#WeAreElliott: Noelle Cohn

Noelle Cohn, MA International Affairs, Class of 2022, #WeAreElliott Current Student

Noelle Cohn is a first-year Masters candidate in the International Affairs program at the Elliott School, concentrating in International Security and Global Gender Policy. She received her bachelor’s degree in international relations with minors in Italian and European Studies in 2018. Noelle is interested in the feminist I.R. theory and how our understanding, and implementation of security policy can be approved through using a gendered analysis. She is particularly interested in gender and disarmament. Noelle currently serves as the president of the D.C. Student Consortium on Women, Peace and Security, a student-led organization that aims to — in collaboration with the US Civil Society Working Group on WPS (U.S. CSWG) — promote awareness of the implications of gender in security and foreign policy. This summer, she’s interning at the International Development Group LLC (IDG) on the Projects and Proposals Team, supporting current Road Evaluation and Monitoring Projects, new business proposals, and Gender Analysis. Noelle enjoys reading, spending time with her dog Dolly Pawton, and working at Trader Joes in D.C.

What path led you to apply to graduate school? Why did you choose the Elliott School?

I always knew that I wanted to go to graduate school. But I didn’t know what I wanted to study or where I wanted to pursue that study. After finishing undergrad, I went to work for a large technology research company, where I realized there were huge gaps in government and the impacts of new technology integration—knowing that I knew that I wanted to learn more about technology and its influence on international affairs especially concerning global security and defense. In addition to technology, I knew that I wanted to understand better how these issues are impacted by the lack of gender equity within these industries. The Elliott School was the perfect place for me because it has a fantastic security program and has more classes on gender and security than any other D.C. university. Plus, it is right in the center of D.C., which means you have access to all the fantastic organizations working in international affairs.  I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in international security policy and diplomacy. The Elliott School was the perfect fit for me!

What has been your most challenging academic experience at the Elliott School and how did you overcome it?

The most challenging academic experience I have had at Elliott was adjusting to taking online classes, especially when it came to subjects, I struggle with. Like most first-year MAIA students, I took the Survey to International Economics course to complete my economics requirement. When I realized the university was going online for the year, I was especially worried about this class because it is a subject that I find difficult. Professor Suranovic was an incredible resource and very proactive in changing his course to fit the needs of students as an online course. If I had questions or needed help in understanding the formulas, we used in our calculations, he was always willing to help. This economics course was difficult and challenged me. However, the faculty and my classmates supported me in order to help me succeed and better understand the material. I have found this support throughout all my Elliott courses. The community at the Elliott School is there to support you and help you succeed even with materials that don’t come easily to you.

Where would you like to be, career wise, 5 years from now?

When I applied for my master’s degree program, my goal was to work on cyber security and technology policy for a government agency such as the Department of Defense or Homeland Security. While I continue to be passionate about emerging technologies, my interest has shift and so has my career trajectory. At the Elliott School, I have become passionate about understanding international relations through a gendered lens. This shift interest at the Elliott School has allowed me to expand my interest into other areas of theory and security such as disarmament. Through the university, I was able to get involved with the global gender policy program and help create the D.C. Student Consortium on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) with other students. I currently serve as president of the group. My work with the Consortium has shifted my career goals. Now, I aspire to work in the gender and security space. In five years, I hope to begin pursing a PhD in international affairs and gender analysis or be working with one of the major NGO that focus on the WPS agenda in order to create better participation of women in peace processes as well as change the dominant policy objectives of nuclear non-proliferation towards a focus on disarmament.

Now that you’re a graduate student, what do you wish you knew during the graduate application process?

When I was applying to graduate school, I knew that I wanted to go to school in Washington D.C. However, I wish I would have better understood how different each of the universities in the District are and how different each university is in regard to academic programs. If I were applying to graduate programs again, I would make a checklist in order to look at all the components I needed out of a graduate program. While this isn’t always easy to do, since you don’t always know what opportunities are available to you until you begin, I would suggest the first thing you do is look at the faculty at each university. Ask yourself, are there faculty members that research interest you or that you would like to work with? Determining if there are professors who have had similar career trajectories that you wish to pursue is a great way to determine if you will be comfortable at a university. Another thing you should look at is what kind of courses are available. There were two things that drew me to GW over the other universities, they were that many courses are taught by professionals in the field and that we have the largest variety of gender and security courses in the district. Both of these things were important to me. So, when applying to graduate programs, you should look at what you want out of a program in order to support you in your desired career path.

What has been your most valuable experience while studying at the Elliott School?

The most valuable experience I have had at the Elliott School was getting to host our Consortium’s launch event with some of the most impressive scholars and practitioners in the gender field for International Women’s Day. Alongside the support of my peers and Dr. Shirley Graham, I was able to help plan an all-day workshop that centers on addressing the gaps within the Women, Peace and Security agenda. During that event, I hosted a plenary session with some of the biggest actors in gender analysis. In addition, the opening plenary and closing plenary session, I was able to facilitate a workshop on the topic of intergenerational gendered trauma alongside other students and professionals. The experience of the launch provided me additional opportunities to facilitate panels and events with Women in Defense and the Honorable Michele Flournoy. Overall, the experience with creating the Consortium and our official launch event has opened incredible doors for me and other students at the university.

What happy change have you seen or experienced since quarantine?

Since quarantine, I have made two big happy changes. The first was the time I get to spend with my dog. The dog park has been the best place to hang out during quarantine. I have been able to spend a lot of time with my pup, Dolly and work on her training as well as make lots of other friends who have dogs in D.C. Turns out, the District is a big dog area, and many people spend a lot of time at the dog park. In addition to time spent at the park, I have regained my love of reading. Before starting my program at the Elliott School, I spent a lot of time reading about topics in international affairs to get prepared for my program. Alongside academic reading, I have also found new authors and genres that I enjoy. One of my favorite way to find new authors and books is through Book of the Month. It’s a subscription that lets you pick one new book a month. I think my favorite book that I have read in quarantine is The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson. It was really great getting into reading again because there are all these amazing new authors who are written amazing books in the last year like Johnson.


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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 esiagrad@gwu.edu.

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.