You are currently a Services Coordinator for the Refugee Services Office of the state of Utah (USA). What does that entail?
Serving as the Women’s Services Coordinator for the Refugee Services Office has allowed me to work on empowerment programming for refugee women and girls that have been resettled into Utah. In this position, I develop asset-based community programming, pair with community partners to maximise capacity-building efforts, and work on gender inclusive policy efforts.
What do you do as Adjunct Fellow - Climate/Energy Security for the American Security Project?
I am honoured to serve as an Adjunct Fellow with American Security Project (ASP), a nonpartisan think tank in Washington D.C. In this capacity, I analyse and write about energy geopolitics and issues relating to US national security.
Previously, you worked as a programme manager for the Utah Refugee Coalition. What did you do there?
I started out as an intern with the Utah Refugee Coalition (URC) in fall 2012. I had just relocated to Utah and thought it would be a great way to get to know my local community! By January 2013, I was working for the organisation, focusing on programming related to the empowerment of refugee men and women. I primarily worked on a programme called Global Artisans – it was a way for refugees to work on their own schedule. Participants created cultural goods and sold them for supplemental income, in addition to using these activities to reconnect to their heritage and teach their children important family history. It was in this position that I learned the true power of asset-based community development models.
Tell us about spending three months as a political/economic intern at the U.S. embassy in Riga.
After a six-month application process, I began an internship at U.S. Embassy Riga in January 2014. I had always highly regarded the State Department and the power of diplomacy, so this opportunity was a fantastic learning experience in actual policy efforts. I was empowered to attend meetings, write briefs, and participate in dialogue on local issues. Additionally, I was able to spend time in beautiful Riga! Indulging in trips around the Baltics, great local food, and fun cultural experiences made the internship a truly life changing experience. However, the best part of this experience was, undoubtedly, the incredibly smart and talented women I worked under – they took the time to mentor me, answer questions, and encourage my goals.
You have a BA in government/international affairs from Augustana College. Why did you choose this particular degree and would you recommend it?
I emerged from high school torn between becoming a literature teacher and going into politics. When I came across Augustana’s Government/International Affairs program, I knew I had to pursue my dream to work in policy and political affairs! The programme allowed me to take a variety of courses on topics of interest, as well as work with a talented community of scholars. Although I initially intended to work on political campaigns, my time at Augustana shed light on other opportunities in the sector.
Being in an academic setting is relaxing to me, so I always knew I would return to get advanced degrees. I was finally in the position to go back to school in January 2013. Living in Salt Lake City, I toured several local programmes, but became enamoured with the ingenuity and creative atmosphere around the Community Leadership graduate program at Westminster College.
A small, private liberal arts institution, Westminster reminded me of my undergraduate college. I was immediately comfortable in the setting and with the tenants of the program. I selected the international track for my MA, focusing on foreign policy in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. This programme allowed the flexibility to focus on community approaches to social change and the role of economic development on foreign policy.
What do you want to do after your MA?
I have recently been accepted for doctoral studies, but am also looking at professional opportunities to develop my knowledge and abilities. My goal is to end up in a setting that allows me to critically analyse and publish on issues of foreign policy. Eventually, I look forward to teaching and working with budding scholars, providing mentorship – especially working with women interested in the foreign policy sector.
You are a founding board member and Co-President of the Utah Chapter of US National Committee (USNC) UN Women. What does it entail and why was it important to you?
Working toward gender equality is a passion that is near and dear to my heart. I believe that women across the world need to be heard in order to have sustainable and peaceful solutions in international relations. When presented with the opportunity to be a part of the local chapter of USNC UN Women, I jumped at the chance. A year later, I was voted as Co-President. We work to highlight local community organisations that are in need of volunteers and/or resources, hold analytical discussions on important international topics, and bring attention to policy issues locally and nationally.
What would you recommend to a woman who would like a similar career path?
1) That she strives for her dreams and 2) She does her best to build up the women around her, nurturing those relationships.
There is no one-way to get anywhere; in fact, the more obscure the path, the better! Take chances and follow your heart – in the end, it is always what you will come back to anyways.
What was your first job and what did you learn doing it you still use nowadays?
In high school and college I worked in childcare. It taught me patience, the power of laughter in stressful situations, and how to display empathy and compassion even when it seemed I had little left to give.
What are the most and least rewarding aspects of your career so far?
The most rewarding aspect of my career is being able to do what I love. No job is perfect, but when I am able to lay my head down at night and be completely spent, both physically and mentally, then I know I am doing something right.
The least rewarding aspect? Working with the occasionally massive ego!
What are the key skills that make you good at what you do? How did you gain them?
I am a passionate and high-energy person – I don’t know any other way to approach a challenge than at full-speed! As with many people, I gained endurance skills by being put into incredibly challenging situations that tested who I am. I can only hope to continue to face challenges that help me develop as a person and as a global citizen.
What is the toughest lesson you have learnt?
I have learned many tough lessons and am sure I have many more to face. Thus far, my biggest life lesson has been to remember not to project expectations on those around me. Everyone is different and has diverse skills and experiences...and this is a good thing! By understanding that we all operate differently, we can better approach community challenges.
What has been your biggest challenge and how did you tackle it?
Returning to graduate school was a big challenge for me. I have always wanted to pursue academic endeavours, ending with doctoral studies, but I had reached a point in my life that I seriously doubted I could do it. Due to incredible support - and giant dreams - I took a chance (personally and financially) to return to school. I couldn’t be happier with this decision; it was definitely the right path for me.
What achievements are you most proud of?
I am incredibly proud of my work in gender advocacy, as well as my education – each took immense effort and concentration... and is a lifelong process.
Why the interest in foreign policy?
As a young child, I often dreamt of being able to travel the world. I’d watch travel TV shows, read books about far away places, and study maps to find different parts of the world that I was sure held adventure. As I grew up, I developed a deep love of politics. I simply combined these two passions, focusing on foreign policy and international affairs. Although it took me many years to figure out this path, it seems so simple looking back!
Do you have a role model and if so who and why?
I hear this question a lot and I feel I never have the right answer. There are many women (and men) that I look up to, but I wouldn’t classify any of them as 'role models' in the sense that I aim to embody their values and actions. Rather, I draw inspiration from those around me – the refugee women I serve, my graduate school classmates, my nieces and nephews as they tackle challenges new to their generation. Those are the people that inspire me to live in a way that encourages me to be my best... and to give my best!
Elise A. Reifschneider | Independent Foreign Policy Analyst
Five years' experience
CV in brief
Find her online
At The American Security Project (ASP)
USNC UN Women Chapter touring the Utah State Capitol
"We work to highlight local community organisations that are in need of volunteers and/or resources, hold analytical discussions on important international topics, and bring attention to policy issues locally and nationally."
As an intern at U.S. Embassy Riga
"After a 6+ month application process, I began an internship at U.S. Embassy Riga in January 2014. I had always highly regarded the State Department and the power of diplomacy, so this opportunity was a fantastic learning experience in actual policy efforts. I was empowered to attend meetings, write briefs, and participate in dialogue on local issues."
Inspiring girls and young women to choose a career in foreign policy
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