#WeAreElliott: Nate Safford

Nate Safford is an Army Foreign Area Officer and graduate student in the Master of International Policy and Practice (MIPP) program at the Elliott School. He received his Bachelor of Science in International History from the United States Military Academy at West Point and served 8 years as an Infantry Officer in various operational and leadership roles before transitioning to become a Foreign Area Officer (FAO) with a focus on Latin America. Nate most recently served in the U.S. Embassy in Panama as a member of the Office of Defense Cooperation. His current research focuses on Institutional Capacity Building and U.S. Security Cooperation in the Western Hemisphere.

What has been your favorite experience at the Elliott School so far and why?

My favorite experience has been working with and getting to know my fellow students, both within the classroom and outside of it. The Elliott school is made up of a diverse and talented collection of people from different personal and professional backgrounds who all bring different knowledge, experiences, and perspectives to the table. Whether through discussions in class or over a post-class beer, I have met a lot of great people and made some valuable connections. Special shout-outs to Dr. Baxter’s Emerging Threats class as well as my MIPP cohort.

What courses have you found most helpful in your work experiences and how have they been useful?

The flexibility of the MIPP curriculum allowed me to select a range of courses from across the Elliott School that fit both my personal and professional interests. The first course that I have been able to apply to my work is International Relations of Latin America which included a great array of topics and guest speakers that allowed me to expand my regional expertise which is a key component of my job. The second course was the MIPP-specific Strategy and Leadership class, which was really useful in establishing the foundation and design of my capstone which relates directly to my field and draws on themes from all of my selected courses.

Describe the pros and cons of being a full-time student at the Elliott School.

I have been fortunate in that my employer gave me the opportunity to be a full-time student. Accordingly, I was able to structure my course load to complete my program in 12 months so that I can return to full-time work. That flexibility has been great for me and conversely a lot of my cohort have continued to work full or part-time while completing the program and spread the courses out over a longer period. Both options have advantages and disadvantages but being able to tailor my studies to my individual situation has been key. The Elliott School’s evening classes also make it easier to balance requirements and still get out to enjoy all the great things DC has to offer!

What resources (online or offline) or strategies have proven to be the most valuable in helping you reach success at the Elliott School?

A really valuable resource for me has been the Elliott School faculty itself. All of my professors have been very accessible and engaged beyond the classroom. The faculty draw upon a wealth of practical experience in their fields and in my experience have emphasized current and real-world applications rather than a solely academic approach which appeals to my learning style. I have also had the chance to participate in different conferences or guest speaker events where my professors are actively involved with current research and the academic and policy communities. Similarly, my program director and academic advisor have been another great go-to in helping me design my concentration areas and research focus to facilitate a relevant and viable capstone project.

What advice do you have for prospective students who are comparing a graduate program at the Elliott School with other DC grad schools?

My advice is to consider what aspects of grad school are most important to you and what your goal is at the end of the program. For me, I had the choice of several great DC area graduate programs but the Elliott School was the best fit for what I wanted from my graduate experience and what I aim to accomplish professionally upon completion. The impressive faculty, diverse student body, and small classes of the Elliott School combined with the advantages and resources of the larger GW campus in the heart of DC were big factors for me. I encourage any prospective students to visit campus if possible or reach out to faculty and students to learn more about the specific programs and how they fit with your interests and goals. The self-designed specialization and broad course offerings of the MIPP program specifically have been a great fit for me as a mid-careerist and the access to DC institutions, thought leaders, and decision makers has exceeded my expectations.

What city outside of the U.S. should people should visit and why?

This one was hard to choose! I would recommend visiting Marrakech, Morocco to anyone who has the opportunity to go. The Old City has an incredible mix of history, culture, and architecture in such a small space and a ton of unique Riads to stay in to complete the experience. There are mazes of Souks (markets) and sites to explore and if you want to get beyond the city, the Atlas Mountains and Sahara Desert are not that far away. For any foodies, anything cooked in a tajine is usually a safe bet and Moroccan mint tea goes with anything.


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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.