Thomas Hale is a first-year master’s candidate in the Security Policy Studies program at the Elliott School, concentrating in conflict resolution. He is also a student at the University of Delaware and University of Queensland Australia in the Minerals, Materials, and Society Masters certificate program, concentrating in environmental conflict resolution and extractive industry supply chains. He is interested in energy security with a special focus on global supply chains and the impact of energy transition on global politics and national security. He has an additional background in South and Central Asia security issues, with a special emphasis on Pakistan and Indian nuclear weapon policy and regional stability. He previously interned with the Department of State at the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs in the Office of Press and Public Diplomacy. Thomas is an avid mineral collector, technology enthusiast, and a regular lecturer on Virginia geology and mineralogy.
What path led you to apply to graduate school? Why did you pick the Elliott School?
I am a first-generation college student, so the path to graduate school was something completely new and exciting for me to embark on. Being the first to attend higher education in your family is a rewarding experience. In 2019, I had the opportunity to work in D.C. for a semester where I walked across George Washington University campus every day to get to the State Department. I fell in love with the campus and realized that if I wanted the best experience in international affairs then I needed to choose a school that puts you right in the middle of the action. Elliott lies in the heart of U.S. foreign policy and diplomacy and its location is the perfect place to network and gain valuable experience needed for a successful career. I met a lot of high-level international affairs practitioners who had graduated from Elliott and had great things to say about their alma mater. The Elliott experience provides a personal and welcoming environment that made me feel at home as a first-generation student making my way in life.
What has been your favorite course at the Elliott School so far and why?
My favorite course so far at Elliott is “The Geo-politics of Afghanistan, South and Central Asia.” This course pushed me to rethink what I assumed about Afghan politics and the history and impact of great powers in the region. The class offered students a historical perspective that reaches as far back as the 18th century, instead of jumping to the post-2001 world. I was blown away each week with the readings and learned several new ways to critically evaluate pieces of literature. The course centered around discussions and critical debate about the readings, which gave students a great way to engage with their peers in a diverse and inclusive environment. I also enjoyed reading from authors outside of Western academics who provided a different lens on the conflict from on-the-ground realities and lived experiences. The most important thing I learned from the course is that we must always think about where we get our knowledge and the process/context of which that knowledge was produced.
Where would you like to be, career wise, 5 years from now?
I am currently a full-time student at Elliott and a part-time graduate student at the University of Delaware and the University of Queensland Australia in the Minerals, Materials, and Society program. I decided to focus my first year on academics and getting several core courses out of the way. I have a strong interest in research and academics, so that has helped with organizing and keeping me focused with such a heavy course load. Before switching to international affairs, I was a geology student focusing on mineralogy. It is hard to believe how far I have come in five years. Looking forward five years, I plan to focus my research and work experience on exploring the nexus between minerals and security. I have a deep fascination with supply-chain security and the role of minerals in defense, conflict, and advanced technology. My goal for the short-term is to work on research that connects my two interests and enhances our understanding of natural resource extraction in green technology and its impact on national security. I am deeply connected within the mineral community and have been working to bridge the gap between the public, academics, extractive industries, and policymakers in D.C. A dream job would be teaching courses in the evening and working on US-China supply chains and how decarbonization and renewable energy will complicate the supply chain and impact US-China competition.
Think of where you were when you applied to the Elliott School. What advice would you give yourself knowing what you know now, as a student?
Networking and getting to know the people in your program is critical to being successful at the Elliott School. Take advantage of the location and the knowledge your peers bring to the table and never be nervous to ask someone for a coffee interview! I often assumed that graduate school was about coursework and writing papers, but it is much more than that if you want to be successful. Building friendships and networking with the community will provide lasting contacts and support structures as you go out into the workforce. Coming from a small town, it was nice to meet fellow young professionals who share my passions and bring diverse opinions to the table. A large portion of Elliott professors also work in D.C. and are very helpful in assisting you with your career path. It is also nice to have professors who work full-time because they can provide you with information about political events from a perspective you would never get outside of class. Mentioning career paths, take advantage of Graduate Student Services (GSS)! The staff are super helpful and can provide the extra edge when applying for internships, preparing for interviews, and creating resumes.
What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned so far at the Elliott School?
Think outside the box and be confident in bringing new ideas to the table. The most important skill a student can have is the ability to think outside of current paradigms and try to critically engage the readings and information you are being presented with. Being able to think from different perspectives and taking yourself out of the D.C. spotlight can be very useful for IA professionals. The world’s problems are becoming more complex, and it requires a community of interdisciplinary individuals who can work through issues that require different ideas and backgrounds to resolve. As a former STEM student, I try to bring my different perspectives to the table and never shy away from questioning a topic or even just presenting a new concept. Students at Elliott are trained to think critically and to remember that the world needs professionals who can assess issues and bring the right team to the table with inclusive thinking and diverse skillsets.
What is a hobby/habit you’ve returned to since quarantine?
I have been very fortunate to have a COVID-friendly hobby. I have a collection of over 2,000 mineral, fossil, and geology specimens! This is a fun hobby because you can get outdoors and explore, while also bringing back a souvenir of that trip. I am fairly active in this hobby and run two mineral nonprofit organizations across the state dedicated to mineralogy education and another focused on preserving and promoting Virginia’s mineral deposits. Collecting is an important hobby for me because it allows me to stay involved with the science community, while also doing international affairs. Over COVID-19, I gave about 20+ lectures on mineral deposits in the state and have taken advantage of virtual meetings. I get to have participants joining from across the world to learn about Virginia mineralogy and world localities. I think it is exciting to go out and explore the world and also learn about the critical minerals we use every day in our lives. Over half of the components in your cellphone are made from minerals across the globe, so being able to link abstract components to real-world specimens helps me connect the dots and understand the complexity of mineral supply chains!
This beautiful iridescent specimen is called “turgite.” Nestled in the backwoods of Southern Virginia was a small tectonic fault that produced enough space for iron to seep out and form stalactites from the sandstone. Millions of years later, a secondary event occurred which resulted in a mixture of two minerals: hematite and goethite. The resulting chemistry caused a thin layer of nanocrystals on the surface that grew in a specific orientation that causes light to get captured and “reflect” visible colors. The coloration is completely natural, and this specimen is one of my favorites we have discovered!
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The #WeAreElliott profile series is managed by the Elliott School Office of Graduate Admissions and highlights current students to answer common questions posed by prospective, incoming, and current students. For more information on this series or to submit questions, e-mail the Office of Graduate Admissions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed by students profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs.