#WeAreElliott: Orion Wilcox

#WeAreElliott: Orion Wilcox

Orion Wilcoz, M.A. Middle East Studies, 2023, #WeAreElliott

Orion Wilcox is a second-year Masters candidate in the Middle East Studies program at the Elliott School. He received his bachelor’s degree in Economics and Arabic at the University of Mississippi in 2014. He is particularly interested in U.S. foreign policy, conflict resolution, and using quantitative methods to improve policy outcomes. He currently works as a Senior Geospatial Analyst with Fraym, a public sector consulting firm in Arlington, Virginia. Orion enjoys Arabic literature, traveling, riding his bike on DC’s many trails, and playing basketball.

What path led you to apply to graduate school? Why did you choose the Elliott School?

I minored in Arabic and studied abroad in Jordan and Morocco while in undergrad at the University of Mississippi. After graduating, I received a fellowship from the Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA) to return to Jordan. I ended up living and working in the Middle East while working as a journalist and translator for 3 years. I then moved to Washington, DC and began working as a research analyst and manager for organizations providing humanitarian and stabilization relief in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. During this time, I was immersed in the day-to-day politics and culture of the region, but I kept feeling like I needed a broader perspective or framework for understanding what was going on. I also wanted to upskill in research methods and ethics.

After looking at different regional studies programs, I chose the Elliott School because of the reputation of its professors (particularly Marc LynchNathan Brown, and Mona Atia) and because I liked the program’s emphasis on policy and current events. I also liked that the Elliott School caters to working professionals and that many of the students come in with some work experience. Finally, I liked the flexibility of the program. I can take courses on Arabic literature, data analysis in Python, and religion.

What has been your most challenging academic experience at the Elliott School and how did you overcome it?

Time management is a challenge for all graduate students, and that goes double for those of us who also work. I have found that carving out specific times in the day or week to relax and do something unrelated to work or school really helps. Grad school is a marathon, not a sprint.

Where do you currently work and how does it fit in with your career goals? 

I’m currently a Senior Geospatial Analyst with Fraym, a consulting firm providing data analysis services to the public sector. Our company uses machine learning models to understand population characteristics (such as demographics, socioeconomic background, attitudes, and behaviors). It’s a super fast-paced and interesting job because my role is essentially to use the data produced by our models to answer client questions and use cases, whether that’s understanding media consumption patterns, energy usage, or vaccine hesitancy.  It required a good mix of subject matter expertise (including regional knowledge I’m gaining through my program) and an understanding of quantitative methods. I use geographic information systems (GIS) and statistical modeling tools like Python and R (skills improved through courses at the Elliott School) every day. 

Now that you’re a graduate student, what do you wish you knew during the graduate application process?

Start looking for financial aid resources early. I received the Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowship which covers tuition and provides a modest stipend. You often need to apply for these awards before applying to graduate school.

What has been your most valuable experience while studying at the Elliott School?

I love the discussions and debates in class. In the consulting world, it’s rare that you really get to dive deep into a subject beyond the parameters of client use cases. 

If you could bring any food from abroad to D.C., what would you bring?

Hummus. It’s impossible to find the good stuff here.

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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.