Jennifer Bragiel is a Program Specialist with the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ (IAFC) Community Solutions, where she helps fire departments with wildfire mitigation and volunteer recruitment and retention, and as the Volunteer & Combination Officers Section (VCOS) Staff Liaison. She specializes in digital marketing and communication but is most passionate about data and analytics. She has utilized her skills to help emergency service organizations improve their ability to recruit and retain the talent they need to help ensure every call is answered. Ms. Bragiel manages multiple social media accounts, wrote the Social Media Handbook and assisted in the creation of the social media toolkit. She is an international presenter on developing a digital brand and social media strategy. She holds an M.A. in European and Eurasian Studies from the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and a B.A. in International Relations from Michigan State University.
Describe your current position and what have you learned since being in the position?
I am a Program Specialist with the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the staff liaison to the Volunteer and Combination Officers Section. This is a dynamic position where you are engaging members, coordinating and managing grants, creating and running traditional and digital marketing campaigns, developing educational courses, reports and resources, and much more. I have learned in my position to think, communicate and work in a variety of fields and on a variety of topics. I often hear “wow not really using your degree” or “so how did you end up at an association.” The truth is I use my education every single day. The Elliott School taught me to think critically, learn and adapt quickly, write concisely, and to tailor my communication to my audience. These are skills that transcend the topic and make my degree truly versatile. These are also skills you must have to work in a fast-paced dynamic work environment.
What professional organization, websites, or events would you recommend for students interested in your field, and why?
There is an association for everything. If you are interested in working in the association world you should join the American Society of Association Executives. I encourage you to join the association for your field of interest. Associations provide an opportunity for you to show your knowledge, make meaningful connections, and skills and abilities within a field.
To grow yourself professionally use every opportunity to its fullest. An unpaid or low paying internship was not a realistic option for me, because I paid for my education and bills by working as a bartender when I was not at school. This meant I needed to find nontraditional ways to network and open doors. When you are working in the retail or service industry you meet people from all walks of life and backgrounds. These professions provide great networking opportunities. Through them you can show your personality and work ethic to customers, you can make connections that may still lead to that dream job. As a bartender, I met people that worked for or had a family member that worked for the FBI, CIA, FEMA, USDA, Embassies, contractors and consulting firms. This opened up great opportunities for me. It is truly up to you to make the most of your situation. You never know who you will meet or where you will meet them. Treat every interaction as if it could lead to the opportunity of a lifetime, you never know it just might.
What was your favorite Elliott School course and why?
The Elliott School had many amazing courses; International Security Policy, International Organized Crime, Security in Russia/Eurasia, the European and Eurasian Studies Capstone, and Terrorism and Conflict in the Northern Caucasus. These courses all excited, challenged and engaged me. The courses allowed you to have freedom, encouraged lively debate and challenged you to think in new ways. Out of these, International Organized Crime was my favorite. I was able to write one of my favorite papers during this class. It was on the illicit trade of caviar. During my research, I found out about one of the highest-paid hits in the history of the Russian mafia. This hit was on a stray cat that had sniffed out caviar. The cat was so good at identifying cars with caviar that it severely hurt the Russian mafias’ profits. This led to the hit, but the cat proved to be extremely difficult to kill. To this day it remains one of my favorite stories.
What part of your career do you find most challenging and how do you stay motivated?
In associations, you are working in a dynamic environment with limited resources. It pushes you to think out of the box, you must be creative and constantly transform yourself. I never like saying no to a member, and often tasks need to be accomplished right away. This means you have to learn and adapt quickly to consistently and constantly be delivering excellence. You need to be expanding your versatility and knowledge to help guide the organization to meet new trends and industry needs. Staying motivated in my field is easy. All it takes is one phone call with a member or attending an event. The work my coworkers and I do in partnership with our members has a huge impact on first responders. From stories of how a campaign saved their life to the impact a simple social media post had on that individual or department. My job is easy compared to the members I am working to help, and yet they are the kindest most gracious people you will ever meet. Knowing they rely on your resources to do their job; makes you want to work harder.
If someone wrote a book about you 10 years from now, what would it be called?
If someone wrote a book about me 10 years from now, it would be called Shoot for the Moon. When I was in cross country, our coach used to always tell us to shoot for the moon, because if you miss you will end up among the stars. The point is to set your goals high and push yourself to be the best. You may not reach them but by pushing yourself to be the best version of you, you can be proud of yourself. When I first attended the Elliott School my goal was to work for the government, and I tried my best to get this job. Along the way though I found a better fit for me, where I could push my abilities and grow. I aimed for the moon and ended up among the stars. I don’t know where I will be in 10 years from now, but I know I have high goals and I am pushing myself every day to meet them. While I hope I will achieve them, I know no matter what happens I can be proud and will end up in the best place for me.
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 email@example.com.