#WeAreElliott: Olivia Salembier

Olivia Salembier, MA Security Policy Studies, Class of 2022, #WeAreElliott Current Student

Olivia Salembier is a second-year Master Candidate in the Security Policy Studies program, concentrating in Conflict Resolution. She is particularly interested in the intersections of gender and environmental security as they relate to conflict prevention, as well as the rise of domestic right-wing extremism and its transnational nature. She currently interns in the U.S. House of Representatives for Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (PA-06) and serves as a Policy Coordinator for the student policy incubator European Horizons. Prior to attending the Elliott School, Olivia worked at an Americas-focused international organization abroad, on a political campaign working to get women elected into the PA state legislature, as well interning in a legal capacity to assist immigrant and refugee clients in her hometown. When she isn’t working or studying, Olivia adores the outdoors, cooking up a storm, a competitive game night, traveling (when borders aren’t closed) and spending time with her clingy dog Beau.

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

From the moment I began my undergraduate studies, I knew I wanted to further pursue my studies. However, I was torn between pursuing a law degree or a Masters in the security field and conflict resolution field. The pandemic hit right as I had completed the application and testing process for both law and graduate schools. Not knowing how long the pandemic and its impacts would linger, I chose to opt for a degree with a shorter time frame, and I have been thankful every day since. I chose Elliott specifically for its SPS program, as I had always interested in security, but wanted to pursue it through a prevention standpoint. When I learned I could be in the SPS program, concentrate in conflict resolution, and be in the heart of D.C., I knew I had found the right school.

Where do you currently work, intern or volunteer, and how does it fit in with your career goals?

I am currently a Congressional intern for Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (PA-06) in the U.S. House of Representatives. The member I work for serves on both the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees. As such, the staffers have been incredible at looping me in on projects or sending me to hearings or briefings that are particularly relevant to what I also cover in my studies. Though I am unsure whether I would like to remain longer on the Hill, or transition to work for the government or an international organization, the experience has been incredibly eye-opening and valuable. I was also fortunate enough to intern at the French Embassy and have a real-time comparison of the diplomatic and public sector worlds, which has certainly helped in narrowing down future career avenues.

What tools/strategies have proved most helpful in making the most of your time at the Elliott School?

With virtual learning and studying in the absence of in-person interaction, student group-chats and other communication forums have been vital in creating a sense of community that you would otherwise find on campus. Existing in an entirely virtual capacity is challenging in its own right, and learning from your bed room for a full year can be a lonesome experience. These groups have allowed me to get to know my classmates, many of whom have been experiencing the same hardships. I also would highly recommend to any incoming student to make full-use of the career development office, as the services and expertise they offer are incredibly valuable.

What advice do you have for students for staying motivated at work or in class?

What drew me to security and conflict resolution studies was the desire to possess the critical knowledge and tools to be in a position to create policies and solutions to so much of the devastation and insecurity that for us exist as ongoing case studies. For me, the drive to be able to find myself in a place where I can have a role in ending even a fraction of a root cause of a conflict makes all the challenges worthwhile, and is an incredible motivator. So, my advice for students seeking a deeper motivation is to always frame the difficulties you’re facing in your studies in the context that what you are learning, studying, and researching will give way to the possibility of a future of a real-world impact, which are desperately in demand. When you approach your courses and your readings with the sense of urgency that everything you’re absorbing may be integral in a year, I’ve found the results to be pretty remarkable

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

It seems odd to name a memorable experience at the school you attend without ever actually having been within the premises of the Elliott School. However, my most memorable experience has collectively been the overwhelming support and dedication the ESIA faculty has demonstrated to their students. The energy, enthusiasm and passion for not just the subject material, but also going above and beyond to ensure that students are making the most of their time, even in a virtual setting, has further reaffirmed why ESIA was the best fit.

If you could take a selfie with anyone in the world, who would it be and why?

I would love to take a selfie with Jane Goodall. She was my childhood idol, and I actually had the chance to potentially get a selfie with her in the Montreal airport several years back. However, instead of acting like a normal human, I awkwardly followed her through the airport duty-free area until she noticed me, at which point I lost all common sense and gave her an incredibly awkward high-five and said nothing. Needless to say, I would like a re-do of meeting my childhood hero.


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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.