Andrew Strahan grew up on the outskirts of Tuscaloosa, Alabama and moved to North Carolina for college. At Appalachian State University, he was active in student government, Dance Marathon, and local political campaigns. He majored in International and Comparative Politics and minored in economics. He moved to DC the day after he graduated to intern at a fundraising firm on Capitol Hill. Finding himself a little out of place with all the numbers, he decided to move into an internship in Congress. He interned for Representative Terri Sewell from Alabama and Carolyn Maloney from New York. Two weeks before the pandemic, he moved into his current role at the National Endowment for Democracy. At the Elliott School, he is in the Security Policy Studies program focusing on transnational issues, primarily in Africa and Central Europe. He loves to cook Italian food and work out; and he would love for someone in DC to learn how to make REAL sweet tea.
What path led you to apply to graduate school? Why did you choose the Elliott School?
When I first arrived in DC I did what many others do, got an internship in Congress. I was fortunate to intern with a member of Congress who served on the Intelligence Committee. Hearing some of what the staff did and about the issues helped me understand what I was really interested in regarding public policy. It was there that I decided I wanted to work in foreign policy and national security. During my time in DC, when I was applying to graduate programs, I met many staff across town who spoke highly of the Elliott School. In particular, on Capitol Hill, I met so many wonderful alumni of the Elliott School that I knew I had to check it out. Choosing the Elliott School was not difficult because of the classes offered, the hands-on style of the professors, and the professionalism of the students. The Elliott School provides me with great flexibility so I can maintain a job and receive a stellar education.
Where do you currently work, intern or volunteer, and how does it fit in with your career goals?
I currently work at the National Endowment for Democracy, an independent, congressionally-funded organization dedicated to countering autocratic influence worldwide. I work in the government relations and public affairs department which means I spend a lot of time with congressional staff and members of our board. This is a wonderful starting point for me. It allows me to hear firsthand experiences of those in some of the world’s harshest societies and it gives me the opportunity to work with different teams so that I can decide what path I want to take in foreign policy. Going to school while working full-time is certainly a challenge but I believe it has benefited me greatly as I work on real-time issues that I hear from classes. Going forward I would like to either move back to the Hill or work overseas as an election monitor. I believe the Elliott School has already provided me with invaluable skills to do either.
What tools/strategies have proved most helpful in making the most of your time at the Elliott School?
Grad school offers the opportunity to learn a great many skills that can be more easily applied to the workforce. The greatest ones I have enhanced during my time at the Elliott School are time management and subject motivation. I have been able to manage my time effectively so that I can learn and work at the same time. Time management is especially important for those who are interning or working while in school but everyone can benefit from practicing it. Subject motivation is a little different. To me, this means being invested in the issues you are studying and not just studying for the sake of it. I believe that if one is to truly get the most out of any graduate school experience, it is important to be emotionally and mentally, and maybe even physically connected to the issues being studied. These two skills are the best way to get the most out of what you learn here at Elliott.
What advice do you have for students for staying motivated at work or in class?
This question is similar to my last answer but just as important to explain. My greatest advice is to do something or study something that you really care about. If the subject bores you then you won’t learn anything and you’ll probably annoy the teacher. Just pick something you like and follow through with it. The teachers at the Elliott School are greatly passionate about the subjects and classes they teach. They want students in class who are going to listen, digest, and add to the discussion. If you pick the classes you are interested in and work with your professor then motivation will be at your side. Moreover, the teachers and faculty understand that not everyone will have the same interests and sometimes interests change. They provide flexibility so that you can be in whatever program you think is best and study what you really care about.
What has been your most memorable experience while studying at the Elliott School?
I think it is fair to say that COVID-19 took a lot of memories that I would have made away from me but I am very grateful for the time and effort that so many professors put in to make this a success. If I had to pick one memory it would just be all the times the professors patiently waited for my screen to unfreeze before moving on to the next question. The professors and the faculty showed unbelievable resolve and commitment to their classes during the pandemic and I was so grateful for the assistance and patience that I received. My first year of grad school may have been online but my teachers made it feel as though I were right there in the classroom. Even though we were online I was so lucky to make so many wonderful and intelligent friends as we helped each other through the pandemic.
If you could have a parade on any day for any occasion, what would your parade be for?
Parades are a wonderful representation of celebration and excitement; therefore there is only one thing on this earth worth that in my mind, democracy. Democracy does not have its moment as often as it should. Maybe I am biased because of where I work but I think the entire world should celebrate Democracy with a parade. For starters it would anger the autocrats who have convinced themselves that their method of governance is the future, but it would also provide joy to those who have worked so hard all over the world, advocating for a better form of governance. There is already a National Democracy Day observed by the United Nations so why not get a few floats together, blow up some balloons, and throw a parade? We may each have different days where we mark independence but the broader dream of democracy deserves its own celebration. **side note: many countries do already have this.
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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 email@example.com.
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.