#IncomingElliott: Rafael Prado

Rafael Prado, MA Security Policy Studies, Class of 2023, #IncomingElliott Student

Rafael Prado is a master’s candidate at the Elliott School in the Security Policy Studies program, concentrating in Transnational Security with a regional focus in Africa. Prior to grad school, he received his bachelor’s degree in education and public policy at The Pennsylvania State University where he was admitted to the university’s prestigious Latinx Leadership Institute. He has prior experience in public and cultural diplomacy working in Iraq with the Muslim Peacemaker Team’s American-Iraqi Reconciliation Project. He is interested in technology’s ability to destabilize and promote democratic institutions, the use of psychological warfare and simply, making our world a healthier space. “When we are able to develop a safer, healthier and more equitable lifestyle for our neighbors at home and abroad, we all come out as winners.” He is a current program analyst at the State Department and hopes to pursue a career in foreign service.

What made you interested in your graduate program of choice?  

Choosing my graduate program of choice was a difficult decision that I went back and forth on with our International Affairs program. I found our Security Policy Studies program to be a combination of several interests that I did not find many places elsewhere. I have a deep desire to get involved in foreign affairs as well as the process of intelligence building. I was better able to produce answers to my career and educational interests, and having that ability provided more structure to my outlook without sacrificing my aspirations. When I think about the factors that have impacted my life the most, in context to the international arena, I think about fear – the fear of war, the fear of others and now the fear of our future placement in the world. I will be learning about present and forthcoming global security risks with SPS. Two of my highest interests are terrorism and climate change. We are witnessing artificial intelligence take over at an impressive rate and completely revolutionizing communities to unimaginable social progress, and we are also witnessing technology’s ability to negatively impact human rights. And climate change is slowly becoming an interest across both isles as we begin to understand shared impacts with our neighbors through trade, migration, and development. I am excited about the curriculum and possible opportunities I may cross paths with during my time here.

What skills do you hope to pick up or further develop at the Elliott School?

The power of storytelling is something I believe is undervalued and certainly something I want to further develop at the Elliott School. Particularly in the realm of advocacy and diplomacy, the words we use are telling and provide clues to our understanding of the world around us. Certain words carry histories and insights impactful enough to harm or uplift the people around us. Storytelling skills are impacted by my interests in biases and metacognition – how our thoughts create our realities. I wholeheartedly believe in the scaling effect of changing the attention of our thoughts as they influence the way we feel, and the way we feel influences our bodily reactions that then go on to our behaviors that define who we are and what we experience in life. This scaling effect is a personal challenge driven by our preconceived notions that needs constant addressing. As I enter the international field, I will be interacting with various cultures, identities, and professions I hope to help develop, support, or represent, and I will make sure to give the respect and effort needed to best act through the art of advocacy and diplomacy.

If you could have anyone in the international affairs field serve as your personal mentor through grad school, who would you pick and why?

Tough question! With so many names coming to mind, I am going to pick a name I hope to expose to a greater audience. David Moinina Sengeh is Sierra Leone’s Minister of Education, and Chief Innovation Officer. He has an incredible story and I encourage everyone to learn more about him. I came across his years-old TED talk and was inspired to earn a data analytics certification. While our career aspirations do not overlap entirely, I admire Mr. Sengeh’s passionate effort to create a more equitable world around him using data science. He is dedicated to developing empowering avenues to regain previous lives and develop new opportunities for impacted persons across ability, gender, and poverty. He brought science and innovation from the private sector to the government and will completely revolutionized the outlook for an infinite number of persons. He works off two principles, You belong and Let’s get technical. Perhaps it the inner nerd in me, but data science is a powerful and complex tool with incredible potential. As I enter international field, I hope to live off a similar passion for community development through innovation.

Why did you choose to commit to the Elliott School for your graduate program?

The Elliott School was a surprise commitment to be frank. I attributed several factors in my decision. After the program itself, the faculty’s practice, and my communication with admission officers were leading indicators. I had a mediocre experience with an admission officer who represented one of my top-two choices and they were later bumped out of my top-three list; meanwhile, another university jumped up several spaces absent of that experience. I had an absolutely incredible faculty support system during my undergraduate program that genuinely shaped my life and after conversing with several faculty and students, I felt the Elliott School had a similar potential. Regarding faculty, I was impressed with the balance of practical and theoretical work being done. Comparable to our neighboring DC universities, I think in more cases than not, there is a particular reason why our faculty choose to be in DC doing the work they do. I come from an agriculture town limited in resources, where peers will be impressed with the sole reality you leave and move towards a perceived more impactful opportunity. I am encouraged by my environment. I have been a trailblazer for some of my family and peers, and I am confident the Elliott School community and location will help propel me into the impact I hope to achieve.

What famous person do you hope to run into in DC?

If it is not too much to ask for, I would love into President Biden during my time in DC. He’s only our president and I may be able to figure out a couple questions…  Spending time in Los Angeles with friends and family, I have had a fair share of run-ins with celebrities, and I’ll admit to being less star-stuck over time. I have had encounters that go poorly and some that go excitingly well. Particularly in the poor scenarios, I learned it’s important to identify others as human first before adding other characteristics. With that being said, I would love to have a chat with CIA Director William “Bill” Burns. He has over three decades of experience in foreign service, would later preside over the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and is the first ranked Career Ambassador to lead our intelligence community. A conversation with Director Burns would be an incredible highlight for someone like myself interested in diplomacy and intelligence. Now someone please get this to him so we can make that possible.


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The #IncomingElliott profile series is managed by the Elliott School Office of Graduate Admissions and highlights newly enrolling students to answer common questions posed by prospective 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.