Carmella Saia is a second-semester graduate student studying Security Policy Studies with a dual concentration in U.S. National Security and Science & Technology. Carmella is the President of the Security Policy Studies Student Board, promoting professional and academic excellence within the student body and prioritizing student advocacy. Additionally, Carmella is a member of the Leadership, Ethics, and Practice Initiative at GW where she focuses on the topics of Security and Defense. As a Wolcott Fellow, Carmella will pursue a career in public service. Previously, she interned for Senator Bob Casey on Capitol Hill, and now she is preparing to be an intelligence analyst for the government. Carmella graduated Summa Cum Laude from GW in 2022 with a double major in Political Science and Conflict Resolution and as part of the Global Bachelor’s Program which allowed her to study abroad three times. In her free time, Carmella loves traveling and dancing!
What path led you to apply to graduate school? Why did you pick the Elliott School?
I applied to graduate school at GW because I was well-aware that the Elliott School and its exceptional array of faculty turns students into experts. I believed that the Security Policy Studies program would do just that for me by providing unique opportunities to learn about national and transnational security. I knew that the exceptional research opportunities would help me to pursue pressing inquiries I had about matters such as countering violent extremism or making peacebuilding more sustainable. Additionally, the Elliott School’s focus on conflict resolution reminded me of why I became interested in security in the first place. The most pivotal aspect of the Security Policy Studies program to me is that it shines a light on the lives and livelihoods of those experiencing conflict first-hand. While learning about security dilemmas is important, learning how to resolve them through policy is an absolute necessity. It is not only theoretical work at stake, but the futures of individuals around the world. I believe this lesson is principal to public service. Quality public service depends on the humanization of others and the recognition that every word and every action can deeply affect entire communities. Accordingly, I hoped that bringing this empathetic view to security would allow me to be successful in helping individuals experiencing conflict.
What has been your favorite course at the Elliott School so far and why?
My favorite course at the Elliott School so far has been Technology for International Crisis Response. Even though this was just a one-credit course, it transformed how I perceive security. In academic contexts, security is often spoken about in the abstract. International relations theory, historical dynamics, and grand strategy are undeniably important to security, but they do not relate to the average individual. This course helped me to visualize how security studies directly impacts the day-to-day person. Whether it is a heat-resistant robot that searches through rubble to find survivors of disasters, a digital identification mechanism for refugees who abandoned their documents at home, or a translation app that allows vulnerable communities to communicate with crisis response teams, technology is a critical component of human security. Of course, technology is a double-edged sword and can introduce just as many negatives as positives. However, I walked away from this class imaging a new world of possibilities for security and, inevitably, many questions about what I do and don’t know about technology.
Where have you interned and how does it fit in with your career goals?
This fall, I was a legislative intern with Senator Bob Casey (PA) on Capitol Hill where I worked on all matters related to foreign affairs, intelligence, defense and military, homeland security, and veterans affairs. This position allowed me to research legislative campaigns and objectives, write letters to constituents and various stakeholders, and draft policy recommendations and memos for the Senator. This opportunity completely changed how I view security. I learned first-hand how all branches of government interact with each other, how politics inform security policy, how constituents and stakeholders factor into decision-making, and so on. It reaffirmed my love for public service by showing me the tangible impacts policy has on individual lives. My motivation to serve the American people makes me particularly excited to continue government work. I plan to be an analyst in the Intelligence Community this summer, but I am excited to explore many other opportunities within the U.S. Government to see where and how my skills can be put to best use.
Think of where you were when you applied to the Elliott School. What advice would you give yourself knowing what you know now, as a student?
Honestly, I had no idea what I wanted to do after graduation. I completed my undergraduate degree during the pandemic and had been living abroad for the majority of that time. Even though commencement was a celebratory moment, I couldn’t fight the feeling of disappointment. GW was the first and only university I applied to as a high school student and I always imagined having #OnlyatGW moments: interning on Capitol Hill, studying by the White House, and casually spotting politicians at the supermarket. I knew that I wanted to be a GW student again and get a ‘re-do,’ so to speak. GW was yet again the first and only graduate school I applied to. Thankfully, I realized I made the right decision just a few weeks into my program. It felt like I was home and following the career path meant for me. Although I have no regrets, I wish I could tell my former self that it is perfectly fine–maybe even better–to not have life figured out after graduation. Taking a few months–even a few years–to figure out yourself, your passions, and your goals can even enhance your graduate school experience. Even now, I sometimes feel rushed to have my entire life mapped out. Of course, that’s inevitable when your classmates are some of the most brilliant and accomplished people you’ve met. But, with that said, it is also liberating to accept that you don’t know everything and that you will find your way through life regardless.
What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned so far at the Elliott School?
The Elliott School has given me the resources I need to be a successful, thoughtful, and compassionate leader in just one semester. My professors constantly challenge me and my peers to strive for excellence by putting us in the center of difficult topics and debates. Should the U.S. abandon its commitment to Taiwan? How will the Ukraine war end? Does a No First Use policy for nuclear weapons help or hurt U.S. national security? You may have an immediate answer to these questions, but the Elliott School has encouraged me to think, speak, and act intentionally. I embrace counterarguments and debate the validity of my ideas with myself, first and foremost. I remain open-minded to the thoughts of my peers and re-evaluate how my perceptions of security interact with theirs. I pause to consider which communities are included in the discussion and which are excluded, and why that is. Put simply, the Elliott School has taught me that successful leaders think before they speak.
What is your favorite city that you’ve visited and why?
I had the opportunity to visit Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina this summer! After completing the Global Bachelor’s Program in Europe, I wanted to explore as many places as I could before returning to D.C. to begin graduate school. After a few 14-hour bus rides and €10 nights in hostels, I found myself in the center of what used to be a war-torn country nearly two decades prior. Because I had only ever heard about Sarajevo in this context, I had no idea what to expect upon arrival. To my surprise, Sarajevo was the most beautiful, welcoming, and lively city I had been to. The people made me feel at home, the food kept my heart and stomach full, and the centuries of rich history had my mind running. As soon as I arrived at my hostel, the owner insisted that I put away my money and take a shot of Manastir, Bosnia’s signature drink. Now, how many more times he insisted I take a shot with him is another conversation (at least five), but these small interactions, even the ones that happened through Google Translate, made me want to plan my next visit before I even left.