#WeAreElliott: Jana Ondrášková

#WeAreElliott: Jana Ondrášková

Jana Ondrášková smiles and wears a black blouse and a blazer.  Jana Ondrášková. M.A in Security Policy Studies, 2024. #We Are Elliott

Jana Ondrášková is a second-year Master’s student in the Security Policy Studies program at the Elliott School with a concentration in Transnational Security. She received her Bachelor’s degree at the University of New York in Prague and SUNY Empire State College in 2022 with a double major in International Relations and Public Affairs. Her focus areas include Countering Violent Extremism in sub-Saharan Africa, democratic backsliding in Europe, and great power competition in the Arctic theater. She is currently a Research Associate at the Business Executives for National Security (BENS) and conducts research on alternative sources of energy, the utilization of small nuclear reactors, and European defense industrial capabilities. Jana also has experience in European Union (EU) integration and policy realms due to her previous work with Prague-based think tank, EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy. Jana enjoys attending panel discussions on a vast array of topics in the security field, international travel, photography, and meeting people from different cultures.  

What has been your favorite experience at the Elliott School so far, and why? 

My learning experience at the Elliott School has not only been defined by academic opportunities but myriad other experiences that I will cherish many years after graduation. Most memorably, I recently had the opportunity to travel with other young, talented professionals to Northern Europe as part of the course, Transatlantic Perspectives on Security in Northern Europe. Additionally, throughout the academic year, I have had the pleasure of serving on the Security Policy Studies (SPS) Board, which has given me a strong sense of community and endowed me with leadership skills. Being able to help plan SPS Board events, such as welcome back receptions and panel discussions, has connected me with my classmates and faculty. I have also learned a great deal about a variety of challenging international affairs topics by attending student-led events, which considerably complement my classroom experience. I have also interacted with the well-renowned Elliott School institutes, such as the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies (IERES) and the Leadership Ethics and Practice Initiative (LEAP), which have provided me with insight into international affairs conversations being held in academia and in D.C. One of the most memorable events I attended was a discussion with a CIA professional on leadership and ethics. With an extensive background on counterterrorism, covert action, and human intelligence collection, this event opened my eyes to the vast career opportunities in the field of security. Another remarkable experience was attending an Elliott School event in the City View Room, overlooking the Washington Monument. This networking event allowed me to make meaningful professional connections, as well as strengthen existing ones with my class colleagues and faculty members. Overall, in just one year, the Elliott School has provided me with academic, professional, and social experiences that will remain with me throughout my life, and I look forward to another year of amazing endeavors.

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

Without a doubt, my favorite course at the Elliott School so far has been, Transatlantic Perspectives on Security in North Europe. This summer study abroad program, led by Professor Christopher Kojm, provided first-hand insight into Europe’s most complex social, political, and security dilemmas. I partook in intensive seminars and engaging discussions in Washington, D.C.; Stockholm; Helsinki; and Tallinn. Not only did students learn about the histories, national political systems, and security concerns of the mentioned states and their citizenries, but we also had the rare privilege of speaking with some of the most influential actors in these sectors. From high-level policymakers and officials to think tankers and pollsters, I could apply my classroom knowledge to real-world experience. This skill is particularly useful in the realm of security policy, as bringing information to life can drastically change how policy is drafted, implemented, and received. Additionally, by forging meaningful connections across the European Union, and sharpening my critical thinking, analytical abilities, and public speaking skills, I am certain that this endeavor will benefit my professional prospects and capabilities for a lifetime to come. Overall, this course was not only critical in establishing my expertise in transatlantic security, but it fundamentally affected my ability to be a changemaker in the whole field.

Describe the pros and cons of being a full-time versus a part-time student at the Elliott School.

As a full-time student at the Elliott School, I have, of course, encountered certain burdens inherent to that status. From the late nights spent at the library to the endless cups of coffee, a full-time course load at Elliott has kept me quite busy. Layered with the complexities of being an international student, I have also invested a significant amount of time and energy into finding applicable internships. Lastly, as somebody who values community, I have dedicated my spare time to various student organizations, taking on leadership roles and supporting others and their initiatives wherever possible.

The key to keeping my sanity in the midst of this demanding field has been planning – so, if you do not own a planner, now is the time to get one! It is critical to keep track of the many events, meetings, deadlines, and get-togethers to ensure you are a successful, as well as fulfilled, student. With all of that said, being a full-time student and attempting to make the most of my degree has been challenging at times. However, these challenges are outweighed by the many benefits.  

The many hours I commit to my education have allowed me to immerse myself in world-class academics at George Washington University and the thrilling professional environment of the nation’s capital. My full-time status has put me on a fast track to earning my degree and being an attractive candidate for rewarding, high-level positions after graduation. But, most importantly, my dedication has led to a support system made up of other students, and even faculty, critical to my personal success and growth. As the international representative on the Security Policy Studies Student Board, I am privileged to meet students from all backgrounds in my program, as well as take part in the wider international community at the Elliott School. Regardless of which program somebody may be in, it is clear that all students support one another through the tough times while cheering each other on through the good.

In all, while it may be overwhelming to be a full-time student in the District, I would not trade in my experience for any other!  

What resources or strategies have proven to be the most valuable in helping you reach success at the Elliott School?

I have found collaboration with my classmates to be the most effective strategy to success at the Elliott School. Brainstorming sessions with my class colleagues make my assignments both creative and impactful, and also prepare me for engaging and stimulating class discourse. I enjoy hearing other’s perspectives to expand my knowledge, improve my communication, and challenge my own biases. Additionally, I have been able to make long-lasting friendships by working with my peers, which further enforces my commitment to and respect for the Elliott School community. Further, collaboration with my classmates has led to professional opportunities and advice I never thought possible. This has been especially important for me as an international student, given that my conversations and connections help me to understand the American workforce and the educational system, as well as the culture.

Along with this strategy for success, I find that attending conferences, book talks, and panel discussions deepens my knowledge and appreciation of the security field. For example, the Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies hosts the Program on New Approaches to Research and Security in Eurasia conference, which gathers over 140 academics to advance new approaches to research and security, politics, economics, and society in the region. Attending these events has opened my eyes to the many questions pressing security practitioners and the role I may play in shaping the field.

What advice do you have for prospective students who are comparing a graduate program at the Elliott School with other DC graduate schools?

Location. Location. Location. Because GW is in the heart of D.C., I am surrounded by prestigious national and global institutions, including the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Pentagon, the White House, Capitol Hill, and so much more. Not only is the Elliott School within walking distance to many of these influential sites, but the experts housed in them are within walking distance to us. That means that our faculty, guest lecturers, and event guests are some of the most renowned in their field and impart their experiential knowledge (and connections!) onto the student body. Along with their notoriety, Elliott School faculty members are some of the most kind, supportive, and eager people I know and they are dedicated to helping you advance your career goals.

Additionally, the student body itself is amazing to learn from. Students come from all parts of the world, and share the wisdom they have gained along the way with their peers. This makes the learning experience all that more effective as classroom learning is reflective of the real world.  

These factors and many more combined make the Elliott school spirit unlike any other. Students are immersed in international affairs and united by their passion for learning. Personally speaking, the Security Policy Studies community has been a focal point in my educational journey. My friends are made up of veterans, active duty personnel, current security practitioners, and dedicated scholars who all provide me with a new perspective on complex global issues.  

What is the last movie that you really enjoyed and why?

Like many of my colleagues, I recently completed the Barbie-Oppenheimer marathon. Personally, being a Security Policy Studies student, while I could appreciate the strategic considerations behind the Ken-Coup in Barbie, I enjoyed Oppenheimer the most. Oppenheimer is a powerful story that tangibly changed the world, and the movie aptly portrays the Cold War rivalry and nuanced interagency relations. With that said, however, I was somewhat disappointed that the movie did not bring to light the horrors of the nuclear atrocities it is based on. We must remember the lived experiences of those on the other end of such a trauma because, if forgotten, we risk reliving them. Accordingly, I would have appreciated a visualization of the aftermath of the nuclear bombing, or photographs of the actual scientists, to remind viewers of the very real consequences nuclear weapons have on society, and educate them about why disarmament and non-proliferation are critical. Regardless, I can still say that I was pleased with the overall camera work and performance of the actors, and believe the movie invites important conversations to be had about past, present, and future security dilemmas.

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The #WeAreElliott profile series is managed by the Elliott School Office of Graduate Admissions and highlights current students to answer common questions posed by prospective, incoming, and current students. For more information on this series or to submit questions, e-mail the Office of Graduate Admissions at esiagrad@gwu.edu.

The views expressed by students profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs.