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Kelly Siwek (’19): From Fulbright to Intelligence Analysis

Kelly Siwek

Kelly Siwek (’19) is a graduate of IWP’s M.A. in Statecraft and National Security Affairs program, as well as a graduate of IWP partner school Elon University. She currently works as an intelligence analyst at the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI). In a recent interview, she discussed her day-to-day work, her experience teaching abroad via the Fulbright program, and work-life balance as a mother.

Please note that Kelly spoke with us in her personal capacity, and not on behalf of her agency.

We would love to hear some more about your work at the Office of Naval Intelligence. Can you tell us more about the organization?

The Office of Naval Intelligence is one of the 18 intelligence organizations that make up the U.S. Intelligence Community. Its main responsibility is to collect, analyze, and produce maritime intelligence to disseminate to its customers – which primarily consists of the Navy, the Department of Defense, as well as national leadership.

In my current position, I work as an intelligence analyst in ONI’s Farragut Technical Analysis Center. Our Center is responsible for providing science and technical intelligence (S&TI) analysis of foreign navies. I find it a rewarding place to work, as I feel like I’m supporting those who protect our values and country on a daily basis. One of the things I absolutely love about my job is that I get to learn every day, and that keeps me very professionally satisfied.

What led you to a career as an intelligence analyst?

IWP was definitely my avenue into the Intelligence Community. Before coming here as a student, I had previously worked in international development and international education – specifically in Eastern Europe.

When I came back to D.C., I continued my work in international development and became interested in national security and in how it relates to international development. I started studying at IWP and found out more about the Intelligence Community. IWP helped me leverage my prior experience to be competitive in this career field.

Please tell us a little more about teaching in Eastern Europe.

In 2014, I taught English in Vratsa, Bulgaria as part of the Fulbright English Teaching Assistance Program. It was a really great opportunity to serve my country, learn about another culture, and represent the U.S. abroad. During my time in Bulgaria when I wasn’t teaching, I assisted students in applying for international universities, helped out with school spelling bees, and held English conversation hours at a local coffee shop. I found it to be an incredibly rewarding experience.

I really enjoyed working with all of the students and learning more about their culture and customs. Still today, I keep a picture of my ninth-grade class on my desk at work. I think it’s important when you’re working in a field, such as national security, to remember that nations are made up of individuals. Those people became really important to me when I worked there. So, I like keeping that picture on my desk as a reminder of that. The photo also reminds me of how much of an impact one individual can have on your life. I also like that reminder as well.

Did you major in international affairs at Elon?

Yes, I did. I studied International Studies during my time at Elon. I was very fortunate to be able to study abroad three times during my undergraduate program. Elon really helped foster my curiosity for learning about the world and other cultures.

You probably came to IWP to study international affairs. Please tell us about how you found a love for intelligence at IWP.

I did start my studies at IWP as part of the International Affairs program. I really enjoyed the classes that focused on understanding our core American values and the importance of oversight of intelligence activities. I think that the way a country conducts its intelligence is very much a reflection of its own values and how it values its people.

Kelly Siwek at IWP Commencement in 2019.
Kelly at IWP Commencement in 2019.

And then how did you end up working with the Office of Naval Intelligence?

I just applied for one of the openings. There are a lot of employers who come to IWP to talk about the different roles and positions in their agencies and organizations. During my time at school, I gained a solid understanding of what types of agencies were out there. I’ll be honest and say I learned a lot on the job – including the unique role my organization plays in the Intelligence Community.

There are certainly lots of different opportunities to serve in federal government. I think that oftentimes when people think of intelligence, they only think of the CIA. Yet, there are so many more organizations and opportunities out there, where one can apply a variety of different backgrounds and skill sets.

Can you tell us more about the role of an intelligence analyst? What do you feel is the biggest impact that you have at your work in this role?

An intelligence analyst needs to keep track of a lot of details and make analytical judgements with incomplete information. As part of your role, you publish products to help keep policy makers informed, so they can make decisions for our nation.  IWP provided me with tangible skills to apply to my current role – like strong and concise writing skills.

During my studies, I also participated in a simulation called Baltic Storm. During this simulation, I learned a lot of analytical methods to keep track of the overload of information you receive as an analyst. I honestly use these skills every single day at work.

Furthermore, I think having a love of learning and being endlessly curious – are key qualities for an intelligence analyst.  IWP certainly helped foster these qualities in me. Intelligence analysis is like trying to put a puzzle together, when you don’t know what the end result looks like – and you might have too many pieces – or not enough– and you also never know when it’s done! It drives me crazy, and I love it.

What advice could you share for somebody interested in going into the field of intelligence analysis?

For any federal position, sometimes the biggest hurdle is just knowing what jobs exist. So firstly, I’d suggest taking time to just figure out what positions and agencies are even out there – and what are some of the core skill sets of those positions. A great place to start is to look at the organizational chart for government agencies and dive into all of the different bureaus and subsets that they have within them.

Kelly and her husband at an IWP gala at the International Spy Museum.
Kelly and her husband at an IWP gala at the International Spy Museum. Photo by Aesthetic Images Photography.

Do you have any other advice for anyone who is just starting the IWP program?

Really be present! Every single event that we have here at IWP is a networking opportunity and a way to explore a number of different industries. Even attending the open houses is a great way to practice talking about IWP, which helps in an interview when you’re trying to explain your education and what you would contribute to that job as a result.

Secondly, I would advise students to start job searching and applying incredibly early. It’s easy to get extremely focused on your studies when you start a graduate program, but you’re really here for the job that you’re going to be spending your day-to-day doing. That future job needs to continue to be your priority.

Kelly, you recently made a big job transition. I’d love to hear a little bit about that.

My daughter was born a little bit more than a year ago. After a few months, I asked my management if I could switch my schedule to part-time to be able to spend more time with her, which they approved. It has been a really great transition.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to continue the job that I love and that really scratches my intellectual itch – while also having a lot more time at home with my daughter, which is incredibly important to me.

What is your schedule like now?

I’m working three days in the office. They are longer days, but that way I have four days at home with my family.

Something that I find so great about working for the Intelligence Community is that there is a clear split between life and work. When I’m at work, I don’t have my phone and am able to be completely focused. When I’m at home, work doesn’t even enter my house.

You work with some other IWP folks, correct?

Yes, that’s correct. There are a number of IWP alumni that work in our building, all in different departments. We have lunch occasionally, which is great. We try to also plan a lunch when a new IWP alumnus comes into the office to welcome him/her and help ease the transition.

In general, that’s one of the benefits of going to such a small, tight-knit school.

Can you tell us a little about the short-term and long-term focus of intelligence analysis?

There are a lot of different types of positions in intelligence analysis. You can find more fast-paced positions where analysts may be working around the clock on watch floors. They may be focused on providing tactical or operational intelligence. In other positions, the pace may be much slower, for example, if you’re looking at long-term trend analysis, or supporting longer term strategic decisions. Even though this intelligence work doesn’t seem dire at this second, it is important for our long-term planning and investments as a country.

What inspires you to do this role that serves our country?

Learning about other cultures and living abroad made me appreciate a lot of the values that make America unique. These values are reflected in how America conducts its intelligence work, and it’s important to me to preserve those values within my own family and our country as a whole. Working in this field helps me feel like I continue to preserve that as part of our nation.

Kelly Siwek
Kelly at IWP