March Woman of the Month
Oum Keltoum Hakam
Mrs. Oum Keltoum Hakam is a Professor at the University of Ibn Tofail (UIT), Morocco. She has a PhD in Nuclear Physics. She is the Director of Nuclear Physics and Techniques Research Unit. Prof. Hakam serves currently as a member of the Advisory Group on Nuclear Security (AdSec) to the Director General of the IAEA and former Chair of the IAEA-International Nuclear Security Education Network (INSEN). Prof. Hakam serves as a consultant on Nuclear Security to the IAEA and has been invited to lecture on nuclear security around the world. She has also published research papers on nuclear security. In 2015, Prof. Hakam initiated a Women in Nuclear Security Group that encouraged young female to take the lead in a male-dominated environment. In October 2017, she collaborated with the IAEA to organize the first IAEA Regional School on Nuclear Security in French for Francophone Africa, in Kenitra, Morocco. Mrs Hakam is an active member of several national and international professional associations in nuclear field, such as Women in Nuclear Global (WiN). She is also the Founder and Faculty Advisor of INMM-University of Ibn Tofail Student Chapter.
WCAPS March Young Ambassador of the Month
Maria Jose Espinosa Carrillo
María José Espinosa Carrillo is Director of Programs and Operations of the Center for Democracy in the Americas. María José joined in March 2016, and provides strategic and operational leadership to support the growth of CDA’s advocacy initiatives, Cuba Travel Program and research efforts. Prior to joining CDA, María José worked at DMC of Miami where she organized exchange programs and missions for individuals or groups interested in better understanding economic development opportunities in Cuba. Earlier in her career, she was an International Affairs Analyst at the Centre for the Study of Asia and Oceania and was a member of a research team that published reports on Cuba’s economic, political and social affairs regarding Asia and Oceania. She began her career as a Professor in the School of Economics at the University of Havana and taught undergraduate courses in Cuban Economic Thought, Global Economic Thought and Political Economy. She holds a MSc. in Economics from the University of Havana, a MSc. in Tourism and Environmental Economics from the Universitat de les Illes Balears, and a BSc. in Economics from the University of Havana. María José is the recipient of multiple academic awards, including a scholarship from the government of Spain’s Agency for International Development Cooperation for her graduate work at the Universitat de les Illes Balears.
February Woman of the Month
Nicole Tisdale is the Director of Outreach & Coalitions at the House Committee on Homeland Security. Prior to that position, Nicole was Director, Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at that Committee. With nearly a decade of Capitol Hill experience, she has served as a principal senior advisor and strategist to Members of Congress on a wide variety of matters and issues ranging from national security and intelligence to immigration and entry policies. She is also served as an executive member of many non-profit, non-partisan community organizations and charitable societies. Nicole received her BA and JD from the University of Mississippi.
WCAPS February Young Ambassador of the Month
Usra Ghazi is the Director of Policy and Programs at America Indivisible and Senior Fellow at the Religious Freedom Center. America Indivisible is a non-partisan, non-profit coalition effort to address rising bigotry against members of Muslim, Arab, Sikh, and South Asian American communities by reinforcing the American values of equality, pluralism, and strength through diversity. Prior to these positions, Usra worked at the US Department of State as the Strategic Designer at the Collaboratory, Education and Cultural Affairs Bureau and as a Policy Advisor at the Office of Religion and Global Affairs. Usra received a Masters of Theological Studies, Religion, Ethics and Politics at the Harvard Divinity School and her BA in religion at DePaul University.
January Woman of the Month
Goulda Downer, Ph.D.
Goulda Angella Downer, PhD, FAND, CNS, LN RD, is an Assistant Professor in the College of Medicine at Howard University. At the helm of several national multi-million dollar national AIDS training programs, Dr. Downer now heads the Howard University Capital Region AETC Telehealth Training Center (HU-CRTP) and is tasked with developing and managing a regional distance-based technology HIV training program.. A recognized expert in the field of nutrition and food security, Dr. Downer has served as an advisor to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in evaluating the impact of the President's “Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief” (PEPFAR) programs in sub-Saharan Africa. She has also served as Howard’s Principal Investigator for the USAID funded “Central Asian Program on AIDS Control in Vulnerable Populations” through the CAPACITY project managed by John Snow, Inc. Also, with the support of a Ford Foundation Grant, Dr. Downer implemented Howard’s “Caribbean Clinician Preceptorship Program.”
WCAPS January Young Ambassador of the Month
Lizamaria Arias is a Scoville Fellow with the Project on Nuclear Issues at the Center for International and Strategic Studies. At CSIS she is working on issues related to nuclear crisis stability, emerging technologies, and chemical weapons accountability. Prior to starting at CSIS she completed a Fulbright fellowship in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Lizamaria earned her BA in International Relations and Political Science from Wellesley College where she focused on civil/military relations and accountability for the use of force in counterinsurgency operations. In addition to her work at CSIS, she runs an organization, Breaking Cycle, focused on helping first-generation college students along their academic journeys. She speaks Spanish and Mandarin Chinese
WCAPS December Woman of the Month
Hoda Hawa is the Director of Policy & Advocacy at the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). Hoda leads the organization’s policy goals based on MPAC's policy agenda (short – and long-term) with a specific focus on Capitol Hill, federal agencies and civil society. She engages members of Congress and their staff on legislation and current affairs, and to that end, she organizes briefings on various domestic and foreign policy issues for the Capitol Hill and federal agency communities. Hoda researches and writes policy memoranda, papers and statements on key domestic and foreign policy issues including: intersection of national security and civil liberties, immigration, religious freedom and human rights, and human security. She works with government and civil society (think tanks, tech sector and media) as a resource and adviser on policy issues and informed community perspectives. She has a M.A. in Ethics, Peace and Global Affairs from American University.
WCAPS December Young Ambassador of the Month
Brittney Washington is a Legislative Aide at the Office of U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow. Prior to working for Senator Stabenow, Brittney was a Program Assistant at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit located in Washington, DC involved in U.S.-Japan relations, providing conferences and seminars, think tank analysis, people-to-people exchanges and coordination of high-level dialogue between the two countries through our in-house and collaborative programs. She was also a Joseph Nye Intern with the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for American Progress. Brittney has a Masters Degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and received her B.A. from Georgetown University with a specialization in Japanese.
WCAPS November Young Ambassador of the Month
Jeesue Lee is currently a congressional staffer working on defense, foreign policy, and veterans issues. Before she started working on the Hill, she interned with several research organizations, including the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), the Modern War Institute at West Point, and the Combating Terorrism Center at West Point. She is a graduate of Wesleyan University. She also serves on the communications team of the online national security journal, The Strategy Bridge.
WCAPS November Woman of the Month
Crystal James, Esq.
Crystal James is Head of the Department of Graduate Public Health at Tuskegee University. Born in Broxton, Georgia, Attorney James received her Bachelor of Science degree from Clark Atlanta University, a Master of Public Health from Rollin’s School of Public Health at Emory University, a Juris Doctorate from University of Houston, and is licensed to practice law in the State of Georgia. She has been able to not only work within her science and public health interests, she has also maintained a successful legal practice that focuses mainly on the areas of civil right issues, which include labor and employment issues, personal injury, real estate, as well as domestic relations.
WCAPS October Woman of the Month
Ileana Valle works at The Creative Associates International as a Program Manager. She is responsible for the program management of the Communities in Transition Division, with a primary focus on Citizen Security and Rule of Law projects, to include Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) development projects in Central America. She is also the lead for logistical, programmatic, administrative, financial, and technical support for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Crime and Violence Prevention Project (39M), to include project reporting and qualitative and quantitative analysis of output and outcomes, that have led to improved operations in the field offices in El Salvador. In addition to being on the Advisory Council of WCAPS, she is the Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors for Latinas Leading Tomorrow. Ileana received her Master of Arts from Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) with a concentration in Latin American Studies (International Development Track) and International Economics, Portuguese (language).
WCAPS October Young Ambassador of the Month
Laura Kupe is a Policy Analyst at the RAND Corporation. Besides serving as a WCAPS Youth Ambassador, she currently serves as a Transatlantic Expert Group Leader for the Truman National Security Project and a foreign policy expert for the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies’ project "A German-American Dialogue of the Next Generation" for 2018-2019. Laura previously served as a Special Assistant at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the Office of International Engagement within the Office of Policy as a presidential appointee in the Obama Administration. In her role, Laura served as a subject-matter expert on the Department’s engagement with European Union (EU) member states and the Five Eyes on topics including immigration/migration, border security, and counterterrorism. Previously, she was detailed to the Office of Presidential Personnel in the White House and served as Domestic Director. Before her detail, Laura served as the Briefing Book Director to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson. Prior to her time in the federal government, Laura served as a legislative fellow for Congresswoman Karen Bass, Ranking Member of the Africa Subcommittee on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Laura's parents are originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and she was born in Germany and raised in Luxembourg before moving to the United States. Laura speaks German, French, and Luxembourgish and is a self-proclaimed “Afropean-American.” She graduated with a B.A. from the University of Michigan and a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School.
WCAPS September Woman of the Month
Asma Lateef is the Director at Bread for the World Institute since 2007. Bread for the World is a collective Christian voice urging our nation's decision makers to end hunger at home and abroad. In her position, Asma oversees the Institute’s research, analysis, and education on policy issues related to U.S. and global hunger, malnutrition, and poverty. She served previously as director of policy and programs for Citizens for Global Solutions. Since 2010, she has also been involved in efforts to establish and support the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement. She now serves on the Steering Committee of the SUN Movement’s Civil Society Network. Ms. Lateef has a master’s degree in economics from the University of Maryland, a post-graduate diploma in economics from the London School of Economics and a bachelor’s degree in Geography from McGill University. She has more than 20 years of experience in public policy and extensive experience in developing and implementing policy advocacy strategies. Ms. Lateef was director of Policy and Programs at Citizens for Global Solutions and a senior international policy analyst in the Government Relations Department of Bread for the World. In 2003, she led Bread’s campaign to support the establishment of the Millennium Challenge Corporation. She also co-chaired a national coalition that worked on its authorization, funding and implementation. She has also worked for the International Labour Organization and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
WCAPS September Young Ambassador of the Month
Joanne Michelle Ocampo
Joanne Michelle currently serves as Project Director in Public Health Informatics for HIV-related projects with the D.C. Women’s Interagency HIV Study, Department of Medicine, Div. of Infectious Diseases, and the Office of the Senior Vice President for Research at Georgetown University. She also holds a part-time position focused on applied public health research with the Norwegian Institute of Public Health as an Advisor at the Department of Zoonotic, Food and Waterborne Infections.
Miss Ocampo has been active in the global health security space, having supported International Health Regulations-focused projects, worked on infectious disease surveillance in Europe and the U.S., helped found and lead the Next Generation Global Health Security Network as its Inaugural Coordinator, and participated in numerous international panel discussions, presentations, proposal review teams related to global health security. In 2017, Miss Ocampo received “The 100 Most Influential Filipina Women in the World Award (Global FWN100TM)”, rewarded by the San Francisco-based Filipina Women's Network for the mentorship and leadership she has shown thus far in her career. The global nature of Miss Ocampo’s professional work has been motivated by her own background spanning Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
Miss Ocampo holds a bachelor's degree in Biology from Eastern Connecticut State University, and a master's degree in Biohazardous Threat Agents and Emerging Infectious Diseases, and a professional certificate in Business Administration, both from Georgetown University
WCAPS August Woman of the Month
Pam Campos-Palma is an impactful political strategist working at the intersection of peace & security, civics, and social change, bridging grassroots movement and grass tops policy to win real change. She served in the US Air Force for over a decade as an intelligence analyst specializing in geopolitical analysis, anti/counter-terrorism, force protection, and aircrew/security operations with duty in Germany, Kyrgyzstan, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Pam has been recognized internationally for her transformative leadership, served as a gubernatorial appointee in the state of Oregon, and addresses issues of civil resistance, equity, justice, and building a new vision and practice of human-centered foreign policy and national security.
In 2016 alone, Pam served as an international consultant to projects in South Africa, Guatemala, Honduras, and was named a "Top 40 Under 40 Latinos in Foreign Policy" by Huffington Post. Currently, Pam forms part of Beyond The Choir, a political strategy and training group that partners with a wide spectrum of organizations and influencers to reach broader bases. She simultaneously serves as Executive Director of Common Defense, a national grassroots organization that mobilizes diverse veterans and military families against bigotry and hate, and a more equitable democracy. Pam has been featured on NBC, CNN, BBC, and NPR, among others, and holds a Masters of Public Administration from NYU focused in International Policy and Management. She is a member of Truman National Security Project's Defense Council and on the Advisory Council of WCAPS.
WCAPS July Woman of the Month
Asha Castleberry, a WCAPS Board Member, is an adjunct faculty professor at Fordham University and Baruch College. She teaches U.S. Foreign Policy and United Nation Peace Operations. A U.S. Army veteran, Asha recently completed a 30-month deployment in the Middle East. Since the 2014 ISIL incursion in Iraq, she served for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Kuwait. From December 2012 to June 2014, Asha served as the Kuwait Desk Officer for International Military Affairs, U.S. Army Central. During the Obama Administration, she worked with the U.S. Mission to the United Nations at the State Department. Asha also has extensive experiences in Latin America. She was an election observer for the 2009 Presidential Election Observer in El Salvador and worked on USSOUTHCOM peacekeeping operations in Nicaragua. Asha is also a Captain in the U.S. Army Reserves. Asha is a 2018 recipient of the Robert Myers Carnegie Council of Ethics and International Affairs Fellows Fund. She is a member of the Truman National Security Project Defense Council, a global fellow at the Project on the Study on the 21st Century (PS21), Adjunct Fellow at the American Security Project and a cofounder of International Youth Council. She was recently awarded the 2016 Aspen Institute Ideas Scholarship and a scholarship recipient for the Socrates Program. A graduate of Hampton University and Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, Asha is a proud study abroad student studying Law and Business in China and international politics at the University of Oxford New College Program. She received her certification at New York University Center for Global Affairs. She is a New Leaders Council Fellow and was chosen as one of the Diplomatic Courier Top 99 Under 33 Foreign Policy Leaders and The 2015 Route 100 Top African American Rising Leaders. She has appeared on many media outlets including MSNBC, Al-Jazeera English, I24 News, TRT World, Sky News, Tom Joyner Show with Roland Martin and many more.
WCAPS June Woman of the Month
Christine Ahn is the founder and International Coordinator of Women Cross DMZ, a global movement of women mobilizing with the goals to end the Korean War, reunite families, and ensure women’s leadership in peace building. Her organization pursues its goals by:
Expanding and deepening relationships among women leaders and organizations in North and South Korea and globally;
Promoting women’s leadership in peace-building processes on the Korean peninsula and region; and
Building capacity and partnerships for greater impact and sustainability.
Christine is also the co-founder of the Korea Policy Institute, Global Campaign to Save Jeju Island, and National Campaign to End the Korean War. Christine has organized peace and humanitarian aid delegations to North and South Korea, and has spoken in Congress, United Nations and the Republic of Korea National Commission on Human Rights. Ahn is the former Senior Policy Analyst at the Global Fund for Women and has worked with the Oakland Institute, Grassroots Global Justice, Institute for Food and Development Policy, and Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainable Development. She served for six years on the board of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.
Youth Ambassador of the Month
Mareena Robinson is a Graduate Fellow at the NA-19 Office of Major Modernization Programs, National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) at the Department of Energy. She is a recent Ph.D. graduate of MIT in Nuclear Science and Engineering. The title of her dissertation is "Nuclear Warhead Monitoring: A Study of Photon Emissions from Fission Neutron Interactions with High Explosives as a tool in Arms Control Verification." At NNSA, Mareena provides programmatic support to both the NA-19 Front Office and the Uranium Program. As a fellow, she is able to gain a deeper understanding of how the nuclear enterprise functions as well as understand the perspectives of government decision makers tasked with overseeing our arsenal. While at MIT, Mareena worked at the Laboratory Nuclear Security and Policy as a Research Assistant where she investigated the use of photon emissions from fission neutron interactions with high explosives as a warhead monitoring tool in arms control verification.
WCAPS May Woman of the Month
WCAPS Advisory Council Member
Nicolette A. Louissaint, Ph.D. serves as the Executive Director of Healthcare Ready, a nonprofit organization set up in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to ensure that the catastrophic breakdowns in patient access to healthcare would never happen again. In this role, she leads the organizations efforts to build greater healthcare preparedness and response efforts in coordination with the public and private sectors. Her particular areas of interest are biosecurity (especially infectious and emerging diseases) and supply chain complexities.
Healthcare Ready drives programs and advocates for policies related to emergency response and healthcare operations. The organization’s programs focus on building community health resilience in times of disaster or pandemic outbreaks through partnerships with healthcare.
Prior to this position, Nicolette served as a Foreign Affairs Officer at the U.S. Department of State in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs. As the lead officer for health intellectual property and trade issues, she advised the State Department’s leadership on issues related to public health, technology transfer and biotechnology. She also worked on policies related to pharmaceutical counterfeiting, pharmaceutical trade, supply chain, climate change and other science and technology development issues.
During the height of the Ebola Epidemic of 2014, Nicolette served as the Senior Advisor to the State Department’s Special Coordinator for Ebola. In this role, she was responsible for coordinating international efforts as the U.S. Department of State’s Ebola Coordination Unit jumpstarted the diplomatic response to the epidemic. She contributed to efforts to raise more than $1 billion in donations to the United Nations Multi-Partner Trust Fund from stakeholders around the world towards the response.
Nicolette holds Bachelors of Science degrees in Chemical Engineering and Biological Sciences from Carnegie Mellon University. She earned a Ph.D. in Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences, specializing in HIV Clinical Pharmacology from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She completed post-doctoral fellowships at the Johns Hopkins University and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She was recognized in 2016 as a “40 under 40 leaders in minority health” by the National Minority Quality Forum by the Congressional Black Caucus.
WCAPS May Youth Ambassador of the Month
WCAPS Youth Ambassador Program Leader
Marieme Foote is graduating this May 2018 with her Bachelors degree at Ithaca College in Political Science with a minor in Environmental studies. She completed a full scholarship program through her university named the Martin Luther King scholars program and is also graduating with honors.
She served as the Student Body President her junior year and has remained actively involved with student government by helping make structural changes at her university through committee work and school wide projects. Through her passion in social justice, she has worked at numerous NGO's such as Africare in Dakar, Senegal and is currently working with WCAPS on their Youth Ambassadors program. Prior to this, she also had the opportunity to intern with Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee on Capitol Hill in D.C.
In the Fall of 2018 she is looking forward to beginning her position in Peace Corps for two years in Benin as an Agricultural Extension Agent, and hopes to attend law school after her term is over. We wish Marieme good luck in her new venture!
WCAPS May Youth Ambassador of the Month
WCAPS Youth Ambassador Program Leader
Xiomara Salazar is a senior at Georgetown University, majoring in International Politics. She was born in Yonkers, NY and raised in Berwick, PA. During her time at school, Xiomara was a Hoya Saxa Weekend Event Coordinator, a co-chair for the Student of Color Alliance, and a student strategy team member for Buffy Wicks, a fellow at the Institute of Politics and Public Service. These opportunities allowed her to explore issues of race, socio-economic status, mental health, and public policy. Apart from her extracurriculars, Xiomara has interned for the Department of Commerce, Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Instagram, and Google. After graduating, she will be joining Facebook as a Business Integrity Analyst. In the future, Xiomara wants to apply the skills she gained in the private sector to the public sphere. She hopes to find the intersection between technology and social good. We wish Xiomara good luck in her new position!
WCAPS April WOman of the Month
Karen Isabel Guevara
WCAPS Advisory Council Member
Ms. Karen Isabel Guevara partners with foreign governments to build alliances and institutional capacity. Her work yields measurable results. Most recently, she successfully led the Senegalese Prison Administration host the first Mock Prison Riot in West Africa and was involved in projects working with government ministries, military, and civilian security forces with border security mandates in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia.
She has extensive experience in monitoring and evaluation, international development, national security, security policy, and a diverse career in the non-profit, public, and private sectors. At the Grameen Foundation, whose founder won the Nobel Peace Prize in Economics, she worked in the Americas portfolio and evaluated numerous international and non-governmental organizations. Part of the portfolio required building capital markets investments and joint ventures in countries such as the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Bolivia, and Haiti. Her international development experience was emboldened at the United Nations. During her time at the United Nations, Ms. Guevara promoted and enhanced cross-cultural understanding by developing curriculum for the Model United Nations Program and implementing programs to promote dialogue and peace missions through student cross cultural exchanges from Ghana to Russia.
Ms. Guevara developed a deep understanding of national security strategy and military capabilities at the tactical, operational, and strategic theatre levels at the Department of Defense (DoD). At the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), she recommended policies concerning resource allocation and developed metrics to improve organizational performance. She also served as the DoD representative to the White House Council on Women and Girls. Ms. Guevara then joined the Department of State where she specialized in Turkish-Syrian relations with an emphasis on the Syrian conflict and border issues. She successfully represented the U.S. Government in various posts in Turkey, Germany, Greece, The Netherlands, and Botswana.
After several years with the federal government, Karen moved to the private sector, working at Morgan Stanley, AARP, and in multiple consulting projects. In the private sector, she has merged her expertise in digital products and platforms with her background in international development and security sector reform to develop international programs that leverage the latest technology for strategic decision-making and best results. She measures the true impact of programming by using objective and methodical metrics as well as rigorous data-driven insights and analytics.
Ms. Guevara completed studies at the University of Oxford and Georgetown University. She is the recipient of numerous awards including a Department of State Meritorious Honor Award, Federal Bureau of Investigations Intelligence Operations Award, and Department of Defense Award for Exemplary and Outstanding Achievement, Scholarship, and Service. Ms. Guevara participates in various speaking engagements and panel discussions including events at the United Nations Foundation and Georgetown University Law School.
WCAPS April Youth Ambassador of the Month
Grace Choi is the Associate Director for Global Gender Policy and Advocacy at Save the Children. Previously, she served as Policy Advisor in the Secretary’s Office on Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State. Before that role, she served as Staff Assistant in the White House Liaison’s Office at the U.S. Department of State.
She is a NetKAL Fellow, was a Member of the White House National Security Leadership Workshop, and served on the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership’s (CAPAL) Board of Directors as Vice Chair for Programs.
Prior to her political appointment at the Department of State, Grace worked for the Council of Korean Americans (CKA), the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) in Congresswoman Judy Chu’s office, the Presidential Inauguration Committee (PIC), President Obama’s 2012 Presidential Campaign, the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Refugee Affairs Division.
She holds a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School at Tufts University and a Bachelor of Arts from Boston College.
WCAPS March Woman of the Month
WCAPS Advisory Council Member
Laila Hasan was sworn in as a Foreign Service Office in 2010, and currently serves in the Department of State's Operations Center as a Watch Officer. From 2015-2017, Laila worked in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs' Office of Policy and Global Issues, where she was responsible for the countering violent extremism (CVE) portfolio. In 2016, she was detailed to the Bureau of Counterterrorism's newly-created Office of Countering Violent Extremism to help craft the Department's CVE strategy and policy for Europe.
Before returning to Washington, Laila served as a Political Officer covering CVE and human rights issues at Embassy Brussels from 2013-2015. She was posted to Embassy Beirut from 2010-2012, working on human rights and Syrian refugee issues in both the Political and Consular sections. In the fall of 2018, Laila will begin a three-year assignment at Embassy Paris as a Political Officer.
Prior to joining the Department of State, Laila worked for the Department of Defense as an Arabic Language Analyst, focused on Middle East and counterterrorism issues. She holds a B.A. in International Affairs from The George Washington University, and speaks Arabic and French.
Career Path Q&A
Do you think being a woman of color has had an impact on your career so far?
I think everyone’s identity impacts their career in one way or another, and mine is certainly no different. While I’ve faced challenges due to both my gender and ethnicity, I’ve always drawn strength from the fact that the United States is a nation of immigrants and everyone has a unique story to tell. Everybody has a voice, and everyone deserves a seat at the table. In order to tackle today’s toughest obstacles, we need to take into account diverse opinions, perspectives, and experiences. One of the ways to achieve this is by cultivating a diverse workforce that mirrors society. Traditionally, defense and counter-terrorism fields have been male-dominated arenas, but today there are many more women of all backgrounds pursuing careers in these field. It’s imperative that we work together to support these young women, empowering them to be part of the next generation of strong leaders. As a woman and the daughter of a Muslim immigrant, I know first-hand the struggles one can face just to get a seat at the table. But now that I have, I see it as my responsibility to help ensure there are enough place settings at the table for those who follow.
How did you join the State Department?
After graduating college, I joined the Department of Defense as an Arabic Language Analyst, focused on Middle East and Counter-terrorism issues, but it had always been my dream to work at the State Department. In middle school, I idolized Madeleine Albright as she became the first female Secretary of State. I couldn't imagine a cooler job than traveling around the world and meeting with foreign dignitaries, and my inner feminist was thrilled that a woman represented America abroad. Nearly 15 years later, I signed up to take the Foreign Service written exam, and after a series of interviews and tests spanning more than a year, I was sworn in as a Foreign Service Officer in 2010. The fact that the daughter of a small-town Kentucky mother and a Pakistani immigrant father is now serving as an American diplomat makes me immensely proud. And it’s with that sense of pride and gratitude for all this country has afforded us that I pursued a career in public service.
Any advice for someone who would like to join the Foreign Service?
I would encourage anyone who is thinking about joining the Foreign Service to sign up and take the exam. Many people think you have to be a student of international affairs, politics, or history in order to pass the entrance exams, but that isn’t the case at all. Of course knowledge of foreign affairs is important, but a diverse academic background is equally valuable.
Our job as diplomats is to represent America abroad, and it is essential that our colleagues reflect the diversity-whether racial, ethnic, religious, geographic, academic-that enriches our great nation. Among the members of my orientation class, we had former lawyers, journalists, and even a pilot. There isn’t one cookie cutter profile or biography needed to be a successful Foreign Service Officer. What matters is a curiosity of the world around us, an appreciation for different cultures and languages, and a commitment to representing the United States’ values and ideals, both at home and abroad.
Why did you pick countering violent extremism as one of your areas of expertise?
I was in Beirut, serving the first year of my first Foreign Service tour, when the Arab Spring broke out. I was a Political Officer covering human rights and refugee issues when the Syrian civil war began, and before I knew it I was accompanying our military officers to survey the Lebanese-Syrian border and assess the number of refugees fleeing to Lebanon. In 2011, we could not begin to imagine what atrocities would ensue in Syria, nor the rise and global impact of ISIL that would soon emerge. By the time I arrived in Brussels in 2013 for my second Foreign Service tour, Belgium held the dubious honor of sending one of the highest levels of foreign terrorist fighters to Syria and Iraq to fight with ISIL. I dedicated a large portion of my assignment in Brussels to developing strategies and programs to foster social cohesion among Belgian minority communities, improve community policing efforts, and exchange best practices with Belgian government officials and civil society leaders, all aimed at ultimately reducing the number of foreign terrorist fighters.
Despite working on these issues for several years in the field, I often discounted the impact my own minority background had when meeting with minority communities in Europe, and the apparent positive influence a diverse workforce and diplomatic corps could have. This manifested itself in one of my proudest moments in the Foreign Service, while sitting with a group of Belgian Muslim activists, strategizing ways to counter rising Islamophobia across Europe. As we discussed tactics for amplifying their voices and crafting counter-narratives to hate speech, one of the activists told me I was a role model. That my mere existence as the daughter of a Muslim immigrant, now serving abroad as an American diplomat, was something many young European Muslims didn’t dare to imagine they could achieve. Yet by seeing me in front of them, it inspired the dream of a different future for themselves and the continued pursuit of religious freedom and social integration. I can’t imagine a greater feeling than knowing our country’s work abroad is having such a direct impact on communities, and it’s with that sense of pride that I keep trying to fight violent extremism in all its forms.
The views expressed here are Laila Hasan’s and do not reflect those of the U.S. Department of State or United States Government.
WCAPS March Youth Ambassador of the Month
Isabella Grullon Paz
Ithaca College, Class of 2018
Isabella was born in New York City, raised in the Dominican Republic and Colombia, and came back the U.S. three years ago to pursue a degree in journalism at Ithaca College. Throughout her studies, she has focused on immigration and foreign policy issues— especially those about U.S. military involvement overseas and the military-media-industrial complex. She worked with Ithaca College to pass policies to make the college a safe space for those affected by the U.S. travel ban, and she has begun reporting and bringing to light immigration issues within Ithaca and Tompkins County.
February WCAPS Woman of the Month
WCAPS Advisory Council Member
Linda Etim has held positions focused on mitigating conflict and promoting international development throughout her career. Most recently, Ms. Etim served as the head of the Africa Bureau at the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID) from 2015-January 2017. In that capacity, she was responsible for more than $7 billion of assistance funding to 46 countries in Africa as well as over 1,000 staff. While at USAID (including as Deputy Assistant Administrator from 2012-20150, Ms. Etim oversaw efforts for stabilizing fragile states and promoting transformational development through the full range of foreign assistance programming. This included peace and security, democracy, good governance, health systems strengthening, including Ebola response, economic integration, education and humanitarian assistance.
From 2009-2012, Ms. Etim served was the Director for African Affairs on the White House National Security Council. There, she was charged with coordinating the U.S responses to some of the African continent’s most pressing challenges, including countering rising levels of violent extremism, the Somalia famine response, developing a meaningful response to Africa’s youth bulge, and the continent’s uneven record of democratic governance. Prior to that, Ms. Etim spent over a decade as a specialist in African security affairs for the Department of Defense and the intelligence community.
Ms. Etim received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in International Relations, French, and Portuguese with concentrations in Agricultural Economics and African Studies. She received a certificate in International Affairs from Sciences-Po Paris and studied land reform at the Universidade de Sao Paulo in Brazil. She has served on the Board of Directors for the U.S Africa Development Foundation (USADF) and the Young African Leaders Initiative.
This month Linda Etim will begin a new role as the Senior Advisor on Africa Policy for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation where she will support the foundation's work on advocacy, strategy, and communications.