Good Preparation: Alum draws on her CIPI experience for her Foreign Service Career-Center for International Policy & Innovation - Carnegie Mellon University

Friday, August 5, 2011

Good Preparation: Alum draws on her CIPI experience for her Foreign Service Career

Nisha Abraham’s primary field of interest lay in the Middle East. The Heinz College alum had focused on the region  as she prepared for a career in international relations, interning at the UN Department of Political Affairs’ policy planning unit and the U.S. State Department’s Office of Israeli and Palestinian Affairs. When offered the opportunity to serve as a Fellow at Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for International Policy and Innovation, however, Abraham learned that her work would focus on Africa.

“I don’t have any special expertise in Africa”, she remembers thinking. Then she took the job.

“I decided that it would be good preparation”, she says, in reference to her long-standing goal of becoming a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. State Department. “In the Foreign Service, you don’t always have much say in where you get placed, especially at the beginning of your career. You have to be willing to learn about things outside of what you’re familiar with.”

Abraham got a crash course in this skill, as her work at CIPI involved helping to coordinate logistics for a conference held in Monrovia, Liberia. Focused on the issue of mitigating election violence in Liberia’s upcoming electoral contest, the event brought together a wide array of government leaders, scholars and representatives of civil society to share best practices from their experiences in hopes of reducing the chance for violence on Election Day.

Members of the CIPI and CDD-Ghana research teams, including Ms. Abraham (far right), pose for a photo with the conference banner outside a conference venue in Monrovia, Liberia
Members of the CIPI and CDD-Ghana research teams, including Ms. Abraham (far right), pose for a photo
with the conference banner outside a conference venue in Monrovia, Liberia

Abraham’s position called for her to be a jack-of-all-trades, as she helped coordinate the considerable logistics for the occasion. Months of preparation stateside were followed by an intense week in Liberia of little sleep and lots of white flip charts. Abraham’s duties ranged from the theoretical (helping to draft questions to ask panelists in sessions and co-drafting the conference resolution) to the less than glamorous (multiple late night trips to greet arriving guests at Monrovia’s airport). “Everything was moving so quickly and there were so many moving parts involved in coordinating an international conference of this degree”, Abraham says. “There were issues to reconcile with all of the security present, with ensuring that the various sessions were running smoothly and on time. By the end of the week, I decided that it was probably a good test course for anyone interested in working as a diplomat. And I decided I definitely still wanted to be one!”

As fortune should have it, Abraham accepted a position as a Foreign Service Officer soon after the conclusion of the conference. She is currently serving in a temporary posting as a desk officer for Libya, before beginning Arabic training in preparation for a stint as a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Nisha Abraham poses for a photo with Amb. English after receiving a United Arab Emirates flag in a State Department ceremony
Nisha Abraham poses for a photo with Ambassador Charles English
after receiving a United Arab Emirates flag in a U.S. State Department ceremony

Abraham credits her experience with CIPI as instrumental in preparing her for the challenges of international diplomacy. “The combination of my Heinz coursework and time working as a student along with the experiential learning gained from working on an international project like this were invaluable,” Abraham said.

Abraham is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and the CORO fellowship program. She previously worked as a mathematics teacher in a Boston charter school and as a City Year Americorps member.