Careers in Geopolitical Intelligence

By MATTHEW ROBERT BLOSS on December 9, 2013

My primary project this semester was helping to coordinate and plan the “Careers in Geopolitical Intelligence” talk that was held here at Penn State on November 18th. The idea to hold the panel initially came from Sarah, but once she learned of my personal interests and passions she quickly approached me to help organize the event on CGS’s behalf. Upon hearing of Sarah’s plan, I immediately jumped at her offer of having me coordinate it. Since my youth I have had a passion for the dynamic international events and relationships that have shaped the course of human history and much of my recent academic experience has been dedicated to finding a career that will allow me observe, or better yet partake, in those events. Now I was fortunate to have found avenues to pursue my goal without much counsel from others, but the process was difficult and if I could go back four years, there is certainly more than one thing I would have done differently. So being given this opportunity to help my peers was not only exciting, but also personal, and I was determined to try and make this conference contain all the information that I wished I would have had when I was an underclassmen or a junior.

My first objective in the planning phase was to determine the scope of the project. I knew roughly that I wanted to impart information to my peers about finding a purpose to go along with their passion for geopolitics, but I needed to figure out what we were, and were not capable of. With the guidelines set out before me I reasoned that our best bet was to bring in individuals who currently worked, or had worked, in intelligence and/or diplomacy. If people could hear the literal process that others went through to get to where they are, they might gain some of the valued perspective that I was trying to impart. After some conferencing with Sarah we came up with a rough outline and format, and even started bouncing around some ideas of who we could tap to actually present at the event.

This was perhaps the most important part of the event planning process. The entire utility of the event depended on finding the right people who had relevant and applicable experience in the right career fields. The first individual was one of Sarah’s and CGS’s preexisting contacts, a man by the name of John Hodgson. John currently works in Penn State’s Applied Research Laboratory and serves as the Principal Investigator for the Strategic and Global Security Program, an Intelligence Community Center for Academic Excellence. Not only was John an individual with a wealth of personal experience in the field, but his contacts throughout the university allowed him to take a leading role with CGS in planning the event.

The Second individual we recruited was my idea. Anyone in the SRA or National Security majors is likely aware of Prof. Don Shemanski. Shemanski, who has served more than two decades with the US government as a Foreign Service Officer, and is well known among certain student circles for his entertaining and challenging class projects that pit students against a hypothetical terrorist plot and require them to use the knowledge that gain in class to (hopefully) unravel and thwart the plot. From what I knew of Prof. Shemanski, I figures he would be perfect for this event, having more than enough relevant experience while also having a great deal of positive “name recognition” among potential attendees.

The final source we brought in was Professor Scott Gartner, who has had years of experience studying international affairs as well as working hands-on with organizations like the FBI. Professor Gartner, who has worked with CGS before, was a wealth of information not just on the specifics of the industry but also on the long and winding paths people often take to get where they want (or eventually decide they want) to go.

With our three speakers recruited and eager to participate, all the remained left to do was sort out the logistics of the event. While it was easy to get caught up in the “meat” of the event (bringing in and coordinating the speakers) helping to organize the deli meat spread for the reception after the event proofed enlightening in its own way. One often does not appreciate all the small bits of planning and detail that must be attended to in order to make a single large event take place. I was fortunate to be at the head of the planning experience, helping to acquire tables, invite students, and obtain a headcount for the reception. This experience was likely some of the most beneficial as “simple” logistical tasks like these can often make the difference between a successful event and a fiasco.

After weeks of planning and coordination and no small amount of stress, November 18th finally rolled around and the event itself took place. As I stood there in the Katz building smiling pleasantly as around 50 students took their seats, I realized that we had not instructed anyone to actually “introduce” the event. After a brief and mild cardiac episode, I jaunted over to find Sarah and, without thinking about to too heavily, asked her: “so do you just want me to introduce the thing?” She smiled and said “OK”, leaving me with the task of coming up with a one-two minute intro in about ten seconds. Luckily providence and this fine academic institution have gifted me with a knack for public speaking that enabled me to briefly take the podium and tactfully start the whole event off. I’m not sure of about 90% of what I ended up saying, but Sarah told me I did very well, so I’m inclined to take her word for it.

The rest of the event went better than I could have ever expected. All the stories and information given by our speakers was exactly the sort of thing a younger version of me wished he could have heard two or three years ago. The food ended up being quite good and many students stuck around well after the reception talking to the speakers, various interns, and each other. Overall I was incredibly privileged to be a part of CGS and help plan this event. The experience I gained in planning and coordination will do doubt be vital to me in my professional career. I can safely say my time at CGS has been some of the most educational out of my entire Penn State experience, helping me so that if I ever come back to PSU, it will not be to host another talk, but to speak at it.

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