to prepare. Embrace all of the excellent information you are learning in your INTA classes, but also immerse yourself in other sources of knowledge about the world, like The New York Times or The Economist magazine. As early as possible in your undergraduate education, go to the Department of State’s website and learn about the different programs it offers to university students, like internships and fellowships. One of the best programs, the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship, actually pays your way through graduate school and almost guarantees you a place in the State Department—but you must apply early in your junior year of college in order to be considered.
But not everyone can join the State Department right after undergraduate or even graduate school, especially in this day and age, when they look for more work experience in applicants. Strongly consider other avenues, like the Peace Corps, or even teaching overseas. You’d be surprised how many international schools in other countries are desperate to hire college-educated native English speakers—the Japanese government actually maintains an initiative called the JET program to recruit English-speaking teachers to work in rural Japanese schools. Opportunities like this give you another way to learn about the world and to master a language, and there are probably thousands of people in the State Department who have done one or both of these things.
Other pieces of advice: take advantage of the non-INTA courses in things like computer science that Tech offers! As I mentioned above, sometimes those skills will allow you to set yourself apart from others in this field. And take advantage of the study-abroad programs that the Sam Nun School manages. I participated in two, in Brussels and Shanghai, and found both to be amazing and hugely educational experiences.
What is something that you got from studying INTA at Tech?
Aside from everything I mentioned above? I guess the one thing I can add is that the group exercises we did in many INTA classes—especially in Dr. Stulberg’s classes—were excellent preparation for the oral component of the Foreign Service Exam.
Also, a brief description of what you are currently working on would be greatly appreciated.
As an economic officer at a U.S. diplomatic mission anywhere in the world, my job will have two major components: reporting to Washington on issues of importance to the U.S. Government, and advocating to local stakeholders in support of U.S. policy objectives. But that is where the similarities end, because every country has an entirely different combination of history, culture, current issues, and U.S. interests. It’s one of the things I love most about my career: that you are always working on something different and interesting, and that there is always something new to learn.
To give you an example, in my current assignment as senior economic officer in Chile, my biggest responsibility is supporting Chile’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-country free trade agreement that will ultimately account for nearly 40 percent of global GDP. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative takes the lead in those negotiations, but embassies abroad play an important role by reporting back to Washington with context and analysis of the political environment and relevant stakeholders (and their interests) in the countries we cover. We gather the information for such reports primarily by meeting with key contacts across the spectrum, from members of the Chilean congress, to civil society activists, to journalists, to businesses that expect to be affected by TPP. We also work to identify allies on the ground and to build support for the agreement. Eventually, when the text of the agreement is finalized, we will launch a strategy of outreach and advocacy to encourage key stakeholders to support the ratification of TPP by the Chilean government.
The issues I covered in my last job—as deputy political and economic chief in Beirut, Lebanon—were very different, as you can imagine. There, our interests included supporting Lebanon’s sovereignty and stability, particularly in light of the Syrian conflict next door; ensuring that U.S. sanctions on the Syrian and Iranian regimes and foreign terrorist groups were enforced; and supporting U.S. citizens and businesses. While the issues may have been different, the tools we used to achieve them—reporting to provide context and analysis to Washington policymakers, and advocacy for U.S. policy objectives—remained the same.