#ElliottProud: Reza Akbari

Blog_ #EP Akbari

Reza H. Akbari received his MA in Middle East Studies in May 2012. While at the Elliott School, Reza interned at the US Treasury Department and The Century Foundation. He is currently a Program Manager at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. Reza conducts research on Iranian domestic politics, U.S. foreign policy toward Iran, Shia politics, political transition, and democracy. He has previously served as a Research Associate for the Iran Program at the Middle East Institute and a Research Assistant at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Reza has written for a number of publications such as Foreign Policy, CNN’s Global Public Square, Tehran Bureau, Jadaliyya, and Al Monitor. Reza holds a BA in Political Science and International Studies from the State University of New York at Fredonia. His master’s thesis explored the potential for political reconciliation in Bahrain.

Describe your current position and what are your primary responsibilities?

I am a Program Manager at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization that focuses on strengthening media and civil society worldwide.  My primary responsibilities include developing new projects for the organization, reporting, and tracking the impact of implemented programs. I am also responsible for monitoring and analyzing the ongoing sociopolitical developments in the Middle East region.

What professional organization, websites, or Elliott School courses, would you recommend for students interested in your field, and why?

I highly recommend any course taught by Professors Nathan Brown, Marc Lynch, and Ambassador Edward Gnehm. They provide a tremendous amount of practical experience as well as academic rigor. Professor Lynch constantly challenges preconceived notions and theories about the region by inviting his students to consider alternative viewpoints. Ambassador Gnehm’s experience as a former diplomat enriches every lecture. Professor Brown is one of the most intelligent and knowledgeable individuals on Middle East affairs. He is able to explain the most complex issues in simple terms and inspire lively class debates.

What part of your career do you find most challenging and how do you stay motivated?

Trying to keep up with the fast-paced environment of Washington DC is always challenging. Everyone seems to be perpetually busy and motivated to drive forward. This is one of the characteristics that attracts me to DC, but after a while, you may lose sight of what’s important in the long-term and begin to chase short-lived objectives. I discovered that this is not a sustainable approach, especially within the unpredictable world of Middle East-related careers. Whenever I get a bit overwhelmed, I try to take a break from chasing headlines, spend some time with family and friends, and better define my long-term objectives. If all else fails, a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and a good night’s sleep always does the trick.

If you could throw a parade of any caliber, what type of parade would it be?

The gathering location would be a public park and there will be tons of food waiting for the parade participants. To everyone’s surprise, however, we would not go anywhere. We would just hang out in the park, eat, drink, and talk. Essentially, I think what I am trying to say is that I’d have a sitting parade because I am not a big fan of parades to begin with and who really wants to walk that long?

The #ElliottProud series highlights Elliott School MA alumni and seeks to answer common questions posed by prospective, current, and incoming students. For more information or to submit questions, e-mail esiagrad@gwu.edu.

#WeAreElliott: Esther Ongay

Blog_ #WAE Ongay

Esther Ongay graduated from Centro de Investigacion y Docencia Economicas (CIDE) Mexico with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and International Relations. She is pursuing a master’s degree in International Development Studies. She is also working as an intern on social inclusion topics at the Inter-American Foundation. Before coming to GW, she worked for Mexico Evalúa, Centro de Análisis de Políticas Públicas, as a researcher on public budget and accountability. She has also worked as an analyst for Fundación IDEA and as a research assistant at her alma mater, Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas. During this time she has also volunteered for several worthy causes, including most recently Citizen Action Against Poverty where she volunteered her time to improve public policies to alleviate poverty in Mexico.

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

I got an internship in the Inter-American Foundation, which is an independent US Government Agency that funds grassroots projects in Latin America and the Caribbean. This opportunity is great for my career goals because I want to work in that region and I think that community-based projects are the best option to boost development for the poorest segments of the population. This internship is letting me learn about a wide range of ventures that go from agriculture to LGBTI rights.

What has been your most challenging work, intern or volunteer experience since starting your program at the Elliott School and how did you overcome it?

I have only worked in the Inter-American Foundation. It has been challenging to work in English, and I have found out that people are more direct here than I am used to for an office environment. In any case, all my coworkers have been very nice to me, I cannot complain at all.

What piece of advice would you have given yourself when you started your program now that you’ve completed your first year?

I would tell myself that this is doable. When I first started my degree, I overwhelmed by the workload, but I have learned that it is feasible. It takes time management skills, but it is not impossible. 

If you had to watch only 3 movies for the rest of your life, what would they be?

Fight club, Amelie and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

The #WeAreElliott series highlights current M.A. students at the Elliott School and seeks to answer common questions posed by prospective and incoming students. For more information or to submit questions, e-mail esiagrad@gwu.edu.

#ElliottProud: Krisztina Fabo

Blog_ #EP Fabo

Krisztina Fabo received a joint double-honors degree in Middle Eastern Studies and Eurasian studies at the University of Manchester, in England. Krisztina then completed her Master of Arts degree in International Affairs in 2016, with a concentration in conflict resolution, at the Elliott School of International Affairs. During Krisztina’s studies at the Elliott School, she pursued several internships at local NGOs and international organizations including six months at the Partnership for a Secure America, and one year at the Kennan Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Krisztina was Teaching Assistant for three semesters, first teaching a forensic science course and then a business course for GW undergraduates. Krisztina has also completed a fellowship program with the United Nations Associations and got involved in smaller development projects on a volunteer basis.

Describe your current position and what are your primary responsibilities?

As staff assistant at the IMF, I work with renowned economists from around the world. This comes with invaluable benefits of gaining first-hand experience and learning something new every day. Nevertheless, joggling with multiple tasks, prioritizing among competing requests, and meeting short deadlines are very much part of a usual day. Besides completing a wide range of administrative tasks, such as updating files and scheduling meetings, I’m responsible for all aspects of country work related to Malawi and Zambia. Country matters include preparing policy notes, briefing memos, staff reports, updating press releases and country brief, liaising with field teams, and arranging missions.

What part of your experience at the Elliott School best prepared you for your current position? (Specific classes, student orgs, career development office, etc.)

Interacting with the diverse student body and participating in dynamic discussions inside and outside of the classroom gave me a solid foundation to be able to do an outstanding job. I really enjoyed my classes and all -without exception- contributed to my success. I would like to highlight Ambassador James Jeffrey’s “US Foreign Policy towards the Middle East” class. It’s a unique class where I students do tasks that are part of my job today. I remember I had to brief my classmates, think critically and practically about real policies, write memos, policy papers, and even did a NSC simulation!

How does what you’re doing now compare to what you thought you would be doing when you first started your program at the Elliott School?

I chose to study at the Elliott School because I want to design policies to fight poverty in the least developed countries. Looking back at the beginning of my studies I really didn’t have a grasp of what it takes -practically- to accomplish my goals.  I gained insight to the work through my courses and by doing internships. I learnt that the job starts in an office rather than going straight to the field (I thought I will be going for missions immediately). My work at the IMF is in line with what I imagined I would be doing but I also realize that it is only the beginning of a long journey.

How do you feel about pineapple on pizza?

Love it! I love mixing things up and trying everything out of ordinary. My motto is to always keep an open mind!

The #ElliottProud series highlights Elliott School MA alumni and seeks to answer common questions posed by prospective, current, and incoming students. For more information or to submit questions, e-mail esiagrad@gwu.edu.

#WeAreElliott: Rishabh Maharaja

Blog_ #WAE Maharaja

Rishabh Maharaja is a part-time student in the Master of International Policy and Practice (MIPP) program the Elliott School of International Affairs. He is currently the Task Lead and System Engineer Senior of the Fermi mission based at the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, MD. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Capitol Technology University (CTU), where he teaches intro level astronautical engineering courses, oversees sounding rocket payloads, and co-developed the satellite flight operations training center. At GSFC, his responsibilities include command and control of the spacecraft, mission planning, systems engineering and determining orbits and attitude control. His goal is to study space with respect to policy and engineering.

What has been your most rewarding work, intern or volunteer experience since starting your program at the Elliott School?

As a part of the MIPP Leadership Practicum course (IAFF 6211), the students were required to pick a final project focused on promoting transformational change without having formal command authority over an organization.  For my project as a part of IAFF 6211 and as a volunteer at Capitol Technology University (CTU) where I oversee the development of payloads bound for space on a sounding rocket, I started a pilot program focused on helping students with learning disabilities build a payload for a suborbital flight. The flight is slated for liftoff in August 2018. It is rewarding to see these students exhibit their passion for science, technology, engineering, and Math (STEM). The pilot program provides STEM-related experience to students with learning disabilities.

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

So far, I have found MIPP Leadership Practicum (IAFF 6211) and the Economics of Space (IAFF 6158) to be very helpful in my work and volunteering experience. I am sure that as I grow as a MIPP student, I will find all of the courses to be helpful.  

What advice do you have for prospective students who are on the fence about applying to a graduate program at the Elliott school?

My advice is simple: if you are an individual with a passion for learning, growing, and making a difference in the world, then graduate programs like the MIPP program at Elliott School are for you. The rigorous courses and accomplished faculty prepare the students for leadership roles.

Favorite summer activity?

Since I oversee the development of payloads bound for space on a sounding rocket, my favorite summer activity is to get these payloads flight ready. Building an object that flies at fifty times the gravitational force and leaves the confines of the Earth’s atmosphere is exhilarating, challenging, and rewarding. Watching a rocket launch is a thrilling experience.

The #WeAreElliott series highlights current M.A. students at the Elliott School and seeks to answer common questions posed by prospective and incoming students. For more information or to submit questions, e-mail esiagrad@gwu.edu.

#ElliottProud: Phoenix Mourning-Star

Blog_ #EP Mourning-Star

Dr. Phoenix Mourning-Star received a Master’s in International Affairs from the Elliott School of International Affairs in 2015 specializing in Science and Technology Policy. He is a scientist for the Marine Corps’ Operational Test Activity, whose primary work is in the development of cyber methodologies for testing the cyber resilience of systems in the DoD acquisitions pipeline that does or can connect to information systems. He and a few students in his ESIA class observed the challenge of careers and job searching and so embarked on starting their own consulting company, Results International Research & Consulting – which Phoenix still oversees. One of his favorite projects that the company still operates is a college/university student professional development and networking training program because it keeps him in touch with the challenges and aspirations of current students who are truly the future of our innovative society.

Describe your current position and what are your primary responsibilities?

I am currently working as a scientist for the Marine Corps’ Operational Test Activity. My primary work is in the development of methodologies for testing the cyber resilience of systems in the DoD acquisitions pipeline that does or can connect to information systems. This work is intended to ensure the warfighter on the battlefield has systems at their disposal that are robust to unauthorized infiltration by adversaries as well as insider threats – recently the unit he co-leads was the first to construct and lead a quantitative cyber tabletop exercise on a DoD system in the acquisitions pipeline!

What was your experience with the job search post-graduation? Can you provide any wisdom for students who will start their job search?

My job search was unique as I came to the Elliott School’s ISTP MA program while completing my Ph.D. dissertation in Ecology with Chemical/Biological Engineering at another institution. I found that searching for jobs in DC was much more reliant on networking and ‘hearing about’ opportunities than it was sitting at a computer submitting endless resumes and applications into the void.

In my opinion, the competition is so fierce in this area – Arlington and Alexandra having recently been voted in the top 10 smartest U.S. cities – that applicants really need to be in the right place at the right time (and in the right people’s sphere).

 What do you wish other people knew about your organization?

It isn’t all about kicking down doors and blowing up the wrong targets as seen on the news. I came from a completely humanitarian and environmental sciences background (epidemiology, vaccine testing, renewable energy, human rights law), so working in the DoD and especially at the service level is extremely different from any other office, lab or academic setting. Culture shock is an understatement. That said, being on the front lines of supporting national security by testing the tools our warfighters use is also about making sure the intended targets are hit, rather than the creating collateral damage is a huge part of what I bring to the table and take home.

If you could be any animal, what would you be?

A Phoenix – obviously

The #ElliottProud series highlights Elliott School MA alumni and seeks to answer common questions posed by prospective, current, and incoming students. For more information or to submit questions, e-mail esiagrad@gwu.edu

#WeAreElliott: Hibbah Kaileh

Blog_ #WAE Kaileh

Hibbah Kaileh is a first-year graduate student pursuing an MA in Security Policy with concentrations in Transnational Security and Defense Policy. She currently works as a Program Assistant in the Elliott School and as a Course Coordinator for Motive International. Before attending George Washington University, she graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in International Studies and a minor in Arabic Language. She then went to Jerusalem to intern at an Israeli-Palestinian Think Tank.

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

I currently work at the Elliott School, as well as at Motive International, a company that works on mitigating conflict and enhancing stability and sustainability in fragile societies around the globe. Both of these jobs fit perfectly into my career goals. Both jobs have allowed me to network with practitioners in the fields I want to work in, they have helped me gain knowledge about current events from many different angles and perspectives, and they have helped me better focus on what I want to do as a career after I graduate.

What strategies have proven most helpful in making the most of your time at the Elliott School?

The most helpful strategy for me has been to talk to everyone around me. Everyone within the Elliott School—from staff to students to professors—has had vastly different experiences and backgrounds, and I’ve enjoyed hearing and understanding everyone’s different specialties and expertise. Being in the Elliott School has surrounded me with such a diverse set of people and I’ve enjoyed taking advantage of that.

What advice do you have for first-year students who are starting their internship/work experience search?

Always make a good impression—it’s interesting the people you run into later in life, especially being somewhere like Elliott where many of us have similar aspirations.

Best hidden talent?

I can sleep anywhere on any surface at any time

The #WeAreElliott series highlights current M.A. students at the Elliott School and seeks to answer common questions posed by prospective and incoming students. For more information or to submit questions, e-mail esiagrad@gwu.edu.

#ElliottProud: Pablo Viera

Blog_ #EP Viera.png

Pablo Viera studied journalism and international affairs as an undergraduate in Tampa, FL and went to GWU, in the nation’s capital, in search of a deeper understanding of the development field. Pablo graduated with a master’s in International Development Studies in 2016, after having met some of the most interesting and passionate people he’s had the pleasure of interacting with. While at the Elliott School, a summer internship at Freedom House turned into his first “real” job, an experience that has served Pablo well in his current position.

Describe your current position and what are your primary responsibilities?

I am a research analyst at the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), an entity that acts as a bridge between U.S. business and development needs/plans in lower and middle-income countries.  For example, we conduct feasibility studies that enable partner countries to determine whether it would be viable to carry out large projects such as building a port or modernizing a city’s telecommunications infrastructure. In my position, I carry out several activities in preparation for projects in Latin America, such as drafting documents describing what we hope to accomplish or holding phone calls with partners to monitor project implementation. I also ensure, through research, that the local and domestic partners we select to work with are not corrupt.

What are the current trends driving the future of your career field and what advice would you provide an Elliott School graduate student that is interested in your field of work?

Projects that aim to decrease government corruption, such as the Global Procurement Initiative, are definitely a positive, current trend in international development. Getting governments to be able to responsibly spend the funds they collect and getting -a significant percentage of- people to trust institutions is essential for overall social and economic progress.

Advice: Try to determine as soon as possible what your dream jobs are so that you can start assessing what skills you need to develop to get there. But don’t overthink it either and don’t be too strict on this! Notice I said dream jobs, in the plural. More generally, master at least one foreign language and be able to demonstrate knowledge of at least one of the regions of the world.

When you need inspiration, you … ?

Listen to classical, jazz or “easy listening”, have a glass of Malbec and read The New Yorker (or a biography about someone I admire).

If you won the lottery but could only spend money on three items/causes, what would they be?

  1. Democracy promotion efforts in authoritarian/semi-authoritarian regimes (and all over the world!)
  2. Access to quality education for all.
  3. Access to quality carrot cake for all.

The #ElliottProud series highlights Elliott School MA alumni and seeks to answer common questions posed by prospective, current, and incoming students. For more information or to submit questions, e-mail esiagrad@gwu.edu.