I am starting a new series on this blog called “Ask a grad” so you can get a better sense of what our students do after graduation. Today, I’d like to introduce you to Brandon Sternquist. I met Brandon during my first week on the job in 2007 and I vividly remember chatting with him about his background, his interest in International Security and his glory days playing college soccer (goalie) at Drake. Ask me about his wedding sometime and how one of our faculty members performed the ceremony. Now he’s doing some great work with the Mines Advisory Group (MAG). Seems fitting that a former goalie is now on the last line of defense in the field of demining.
Check out my interview with him below:
1. If you are able to share, what is your current job?
I am currently the Grants Manager with MAG (Mines Advisory Group) America in Washington, DC. (http://www.magamerica.org/)
2. Did you think your current job is what you would be doing when you went to graduate school?
In terms of the organization and issue areas I work in, absolutely! The focus on humanitarianism and security, and more specifically landmine action, weapons disposal, and community risk reduction, is exactly the area I saw myself fitting into after completing my M.A. in International Security and Graduate Certificate in Humanitarian Assistance with JKSIS. However, I never saw myself as a Grants Manager and had always wanted to be a field-based worker. But I have surprised myself and I really enjoy the ability to work on, support, and monitor a project all the way from proposal in DC to completion in the field. Regular visits to programs and offices in the UK keep the experience grounded in the reality of the work my colleagues around the world are doing to save lives and build the futures of communities.
3. What do you wish you had done differently in graduate school?
I think I would have liked to do more skills focused courses in the areas of project management, financial administration, or policy analysis. Instead I have developed these skills through internships and professional opportunities, which also has its benefits. I also regret not participating in the Field Protocol and Survival course offered under the Humanitarian Assistance Graduate Certificate.
4. If you remember the graduate school application process, what scared you the most?
I remember being more excited than scared, but like nearly all applicants I worried about what rejection would mean. If I was not accepted what did it say about me as a potential graduate student and international affairs professional? Honestly, I was not accepted to some schools I applied to. But having been accepted by several other schools who were equally competitive I realized that these schools were not only accepting my application but their professors and admissions officials were also confirming that they had confidence in my ability to be successful at their school and within the their programs. Take that as a vote of confidence!
5. What advice do you have for prospective students who want to be in the spot you’re in today?
Be diverse and seek to understand issues and approaches outside of your area of focus. Recognizing and understanding the interconnectedness of international affairs is an essential lesson and will allow you to fit into various opportunities you may not have previously considered, and which may end up being what you wanted to do all along. If you are not open to opportunities that you may not consider to be part of your “path” to your ideal job, you will miss out on a lot of growth and skill building. I bridged gaps between security, humanitarianism, and development in my studies and I am happy to say that has allowed me to step into varying roles and find myself where I am today.