#WeAreElliott: Zachary Le Vene

#WeAreElliott: Zachary Le Vene

Zachary Le Vene is a second-year master’s candidate in the International Affairs program at the Elliott School, concentrating in International Economic Affairs. Zachary graduated in 2020 from the University of St. Thomas – Minnesota with bachelor’s degrees in Economics and International Studies. His main interest is geostrategic competition through international trade with a focus on East Asia. Zachary currently works at the International Trade Administration as an International Trade Compliance Analyst conducting antidumping and countervailing duty investigations to ensure fair trading practices. He has previous work experience with the Petition Counseling Unit at the International Trade Administration and with Consular Affairs, Office of the Comptroller at the State Department. In his free time, he enjoys playing tennis and rollerblading.

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

As I finished my undergraduate studies at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, there were a couple things that led me to apply to graduate school and to ultimately choose the Elliott School. First, after studying international relations and economics for four years, I wanted to go deeper into these topics. I applied to programs like the Elliott School’s MAIA program that allows a specialization in international economics while including political, social, and security coursework as well. For example, my area of focus is international trade, I’ve also taken classes like, ‘Central Asian Politics,’ ‘Political Economy of Industrializing Asia,’ and a gender policy skills course to make knowledge more well-rounded. 

Second, I applied to graduate school to prepare myself for a career in the federal government. Throughout my undergraduate studies, my goal was to be a public servant in the foreign policy apparatus, and I knew that going to graduate school would be a key step in this process. My mentor at St. Thomas advised me to focus my search on schools in the D.C. area for the strongest connections to meet my goal. I chose the Elliott School because it is located in the center of D.C. and has both strong connections to government and a great record for graduates being hiring in federal jobs. 

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

My most challenging academic experience at the Elliott School has been in my ‘International Trade and Policymaking’ course where our semester-long assignment was to become an expert in a specific trade-related policy area with the final goal of an hour-long presentation and an extensive policy paper and proposal. My chosen topic was China’s new digital currency, the e-CNY, that would be the first central bank digital currency (CBDC) issued in a major economy. Having limited experience with this topic in the past, I started by reading up on fundamental concepts including differences between digital currencies and cryptocurrencies as well as other CBDC’s that were already implemented, like the Bahamian Sand Dollar. Building from there, I consulted my professor for his connections in the field and was able to apply the topic to my own work at the Commerce Department via CBDC’s ability to potentially complicate antidumping and countervailing duty investigations in the future. Through gradually building my knowledge on the subject and applying my perspective and experience, I received commendation from my professor, and I was actually able to use my resulting policy proposal to bring the topic to the Economic Analysis Unit at Commerce to best prepare for future challenges.

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

I currently work at the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration where I enforce U.S. unfair trade remedy laws through antidumping and countervailing duty investigations into foreign companies. These investigations ascertain whether foreign companies are either exporting their merchandise to the U.S. at unfairly low prices (dumping) or receiving subsidies that make their exports to the U.S. market unfairly cheaper than they should be (countervailing duties), both of which undermine American manufacturers’ market share and competitive status. As for my longer-term career goals, I hope to continue to work on U.S. trade policy via diplomacy with foreign countries to ensure freer and continued fair trade that mutually benefits all involved. My current work at ITA lays the bedrock for this goal as it gives me the legal knowledge and technical expertise to understand the practical aspects of trade including cross-border supply chains and government involvement in the economy. The ITA has been an incredible organization to learn from experienced trade professionals and interact with stakeholders on a global scale in legal, policy, and technical areas.

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

One thing I wish I knew during the graduate application process was how many opportunities I would come across at the Elliott School and the benefits of the Elliott School’s evening class structure. Coming into graduate school, I was very stressed about finding a government job as soon as possible. I had worked for a few years during undergrad in Minnesota at a private life insurance firm doing various tasks, but I was worried about how I could translate that into my desired field of international economics in the federal government. As a result, I applied to tons of internships, fellowships, student work, and other opportunities just to get something ‘government’ on my resume. However, I wish I hadn’t stressed so much! The Graduate Student Services team at Elliott and the alumni connections they had were enormously helpful, and thanks to some great resume coaching, I secured an unpaid internship at Commerce in the spring of 2019 that had laid the groundwork for my subsequent positions at State and again with Commerce.

Another thing I wish I knew during the application process was how helpful the Elliott School’s evening class schedule would be. Coming straight from undergrad, I was a bit apprehensive about only having night classes, and I was worried about finding community after moving to DC. However, the night class scheduling has proven to be a huge asset. It allows me to work during business hours at my internship and by maximizing my time working, I can better connect with teammates and take on more substantive work than I would have been able to otherwise, all while connecting with my community at Elliott in the evenings. As classes are clustered from 5-7 and 7-9, there are many fellow grad students congregating at the same times, enabling easier conversations and the eventual forging of friendships. Often we even go out for a drink or two after class! While I had been worried about the evening Elliott classes, they proved to be a huge asset to both my professional and personal lives in DC.

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

My most valuable experience while studying at the Elliott School has been leading the LGBTQ+ student organization, ‘Out in International Affairs.’ In late spring 2021, a few fellow students and I noticed the lack of an LGBTQ+ student organization at the Elliott School and sought to fill that niche. This semester, I have been working with an incredible team of both grad students and undergrad students to officially establish Out in IA with GW and become Elliott School affiliated. We have successfully put on a few events so far including a few social events, and we have plans to host a Transgender Day of Visibility movie night and career workshops geared toward LGBTQ+ perspectives and experiences in the DC professional sphere. It has been incredibly fulfilling to work with my teammates who have such strong passion for LGBTQ+ issues and representation in IA, and I am glad to know that the organization will be available to provide a safe space and resource for ESIA students for years to come.

What is your favorite place to visit in D.C and why?

DC is one of my favorite cities in the world, and although the National Mall as a whole is beautiful, my favorite place to visit in DC is the Tidal Basin. I grew up in Northeast Wisconsin not 10 minutes away from Lake Michigan, so I love being able to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a calm stroll along the water. Spring at the Basin is beautiful with the famous blooming cherry trees (which do indeed live up to the hype), fall is also gorgeous when the leaves change, and in summer it’s the perfect spot for a picnic. If you’re ever looking for a scenic reading spot before class, I can’t recommend the Tidal Basin enough! Just make sure you leave plenty of time to make the walk back up to campus afterward because you will get sidetracked by either the historic monuments or the roaming bands of tourists you will encounter on the way!

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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.