#ElliottProud: Alex Bednarek

#EP Bednarek

Alex Bednarek joined the Nuclear Threat Initiative in September 2016 and currently serves as a program officer with the International Fuel Cycle Strategies team, having previously served as an intern and research assistant with NTI’s Material Risk Management team. In his current position, he works primarily on verifiable dismantlement of nuclear warheads, developing strategies for long-term management of spent fuel from nuclear reactors, and international nuclear safeguards. His prior experience includes internships with the Center for Global Security Research at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Subcommittee for Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade under the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee. In addition, he has served in positions related to political consulting, territorial conflict and resolution, and international aid. Alex holds a master’s degree in Security Policy Studies from George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin.

Describe your current position and what made you interested in applying?

I’m currently a Program Officer for International Fuel Cycle Strategies at the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) – a DC-based nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing catastrophic attacks with weapons of mass destruction and disruption (WMDD) – nuclear, biological, radiological, chemical and cyber. Founded in 2001 by former Senator Sam Nunn and Ted Turner, NTI works around the world to design innovative threat-reduction projects in the WMDD space that help make the world safer and more secure. In my current position, I work on projects related to verifiable dismantlement of nuclear warheads, developing strategies for long-term management of spent fuel from nuclear reactors, and international nuclear safeguards.

While at the Elliott School for my MA in Security Policy Studies, I focused primarily on non-state actors/transnational security. After accepting an internship in the U.S. House of Representatives on the (now-defunct) Subcommittee for Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, I was first exposed to nuclear nonproliferation issues and I fell in love with the topic. I ended up interning the following semester at NTI working on security of radioactive materials, and nearly three years later, I’m still here as a full-time employee, albeit working on much different topics!

What do you wish other people knew about your organization?

How dedicated NTI is to education on WMDD issues, and how open the staff is to discussing those issues with anyone! NTI’s staff has wildly diverse skill sets, representing so many different career pathways and experiences. One thing I truly love about working here is how willing everyone in the organization is to talk about their areas of expertise with anyone that reaches out. In addition, NTI’s communications team, with the help of the entire organization, spends a significant amount of time building up its educational tools found on our website. These tools include extensive country profiles, threat tutorials, reports, interactive experiences, and so much more. 

What Elliott School courses would you recommend for students interested in your field and why? 

This is an interesting question to answer, as I work in a field that I didn’t exactly study at the Elliott School. While my education at the Elliott School definitely prepared me to work in the field of WMDD policy, my focus was really on terrorism/counterterrorism-related issues. That being said, some of my favorite courses included Non-State Actors and Responses to Terrorism taught by Rhea Siers and Jo Spear’s Transnational Security course. I also really enjoyed the skills courses that I chose – namely Alternative Analysis: Red Team, Writing for Intelligence Professionals, and Negotiation Skills. However, for those interested in the nuclear policy (or broader WMDD policy) world, I would highly recommend taking any classes you can with Allison Macfarlane or Sharon Squassoni – two incredible and well-respected experts in the field.

What was your experience with the job search post-graduation? Can you provide any wisdom for students starting their job search?

Thankfully, my job search post-graduation was relatively painless. As I said, I started as an intern at NTI while still at the Elliott School and stuck around so long they decided to hire me full-time! I did, however, take a brief leave of absence to do a graduate research fellowship at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory before starting my full-time position.

My best advice to students starting their job search, as corny as it sounds, is to not give up and be flexible. Don’t be discouraged by rejections, don’t be afraid to wade into waters you’ve never been in before, and always approach everything with an open mind and a willingness to learn on the fly. Being able to work quickly, effectively, and communicate clearly are of the utmost importance.

You’re a new addition to the crayon box, what color would you be and why?

This is a super nerdy answer, but Cherenkov Radiation Blue. Cherenkov radiation is a type of electromagnetic radiation that is perhaps most famously seen when looking at some underwater nuclear reactors. It creates this eerie but stunningly beautiful blue color that’s truly hard to describe. If that could be accurately captured in a crayon color, it would absolutely be my new favorite.

The #ElliottProud series highlights Elliott School MA alumni and seeks to answer common questions posed by prospective, current, and incoming students. The views expressed by alumni profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs. Find out more about this program by creating a CustomViewbook!

For more information on this series or to submit questions, e-mail esiagrad@gwu.edu.