Above: Diane (center) in a scene from Quantico.
Diane* was on the set of Quantico, filming the Season 2 finale. She was playing a Special Agent, and the leads were interviewing people to be a part of a new agency comprising the CIA and FBI. Little did she know that soon she would be working at a government agency, reviewing applicants herself. At the time, Diane was in the middle of applying to IWP as the beginning of a radical career change from acting to national security.
A Texas native, Diane had just spent four years in New York City pursuing her acting career. She was initially interested in Broadway, but “accidentally” got into film and TV. She appeared in several movies and TV shows, including Boardwalk Empire and The Greatest Showman.
She had been preparing for this career her whole life: at the age of three, she picked up a violin for the first time. Soon after, she moved on to the piano, then singing, then performing in musicals. “I loved it – it was fantastic,” said Diane. She majored in theater and moved to New York soon afterward. But would this be her career forever?
When she was in New York, her parents encouraged her to start thinking about this very question. Upon reflection, Diane realized that she had always had another interest: international affairs, politics, and counterterrorism.
“Like many people, 9/11 affected me,” said Diane. “I was 12. At the time, I didn’t understand why anyone would do that to the U.S. We were the greatest country! From then on, I always had a background interest in counterterrorism, how we could stop Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. This interest never went away.”
Diane was involved in politics in high school and college and was part of a political group in New York. When she saw a post from IWP’s Recruitment Director Danielle Shover on her sorority’s alumni LinkedIn page about how we need more women in international affairs and the Intelligence Community, Diane thought it sounded interesting.
“I reached out to her, and the rest is history,” said Diane. “I put all my eggs in one basket and applied to IWP. I never thought I would be here, in my life right now. It is really exciting.”
At IWP, Diane quickly became involved in the life of the school. After running a successful campaign against two other contenders, she served on the Student Government Association. She also studied at Oxford University, where she completed a tutorial on the history of the U.S.-United Kingdom special intelligence relationship.
She said: “IWP broadened my knowledge of things outside of what I initially liked studying – that is, terrorist organizations, ISIS, Al Qaeda, and events in the Middle East. At IWP, I learned about China, Russia, and North Korea, which I had not previously studied. I began to enjoy reading about the Cold War and Russia after taking Dr. Thomas’s counterintelligence course. It was so fascinating. I still have a passion for counterterrorism, but I enjoy reading more about the bigger topics around the world.”
Diane’s first job after receiving her M.A. in Strategic Intelligence Studies was at the Defense Health Agency. She was referred for this position by an IWP alumnus whom she met at an alumni happy hour. “I got an offer within a month,” said Diane. “I am thankful for the alumni group because they are such a help. This alumnus really helped me out, and I couldn’t be more thankful.”
From there, she moved to the State Department, where she is currently working with the Office of Personnel Security and Suitability.
“Walking into the State Department, I had a lot more knowledge of the topic I am working on than quite a few of my colleagues, even those with M.A.s from well-respected – even Ivy League – schools,” said Diane. “I knew acronyms and history that we learned in our courses. Other people who had studied related topics had no idea or knew only a little bit. I felt like a person bragging.”
IWP’s course on Writing for National Security Professionals also prepared Diane for her government work. “Prof. Sano would be proud!” she said. “I took his writing course, and it dealt with grammar, perfecting your language, and making it as concise as possible. Let me tell you, I am very good at that now! A lot of people have trouble writing down what we need in a paragraph or two. I am able to do it. It sounds silly because it was a writing course, but it was probably one of the best courses I took at IWP. I was kind of surprised. I use what I learned in that course every day.”
To students considering going into national security as a new career field, Diane said, “Don’t be intimidated that it is something completely different from what you have been doing. I thought at first that my career transition to national security would be a disaster. Just jump in, trust yourself, and don’t let anyone tell you any differently.”
*Name changed for security purposes.