#ElliottProud: Briana Suarez

Blog_ #EP Suarez

Briana Suarez graduated from the Elliott School with a degree in Security Policy Studies in 2018, concentrating on Conflict Resolution and Intelligence. Building on her undergraduate degree in International Relations from the State University of New York, New Paltz, the SPS program allowed her to combine her interests in humanitarian aid and war studies, bridging her understanding of both and their relevance during warfare. Briana worked at GW in different departments and previously interned with Doctors Without Borders (MSF) prior to her graduate studies.

Describe your current position and what are your primary responsibilities?

I am the International Admissions and Operations Manager at the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs (APSIA). I am responsible for connecting prospective students with leading graduate schools in international affairs and public policy, such as the Elliott School, and providing them with the resources and opportunities to apply, afford, and achieve a career in this field. This includes webinars on applying to graduate schools, panels, info sessions, fairs, and so forth. Additionally, I work with these graduate schools to make them better and help them in continuing to make their students positive agents of change. 

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

One of the most critical courses I took during my time at Elliott was the “Writing for Policymakers,” taught by the distinguished Professor Chris Kojm. The amount of writing, editing, and restructuring done in that short period made me a more critical and concise writer. Policymakers and professionals do not want to read term papers or reports about these topics nor do they have the time. And yet, you are often tasked with briefing and teaching them the context behind these topics in 2 pages or less to help them make a well-informed decision. If you are unable to convey your argument and points in a concise manner, no amount of passion or conviction can help you succeed. I eagerly recommend this course, especially if taught by Professor Kojm.

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

I find the most challenging part to be getting the word out about all of the amazing opportunities available for students. There are so many resources at the disposal of prospective and current graduate students from how to pay for graduate school all the way up to how to network and get a job in your respective field. I stay motivated by reminding myself of the important work I am doing and remembering that having someone like myself to guide students during their graduate school application and process makes the world of a difference. Finally, I remind myself that I want to see the international affairs field more representative of individuals like myself. My work helps in changing the landscape and face of the field to include more diverse voices and perspectives; to include more underrepresented individuals, be it women, minorities, those with disabilities, and so forth. That keeps me going when I feel like the work is overwhelming.

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

A parade that celebrates wine, cheese, and bacon with free samples from different vendors. Lots of confetti, giveaways, and the aforementioned things.

The #ElliottProud series highlights Elliott School MA alumni and seeks to answer common questions posed by prospective, current, and incoming students. The views expressed by alumni profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs. For more information or to submit questions, e-mail esiagrad@gwu.edu.

#ElliottProud: Jacob Hart

Blog_ #EP HartJacob Hart is a research assistant with the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. He received his MA in European and Eurasian Studies at GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs and his BA from the University of Kentucky. Before joining NATO PA, he spent a year in the Senate as a Legislative Correspondent and completed internships on Capitol Hill as well as with the Center for European Policy Analysis.  

Describe your current position and what are your primary responsibilities?

Currently, I am serving as a research assistant with the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Brussels. My main responsibility is assisting the committee directors in research, writing, and editing for reports for our annual plenary session, this year in Halifax, Canada. Beyond working on the reports for the annual session I have been able to compose committee resolutions, and speeches for different parliamentarians from across the Alliance as well as drafting memos on research for future reports. Outside of work for the annual session, I create background documents for the committee and presidential visits.

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

The Elliott School Graduate Student Services (GSS) office was instrumental in my receiving this opportunity. My capstone for the EES program was crucial in developing the writing abilities that I use every day in working on reports to drafting memos. Additionally, I would not have received this opportunity without the Elliott School’s Career Center. Tara Sonenshine has become a mentor to me. She first told me about the Research Assistant Program as well as connected me with a fellow Elliott School Alum, who helped me to prepare for the interview and program.

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

The NATO PA has far exceeded my expectations for what I would be doing following graduation. Before coming to The Elliott School I had a very narrow view of international affairs career opportunity, however, learning about the diverse world of prospects within the international affairs world has really opened me up to everything from think tanks to the Hill and even my current posting with a Multinational Organization in Brussels.

How do you feel about pineapple on pizza?

Personally, I’m a big fan of pineapple on pizza. We used to eat it a lot growing up, so it is quite normal for me. It wasn’t until later in life that I learned some people found this to be a bizarre pizza topping.

The #ElliottProud series highlights Elliott School MA alumni and seeks to answer common questions posed by prospective, current, and incoming students. The views expressed by alumni profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs. For more information or to submit questions, e-mail esiagrad@gwu.edu.

 

#ElliottProud: Maria Dolores Vallenilla

Blog_ #EP Vallenilla

Maria Dolores Vallenilla is a Venezuelan lawyer with over 8 years of professional experience and a master’s degree in International Development Studies from the Elliott School of International Affairs. She is currently working at the Inter-American Development Bank to advance gender equality in the mining, oil and gas sector in Latin American and the Caribbean.

Describe your current position and what are your primary responsibilities?

Currently working at the Inter-American Development Bank as a consultant in the Extractive Sector Initiative and managing technical assistance to include a gender equality approach in mining, oil and gas policy. The policies and programs we are looking to implement do not only in integrating more women in the sector through formal direct and indirect employment opportunities but also thinking through policies and interventions that mitigate risks and maximize benefits to women in host communities that tend to experience the short-end of these investments when compared to men.

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

Hard. As an international student with visa restrictions, I concentrated on International Organizations as soon as I started my master’s program. After working in part-time internships through summer and my 2nd year, I started applying for jobs early in 2016. Fortunately, I started working at the IDB 2 months after graduation and I believe that the IDS program was key to my career change and continues to be key in my career advancement.

Start early, develop a smart networking strategy, patience and perseverance are key for any DC job search.

What do you wish other people knew about your organization?

Working in an International Development Bank does have its perks, even after the short-contract to short-contract phase that can sometimes be exhausting. I have had the possibility to personally contribute by overseeing consultants who are devising policy; seeing that policy finally enacted is amazing.

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

In this HEAT? A tortoise, so I can easily go into the water and hide under my shell during the summer months in DC.

The #ElliottProud series highlights Elliott School MA alumni and seeks to answer common questions posed by prospective, current, and incoming students. The views expressed by alumni profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs. For more information or to submit questions, e-mail esiagrad@gwu.edu.

#ElliottProud: David Okun

Blog_ #EP Okun

David Okun works at the U.S. Department of State as a Country Officer in the Office of Children’s Issues, where he assists families in the aftermath of international child abductions and formulates bilateral and multilateral foreign policy recommendations. He earned an M.A. in Latin American & Hemispheric Studies at the Elliott School of International Affairs, where he focused on the nexus of security and economic development in Latin America and Colombia in particular. Prior to grad school, David entered public service as a dual-language elementary school teacher in North Texas through Teach For America. David holds bachelors degrees in Spanish and International Affairs from the University of Georgia.  Outside of work, David sings in a Washington, D.C.-based men’s a cappella group.

Describe your current position and what are your primary responsibilities?

I currently work at the U.S. Department of State as a Country Officer in the Office of Children’s Issues.  My role is twofold: I assist families in the aftermath of international child abductions by working with them to explore the options they have to seek their child’s return.  At the same time, I work with U.S. law enforcement, courts, non-profits, and particularly foreign government partners under an international treaty that seeks to prevent and resolve abductions.  I’m fortunate to use my M.A. in Latin American & Hemispheric Studies every day, as I cover a portfolio of countries in the Western Hemisphere, and frequently communicate and collaborate with our stakeholders in Spanish.

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

 IAFF 6358: Security in the Americas with Prof. Jenna Ben-Yehuda.  She is an expert practitioner in the field and weaves both theory and practice into her coursework.

Of course, USAJobs.gov and careers.state.gov for job openings and career paths at State.  The Consular Fellows Program is underrated in my opinion and can be a great stepping stone for recent grads who have certain language skills to work overseas at a U.S. embassy or consulate.  It’s relatively low-commitment in that it’s not a career-length job so you can see if you like the work and want to apply to be a Foreign Service Officer.

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

I’d say both navigating the complex waters of federal bureaucracy and feeling like I always want to do more than there’s time for.  In my current job, that manifests itself when talking with parents: I can tell them what their options are, but I can’t tell them what to do, or which one is right for them because every abduction scenario is unique.  On the flip side, when working with our partner countries, it’s often helpful to think creatively in how to combat the problem and how to improve our treaty obligations, but also recognizing what is and isn’t feasible here in the U.S.  I stay motivated by remembering that people (especially the kiddos!) are counting on me.  #ForTheKids

The best compliment you’ve received? 

When I got back from studying abroad in Spain and was taken for a madrileño by native speakers for a few months.  Now my Spanish is a chameleon; I adopt the accent and dialect of whichever group I’m communicating with.

The #ElliottProud series highlights Elliott School MA alumni and seeks to answer common questions posed by prospective, current, and incoming students. The views expressed by alumni profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs. For more information or to submit questions, e-mail esiagrad@gwu.edu.

#ElliottProud: Lindsay North

Blog_ #EP North

Lindsay North graduated from Trinity College in 2006 with a BA in English/Creative Writing. A circuitous path via publishing, advertising, New York City and South Africa led her to the International Development Studies program at the Elliott School, which she graduated from in 2012. During grad school, she interned at MSI on the DG Analytics team, which turned into a full-time position after she graduated. Lindsay spent several years with MSI in DC and then in Pakistan, and was then recruited by DAI to join their USAID/OTI program there. After four years in Pakistan, she’s now back in the US and working with DAI remotely from Portland, OR. She provides M&E, research, and technical support to their portfolio of CVE, conflict, and stabilization programming.

Describe your current position and what are your primary responsibilities?

I currently work as a Global Practice Specialist within the Center for Secure and Stable States (CS3) at DAI. My focus is on M&E, program design, and research in VE- and conflict-affected environments. 

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

All of it! The practical focus of the program was a huge asset—I gained a foundational understanding of program design, qualitative research methodologies, and how to build a logframe, among other things. Colleagues who had graduated from other programs didn’t usually have those skill sets when they first started. I also liked the option to take classes at other schools with GWU. The Capstone was an incredible experience, both in terms of working with a client and the fieldwork component. I had fantastic professors as well—I’m looking at you, Professor Roberts and Professor Fink!

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 thought I’d be focused on education, and conflict/CVE was not on my radar at all. However, I interned at MSI on the Democracy and Governance Analytics team and it was fascinating. I also had an amazing boss in Lynn Carter, who became a mentor and friend. That led me to pivot from my initial focus on education, to look more specifically at issues of education in conflict-affected environments, and then youth empowerment in conflict settings. I joined MSI full-time after I graduated where I worked on more CVE- and conflict-related projects, which led me out to Pakistan, and then I ended up staying there for four years.

If you would be any type of food/drink, what food/drink would you be?

Pho ga.

The #ElliottProud series highlights Elliott School MA alumni and seeks to answer common questions posed by prospective, current, and incoming students. The views expressed by alumni profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs. For more information or to submit questions, e-mail esiagrad@gwu.edu.

#ElliottProud: Francesca Gortzounian

Blog_ #EP Gortzounian

Francesca “Chessy” Gortzounian is a Program Officer with the International Republican Institute’s Tunisia and MENA Regional teams. She holds an M.A. in International Affairs from the George Washington University and a B.A. in Arab and Islamic Studies from Villanova University. A native French speaker from Paris, France, Chessy also minored in Arabic and Peace and Justice during her undergraduate studies, spending a semester at Mohamed V University in Rabat, Morocco. She manages country-specific and regional programming focused on political party strengthening, civil society development, and women and youth empowerment. Prior to joining IRI, Chessy was a research assistant at the Middle East Institute, focusing on Egypt and Libya, and a due diligence intern at Kroll Compliance.

Describe your current position and what are your primary responsibilities?

I am a Program Officer for Tunisia and MENA Regional portfolios at the International Republican Institute. Day-to-day responsibilities include anything from writing funder reports updating them on activities and outcomes; developing proposals to secure additional funding; managing budgets; traveling to the region; and good old administrative tasks as needed. No two days will be the same in my position, which is why I love what I do so much.

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?

I believe that the only constant in life, including any career field, is change. In development, the focus can very quickly shift depending on the recipient country’s political situation or the donor country’s strategic priorities. Therefore, while you may want to start your career in development focused only on youth empowerment in South America, there may be so many opportunities awaiting you in other areas of focus in other regions. Always be curious, always be flexible, and always be adaptable.

When you need inspiration, you … ?

Call my parents or walk to the Lincoln Memorial (that sounds very cliché now that I write it…).

If you were a box of cereal, what kind would you be and why?

Frosted Flakes, because life is Grrrrrrrreat!!

The #ElliottProud series highlights Elliott School MA alumni and seeks to answer common questions posed by prospective, current, and incoming students. The views expressed by alumni profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs. For more information or to submit questions, e-mail esiagrad@gwu.edu.

#ElliottProud: Roberta Braga

Blog_ #EP Braga

Roberta Braga is an associate director at the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council, a DC-based foreign policy think-tank, where she spearheads research and policy outreach on Brazil, Cuba, anti-corruption, and energy policy, and manages the Center’s media and communications. Roberta previously worked as a strategic communications analyst at the US Department of Homeland Security, and at Promega Corporation, an international biotechnology firm headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin. Originally from Brazil, she is a native Portuguese- and English-speaker, and fluent in Spanish. Roberta has a master’s degree in Global Communication from the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, and a bachelor’s degree in journalism, global security, and Portuguese from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Describe your current position and what are your primary responsibilities?

 I am an associate director at the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, where I lead projects on Brazil, anti-corruption, disinformation and misinformation in elections, trade integration, and energy investments in Latin America. The Atlantic Council is a non-profit, non-partisan foreign policy think tank, but we are also unique in that while we are academically rigorous in our research, we focus on publishing short and sweet, informal pieces (less than 15 pages or so) and on influencing policy. From day to day, you might find me reading up on presidential candidates’ proposals in Brazil, writing a fundraising grant, meeting with visiting foreign dignitaries or planning an event in Latin America. But no matter what, as my boss would say, everything I do needs to have a strategy and some measurable impact that goes beyond how many people attended an event.

Because I work on a horizontal team, my job also includes playing the expert and taking leadership on a wide range of topic areas, which I find endlessly interesting. During my time at the Council (a little over two years), I’ve co-led the Center’s #ElectionWatch Latin America project focused on exposing disinformation around elections in Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia; analyzed how a renegotiated North America Free Trade Agreement’s impact on regional energy; organized a full-day conference with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Buenos Aires; and produced a video with Cuban entrepreneurs on the importance of engagement. I also manage the Center’s media and communications strategy and outreach, which means working with journalists in the US and Latin America to contribute to the conversation around the Center’s activities and major world events.

One of the greatest perks of my job is the opportunity I’m given to write! Representing our work to media and doing interviews is also fun, and great public speaking practice. I’ve been published/quoted in Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, and Axios.

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

 I highly encourage taking as many skills courses as possible – Public Briefing was one of the most valuable. I’d also recommend classes that give you the practical know-how to stand out from other IR grads – any that teach you HTML, video editing, graphic design, or opinion writing. In the field of international affairs, most of your peers will have the great theoretical background, but it’s the little things that can set you apart. InDesign helped me land my first job out of college (I like to think my four years of undergrad didn’t hurt).

Also, practice your writing! Very few people have the time to read long research papers – be great at short and concise writing, and your boss will appreciate you.

As far as websites go, I lean a bit more on newsletters. For anyone interested in Latin America, I recommend Jordana Timmerman’s Latin America Daily Briefing. I’m also a big fan of Foreign Policy Interrupted, and, of course, Axios. For anyone who loves podcasts and great storytelling, I couldn’t say enough about NPR’s Rough Translation.

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

 Two challenges come to mind.

1) In today’s world, it is easy to get bogged down by the uncertainties and the conflicts, and in my line of work, jumping headfirst into the often-negative or frustrating headlines is nothing short of necessary. Focusing on and writing about the positive political and economic transformations and opportunities helps put the bad news into perspective.

2) Juggling competing priorities can also be a challenge. Making lists and stacking up the reminder post-its make things more manageable. Get one thing done, then move to the next – there’s nothing more satisfying than checking off the boxes – like it or not grad school teaches you that fast!

The best compliment I’ve received … ?

One of the first that comes to mind: “You’ve made me a feminist,” (from a great guy).

The #ElliottProud series highlights Elliott School MA alumni and seeks to answer common questions posed by prospective, current, and incoming students. The views expressed by alumni profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs. For more information or to submit questions, e-mail esiagrad@gwu.edu.