Kerry Porter is the Deputy Director and Washington Unit Chief of the Office of International Media Engagement (IME) at the State Department, coordinating strategic messaging on U.S. foreign policy to international audiences. She joined IME in 2014 as a Presidential Management Fellow and completed rotations as a political officer in Embassy Baku (Azerbaijan) and a social media coordinator at the Africa Regional Media Hub (Johannesburg). Prior to her position at State, Ms. Porter spent three years at an international NGO, Education Development Center, in the Research/Communications and Business Development units. Before working in education development, Ms. Porter supported new media for a women-focused non-profit and was an educator in areas as diverse as inner-city Baltimore and the mountains of Northeast China. Ms. Porter graduated in 2012 from the Elliott School with an MA in International Development Studies. She lives in Takoma Park with her husband and their neurotic rescue cat, Leeloo Dallas Multipaws.
When did you realize you wanted an international career?
After teaching in Maryland for four years, I got a temporary gig working with Kaplan Test Prep launching college prep programs in China. Tailoring U.S. curriculum for Chinese students, I was constantly unraveling the impacts of history, economics, politics, and culture on the education system. It was challenging, invigorating, vexing, and fascinating, and I realized it was impossible to separate one element from any of the others. I knew that when I got back to the States, I wanted to turn my attention to international education and development.
What is your current position? What did the path look like to get there?
Not long after graduation, I saw an e-mail from Graduate Student Services about the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) program saying “one hour could change your life.” I decided to take the test, and thanks in part to the networking and education programs around the PMF at GSS, I became a finalist and landed a gig in the Office of International Media Engagement at the State Department. It was supposed to be two weeks and then I’d rotate to another office, but I fell in love with the work and meshed so well with the team. I was hired into that office full time when my PMF ended, and over the years have worked my way up to be the Deputy Director and Washington Unit Chief. I supervise our team here in DC and help manage our six Regional Media Hubs around the world. My first supervisor at State ended up being an ESIA grad alum and former PMF who I had met at a GSS PMF finalist networking event. He is no longer at State, but has remained my mentor and dear friend, and even designed the cake topper for my wedding.
What part of your experience at the Elliott School best prepared you for post-grad career?
Skills courses and the capstone! Prior to working in China, I’d been a teacher and so I didn’t have the job experience to get an internship in international development right away. With a year of GW under my belt, though, I was able to talk up the hands on, practical experience I got in my skills courses and get a paid internship at my top choice NGO, Education Development Center. While I was at my internship, I was able to tailor my work on the capstone project and use it to get hired full time at the same NGO when I graduated. The Elliott School’s focus on practical experience was why I chose GW, and it helped build a toolbox I used in the professional world immediately.
What advice do you have for prospective students who are considering a graduate degree in international relations?
Don’t be too narrowly focused on your area of study; the Elliott School itself has so many fascinating foci and amazing classes. Then there’s the Trachtenberg, Columbian College, GSHED, SMPA…take advantage of all GW has to offer. Also, for all I said about GW’s focus on practical skills, I recommend taking a mix of classes taught by academics and professionals. They both bring different but valuable perspectives and help shape your understanding of global affairs.
What did you value most about living and studying in D.C.?
Networking happens when you don’t even realize it. I met the person who got me a job at State when I was her dog sitter. Our conversations about current events while I returned her house key led to her suggesting I consider a career in public affairs once I became a PMF finalist. It’s a small city and almost everyone you meet is involved in politics, government, or international affairs. It’s also just always inspiring how policy and history and diplomacy are happening around you. Going for a jog around GW’s campus, you pass through State, the World Bank, all the monuments and the mall; it never gets old. And there are always interesting things to do and learning opportunities, from events at foreign embassies to book talks at Politics and Prose to any language class you could imagine.
How has virtual learning/working from home positively affected your work?
My husband (who’s an undergrad ESIA alum!) and I adopted a needy but sweet rescue cat during the pandemic, and she meows jealously at the computer whenever a zoom call takes my attention from her. I don’t know that it’s necessarily positively affected my work, but it gives me such joy every time I am on serious work zoom call and she appears in the picture with her head butts and plaintive meows.
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The #ElliottProud profile series is managed by the Elliott School Office of Graduate Admissions and highlights graduate program alumni 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.