Pathways to Success: Career Accomplishments of Elliott School Women


The Elliott School marked International Women’s Week with a speaker series featuring distinguished alumnae, called Pathways to Success: Career Accomplishments of Elliott School Women. The featured panelists ranged from recent graduates to seasoned professionals, and work for powerful institutions including the State Department, the World Bank, and the White House. They are passionate about issues like stopping modern day slavery, ending poverty, advocating for immigration and human rights, and of course, advancing gender equality globally.

The conversation that ensued was an up-close and personal look into how successful careers in international affairs emerge. One thing became clear — there are many pathways to career satisfaction and success. All the women described turning points in their careers that were as full of serendipity as of hard work; trajectories did not always follow a straight line.

Other takeaways from their collective wisdom were the importance of taking advantage of faculty mentors and the career services office. In many cases, these resources provided important routes to internships that led to jobs and other opportunities. Language fluency was cited by many as not only opening doors to career opportunities but opening windows into new worlds that deepened their commitment to international affairs.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the conversation moved on to tips for dealing with sexism and discrimination in the workplace. One panelist, the author of the #MeTooNatSec letter, signed by over 200 international affairs professionals, called for the international affairs community to address the serious gender imbalances in senior leadership positions.  

The women spoke sagely of the spectrum of workplace issues that often start in a permissive environment where people are spoken over, shut out of meetings, and shut out of the decision making process — problems born out of an imbalance of power. The panelists emphasized the importance of remaining professional, being prepared with a toolbox of responses for managing workplace situations such as scripting difficult conversations, and above all surrounding yourself with people who can support you to reach your goals.

Pathways to Success: Career Accomplishments of Elliott School Women featured the following distinguished Elliott alumnae:

Rumana Ahmed, BA ’11, former Senior Advisor to the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Global Engagement, White House

Christie Arendt, MA ’06, PhD ’17, Global Affairs Section Head, U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights & Labor; Elliott School professorial lecturer;  

Andrea Barton Grote, MA ’10, Senior Program Manager, American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative;

Jenna Ben-Yehuda, BA ’02, Vice President, Wittenberg Weiner Consulting; Founder; Women’s Foreign Policy Network; Elliott School adjunct professor;

Candice Bennett, BA ’98, MA ’03, President, Candice Bennett & Associates; Director of Development, Good Shepherd Housing & Family Services; former candidate for local office;

Sanola Daley Nelson, MA ’08, Women’s Employment Senior Expert Consultant, International Finance Corporation; former Advisor, Diversity & Inclusion, Inter-American Development Bank;

Barbara DeRosa-Joynt, BA ’90, MIPP ’05, Division Chief for Biodiversity, U.S. Department of State;

Davina Durgana, BA ’10, Senior Statistician and Report Co-Author, Walk Free Foundation’s Global Slavery Index; Assistant Professor and Senior Practitioner Faculty, SIT Graduate Institute;

Kathy John, MIPP ’09, President, 2KJohn Associates, Immigration and Human Rights Consulting; former Associate General Counsel and Fraud Prevention Counsel, U.S. Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review

Maura K. Leary, MA ’11, Communications Lead, Poverty and Equity Global Practice, World Bank Group

International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of all women. These events were sponsored by The Elliott School of International Affairs; the Gender Equality Initiative in International Affairs; the Leadership, Ethics, and Practice Initiative; Graduate Student Services; and GW’s Global Women’s Institute.


The KAKEHASHI Project: Elliott Students Build Bridges with Japan


To better understand Japan’s culture, business, and trade relationships with the U.S., a group of nine Elliott School graduate students selected through a competitive process are headed to Japan to participate in a people-to-people exchange program over spring break from March 10-17. The seven-day trip is fully funded by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During their trip, the students will attend lectures and discussions with government agencies, employees, business leaders, and think tank researchers about Japan’s trade policies and investment ties with the United States.

Another group of undergraduates representing students from across GW are going on a similar exchange also through the auspices of the Kakehashi Project. The undergraduate experience will focus on a cultural and historical introduction to Japan and will include a homestay with a local family.

Emily Yoder, one of the M.A. participants, has never been to Japan nor does she speak the language. A fan of Japanese pop culture, Yoder said one of her motivations for applying to the program was to “finally see what the culture of Japan is really like, as opposed to how it is conveyed to us in the U.S.”

Christine Kobza mentioned another common theme among the students as to what they are most looking forward to, “the food – especially sushi.”

While not overly anxious about his upcoming travel, Aram Mohammadi said that this would be his first experience not being able to read the words written on signs and street corners. The others nodded in agreement.

For both Zoe Yousik and Joseph Conrad, this will be their second trip to Japan.

When asked what surprised them most about their first experience in the country, Yousik responded, “it was more beautiful than I had imagined, more natural. The Japanese aesthetic of beauty is so different to ours.”

Conrad agreed, adding “the Hanami (cherry-blossom viewing) experience in Tokyo is more quiet and peaceful than you could imagine for being such a massive city.” Both students are eager to return and gain more insights into Japan’s famously distinctive society. For all of them, spring break can’t come soon enough.

David Shambaugh candid

David Shambaugh Speaks Out On China

David Shambaugh posed portrait

Professor David Shambaugh is an internationally recognized authority on contemporary China and the international relations of Asia, with a strong interest in the European Union and transatlantic issues. He is also a prolific author, having published more than 30 books and 300 articles. We asked him to share his insights on the recent significant political developments in China.

Q: As a well-known and highly regarded China expert, do you agree with the US Department of Defense’s new strategy report claiming that China’s fast-growing technological and military capabilities make it a greater threat to America than terrorism?

A: Yes I do. Of course, they are both significant threats to American security. Terrorism is always a near-term threat, while China is more of a long-term potential threat. But China’s military capabilities are rapidly improving–and they already challenge US allies in the Western Pacific, as well as the ability of the US Navy and other military forces to operate in that theater. This is only going to increase over time.

Q: What is your opinion of China’s plans to remove presidential term limits from its constitution, allowing President Xi Jinping to stay on beyond his second term, which ends in 2023? What impact will the decision have on U.S. foreign policy in regards to China?

A: Well, this is another indication of Xi Jinping’s concentration of power in himself and continuing rollback of norms, regulations, and institutions inaugurated by Deng Xiaoping nearly four decades ago and rigorously adhered to since then. This is not good for the Chinese political system, and in my view weakens it. For the United States, and all of China’s other interlocutors, this means we will be dealing with Xi Jinping for a very long time to come–unless, he encounters health difficulties or is overthrown. Xi Jinping is a very powerful and strong leader for China, and he has a clear vision of how he wants to “make China strong again.” China is going to increasingly challenge the United States across the globe, and we had better have a sensible strategy to deal with it.

Q: In addition to being a GW faculty member, you are also a GW alumnus, having received your BA in 1977 from the Elliott School’s predecessor, the School of Public and International Affairs. What was the university like when you were a student here and how has it changed?

A: There has certainly been a lot of change in the forty years since I was an undergraduate on campus. The physical transformation of buildings and the classrooms has been a noticeable improvement. New institutions have also appeared–such as the Elliott School–while some have disappeared, such as the Institute of Sino-Soviet Studies. The establishment of the Elliott School, and its rising international reputation, has truly been a major accomplishment.  Also, in those years, the university was almost totally a commuter university with little on-campus life my impression is that there is much better campus life for undergraduates nowadays (including on Mount Vernon campus). Academically, the university was always good, but has gotten much better. The faculty hires are now much more rigorous, and we are attracting top scholars. All in all, as I walk across campus, I frequently reflect on the growth and changes in the university since I was an undergraduate exactly four decades ago.

Global Capstone Program

Global Capstone Program: Out of the classroom, into the field

Global Capstone Program

Experience is the best teacher, and Elliott students immerse themselves in skills-based training, putting classroom learning to the test through internships and fieldwork. For graduate students, real-life learning experience peaks in the year-long Global Capstone Program, which requires MA candidates to identify and tackle some of the most pressing international issues of our day.

In teams, students zero in on a challenge, design a research plan, and select a real-world client partner – these have included outfits such as the International Rescue Committee, World Bank Group, Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, and USAID. The result? A viable policy solution, both written and presented at a major conference each April.

“The most rewarding aspect was realizing we were conducting novel research on an issue that each of us cared about very much,” said Lili Martinez, MA ’17, who traveled to Berlin to talk with Syrian refugees there. “Further, we felt we were encouraging credible changes through our recommendations – changes that might positively affect the lives of refugees and displaced people.”

Grants for this kind of international travel are awarded through a highly competitive process. In 2017, for example, 123 students received awards for research in far-flung spots from Colombia to Vietnam.

Many such grants are made possible by members of the extended Elliott community. Recently, Wes Callender, ESIA BA ’76, made a major commitment to the program and explained why.

“If the capstone project provides a career or personal-life enriching experience for a few of the students, I will consider the funding a success. I like to see these young, aspiring professionals have opportunities that I never had,” Mr. Callender said.

Mr. Callender has devoted his career to work in the public and non-profit sectors. He actively advocates for international development and human rights causes, with a particular interest in grassroots movements across Central America. Here, he has directly observed the “critical need for internationally-minded professionals” with firm grounding in practice.

Through its Global Capstone Program, the Elliott School is doing its share to create this important cadre of professionals, educating emerging leaders and providing them with the skills to shape both their careers and a brighter future for the world around us.

Sharon Squassoni

Sharon Squassoni Joins Elliott

IISTP Welcomes New Faculty

The Elliott School welcomes Sharon Squassoni, incoming research professor of practice at the Institute for International Science and Technology Policy (IISTP). A former senior associate for nuclear policy programs at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Squassoni has advised Congress as a senior specialist in weapons of mass destruction at the Congressional Research Service. She has also served in nuclear nonproliferation and policy planning positions at the State Department and at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. As a member of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board, Squassoni was recently in the news for her role in the Bulletin’s announcement that it has moved its Doomsday Clock to 2 minutes before midnight, citing North Korea’s recent missile tests and the world’s lack of progress in confronting climate change. In addition to her academic credentials, Squassoni is also an accomplished cyclist, musician, and long-time Ashtanga yoga teacher. Read more about Squassoni in a recent Q&A with the incoming professor.

Q: When did you start becoming interested in science?

A: I’m a political scientist who has always gravitated toward technical issues and always really enjoyed working with experts who had technical backgrounds. I’ve been fortunate to work with some terrific physicists, chemists and engineers for decades and more recently, on the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

Q: What, from your perspective is the greatest short-term and long-term threat facing the US and/or the world?

A: I’ve devoted my professional life to reducing risks from nuclear weapons.  Those pose some obvious short- and long-term threats to the future of humanity.  I’d say, however, that the longer term threat really is from climate change.  In addition, emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and bioengineering will challenge our capacity to manage them in ways that we may not yet understand.

Q: In your your Twitter profile, you are a self-described mom, yogi, cyclist, and musician. Can you elaborate on some of your hobbies?

A: Yoga is a longtime habit and I’ve been teaching Ashtanga yoga for almost twenty years now.  I’d have to say that my favorite poses generally find me upside down and balancing precariously. My favorite place to cycle on the road is out in the Maryland countryside but my true love is cyclocross.  From September to December, you can find me at most cyclocross races within a 50-mile radius of DC.  As for musical instruments, I play the flute and piano and a bunch of other things badly.

Q: What are you most looking forward to about working at GW?

A: I’m looking forward to sharing ideas and experience and research with students and other professors in the Institute and more broadly, within the Elliott School.

GWU Climbs Kilimanjaro

GWU Climbs Kilimanjaro

Leaving on May 29th, 2018 and heading for the top.

Mount Kilimanaro
A group of George Washington University students are fundraising for a trip to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, a mountain more than three-and-a-half miles tall in Tanzania. (Photo: Muhammad Mahdi Karim)

Eighteen students from George Washington University will be taking on the challenge of a lifetime: summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro and raising thousands of dollars for charity. Two Elliott School undergrads are among the group of 18:  Casey Sajna, sophomore, international affairs and global public health, and  Austin Simpson, freshman, international affairs.

Simpson, who is originally from Riverside , California, says he learned of the opportunity through a co-worker at an internship he held. “Kilimanjaro is one of the ‘Seven Summits’, the tallest peak on each one of the seven continents,” Simpson said. “It’s a right of passage that I’ve dreamed of accomplishing. When I found out that I could do it and give back to a charity, it seemed perfect,”

According to GW Team leader Phoebe Elizaga, a sophomore majoring in biology and chemistry, “the whole experience of getting a team together and fundraising with participants who are passionate and excited about the cause has been unreal so far.”

Casey Sajna, from Osceola, Wisconsin, has previous experience tackling high peaks. During a study-abroad experience in Switzerland, she went climbing in the Alps. Now, she is training for Kilimanjaro by “going to the gym and running to try and build up stamina….one thing that I learned from Switzerland is that just training to climb up is not enough. You need to train your muscles to be able to also go down the hill, I know personally; I was really hurting the next day since I had not strengthened those muscles as well!”

The Kilimanjaro journey is organized by Choose a Challenge, a UK-based student-charity-challenge company that each year takes some 1,500 young adults on expeditions, raising nearly $5 million annually for a wide variety of charities. The GW Team will be raising funds for The Andrew McDonough B+ Foundation for childhood cancer. The foundation provides financial and emotional support to patients and families affected by childhood cancer and funds pediatric cancer research.

According to Elizaga, the combination of doing something personally challenging while simultaneously contributing positively to society makes this trip special. “Each and every donation we receive makes a positive impact on the lives of children with cancer. It will be amazing to know that once everyone reaches the fundraising goal, we will have made a tangible difference for those patients and families.” For more details about the GW group’s climb, check out their story on GW Today.

Peace Institute Initiates Mentorship Program with Elliott School

Peace Institute Initiates Mentorship Program with Elliott School

The US Institute of Peace (USIP) selected five GW students, four from the Elliott School, to participate in a novel, year-long mentorship initiative. The students competed for the spots, including writing a 500-word essay in addition to providing their transcripts and resumes.

Founded in 1984 by Congress, USIP works towards a world without violent conflict by engaging with government leaders and grassroots organizations such as local NGOs. USIP projects involve some 50 countries afflicted by conflict.

USIP’s mentorship program helps individuals from diverse backgrounds break into the fields of conflict resolution and peacebuilding by pairing students directly with a USIP mentor.

USIP President Nancy Lindborg noted, “USIP is pleased to provide an opportunity for top graduate students to learn from seasoned professionals as an investment in future scholars and practitioners.”

“The program only began four weeks ago, yet I’ve already learned so much! Perhaps the most intriguing thing I’ve learned thus far is about a project my mentor contributes to in Colombia,” says Grayson Shor, an Elliott MA candidate. “The program uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to monitor various aspects of the FARC demilitarization and the government’s response. As I’ve worked on a similar project in Myanmar, my mentor and I geeked-out over the design and the likely impacts of the project by comparing similar situations between Colombia and Myanmar.”

Having the opportunity to take online courses through USIP has expanded Shor’s academic opportunities, as well, although he emphasizes the value of the person-to-person connection. “As I learned in my first USIP Global Campus online course, peacebuilding cannot simply be learned in the classroom. I hope to learn first-hand through attending events and meeting with my mentor to learn about USIP projects.”

How does Grayson rate his experience in the USIP mentorship initiative? “Ten out of ten!”

GW is committed to digital accessibility. If you experience a barrier that affects your ability to access content on this page, let us know via the Accessibility Feedback Form.