The Charger Blog

Recent National Security Graduates Share Passion for Making a Difference

Meet several alumni of the University’s national security program who are grateful for the meaningful and exciting opportunities they have had, both in the program and since graduating.

December 9, 2021

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Francesca Pimenta ’21, Angélica Cruz ’21, and Tuathla Hefferan ’20, ’21 M.S.
Left to right: Francesca Pimenta ’21, Angélica Cruz ’21, and Tuathla Hefferan ’20, ’21 M.S.

Francesca Pimenta ’21 always knew she wanted to make a positive and lasting impact on the world. Passionate about problem-solving and conflict resolution, she realized she also had many of the traits that are integral to excelling in the field of national security, such as perseverance and integrity, as well as the ability to remain calm under pressure.

While researching careers in which she could potentially thrive, she discovered the University’s national security program, and she thought it would be a great match for her strengths and interests. That’s exactly what she discovered during her time as a Charger, studying national security.

“One of my favorite parts of the program was working with professors who have experience in the field,” said Pimenta, who minored in Arabic and political science. “My professors taught me how to communicate my findings and construct reports like those utilized in ‘real world’ places such as the Department of State and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

‘It has opened doors for me’

Now a consultant for the Atlantic Council, a leading international affairs think tank in Washington, D.C., Pimenta is also an intern with Key Bridge Strategies, an organization that provides strategic foreign affairs consulting services focused on conflict resolution and conflict mitigation in the Middle East. She is also a legislative intern with the Anti-Defamation League, an international non-governmental anti-hate advocacy organization. She says her time at the University helped prepare her for these roles.

“I improved my problem-solving skills and further developed my critical thinking skills,” she said. “On a deeper level, I learned about the importance of credibility, integrity, and adaptability, which will stay with me throughout my life and my career.”

Francesca Pimenta ’21
Francesca Pimenta ’21 (photo credit: Anna Downs)

Pimenta’s former classmate, Tuathla Hefferan ’20, ’21 M.S., shared the same desire to make a difference in the world. Hefferan, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in national security from the University, landed a position as an intelligence analyst for Sibylline Americas Inc. in Scottsdale, Arizona, while she was still completing her master’s degree. She now monitors the safety and security of clients’ employees and assets, and she assesses threats toward clients.

Hefferan says the most important skill she developed as a national security major at the University was the ability to write for security professionals. “I enjoy how this position has finetuned my writing and investigation skills and that it has opened doors for me in the private and public sectors,” she said. “Now that I am working in the field, I understand why so many national security classes were writing intensive, and I am so grateful that they were, since I believe it has benefited me in my current position. My classes allowed me to broaden my knowledge and helped me determine what specific career paths I wanted to pursue.”

‘The help they provided me led me to where I am today’

Angélica Cruz ’21, another graduate of the national security program, initially wanted to be a psychiatrist focused on research. She then discovered a passion for national security and foreign policy, as well as for protecting and serving the nation. Cruz, a recipient of the prestigious David L. Boren Scholarship, also studied abroad as part of the University’s innovative “WARCourse,” taught by Matthew Schmidt, Ph.D.

In addition, Cruz took part in the Washington Internship Institute program, enabling her to spend a semester as an intern in Washington, D.C. This created meaningful networking opportunities, eventually leading her to her current path as a graduate student at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C., where she is pursuing a master’s degree in strategic intelligence studies. She aspires to become an analyst focusing on strategic intelligence.

“I truly believe I would not have found the opportunities I have had so far if it wasn’t for the national security faculty at the University,” she said. “All the help they provided me led me to where I am today. The courses I took were thorough and addressed multiple areas of the field, ranging from historical context and the mechanisms and agencies in place, and we took part in many discussions about more recent global affairs and their impact on national security.”

‘Apply the concepts and skills we learned from the lectures’

The University’s national security program provides students with the knowledge and skills they need to combat threats to the country’s national security and way of life. It prepares students for exciting opportunities in the public sector, working for organizations such as the FBI, CIA, and the Department of Defense. It also prepares students for private sector positions with organizations in fields such as those focusing on human rights, cybersecurity operations, and international trade.

Angela, another recent graduate who cannot give her last name due to the investigative nature of her work for a law enforcement agency, says she’s particularly grateful for the important networking opportunities she had as a student.

“Most of all, I enjoyed my classes that had practical exercises and simulations, such as the crisis simulations in Dr. Howard Stoffer’s classes,” she said. “These experiences allowed us to apply the concepts and skills we learned from the lectures and reading materials. A big point of those exercises was the application of critical thinking, communication, and collaboration required to successfully complete the exercise.”

‘It’s up to you to decide whether to keep pushing forward or give up’

Pimenta, the consultant with the Atlantic Council, says her passion for national security “grew exponentially” during her years at the University. She still draws on the important skills she developed, including resilience.

As a student, she was looking forward to taking part in the University’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program, but she was not able to participate because of the pandemic. Determined not to give up the opportunity to conduct faculty-mentored research, she reached out to Robert Sanders, LP.D., J.D., LLM, chair of the National Security Department, who offered to guide her through a project. She expanded upon her faculty-mentored research project as part of her Honors thesis.

“Recently, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council offered to help me publish my Honors thesis paper as an op-ed,” she said. “If I had stopped trying, I may not have had the chance to be published or to advance so early into my career. Resilience and self-motivation are crucial to reaching your goals. There will always be setbacks, but it’s up to you to decide whether to keep pushing forward or give up.”