Alumna builds career in global security

International experiences and DC program serve as base for world experience

In the fight against global security risks and threats, knowledge is the greatest ally. But discerning the key conflicts that could impact specific individuals and industries is a major challenge, one made all the more daunting when viewed across international borders.

Fortunately, there are specialists like UW alumna Helen Beckner. Since participating in the Wisconsin in Washington Program, Beckner has grown a strong career in global intelligence and risk consulting.

Helen Beckner
Helen Beckner

Most recently, Beckner has been a participant in the Alfa Fellowship Program, a distinguished international initiative run by Cultural Vistas, an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of State as an exchange visitor program sponsor. The fellowship provides 18 accomplished Americans, Britons, and Germans with the opportunity to receive intensive language training, attend professional seminars, and participate in high-level professional development assignments in Russia. Beckner’s assignment is at Control Risks, a political, security, and integrity risk consulting firm in Moscow.

Prior to participation in the Alfa Fellowship Program, Beckner served as an intelligence analyst for WorldAware, where she closely followed security risks and threats in Europe, Russia, and Central Asia. She utilized open source data and media to find information related to civil or political unrest, terrorism, crime, and environmental issues—anything that could impact the security of WorldAware’s clients.

“To be on top of these risks, we have to understand the current civil society climate in these countries and regions,” Beckner said. “Understanding politics is useful, but you are always questioning whether something such as new legislation will produce a visible impact that will impact the public or if the argument will stay in government.”

Beckner has always been interested in global issues. In high school she spent a summer in Spain. While at UW–Madison, she spent time teaching English in the Dominican Republic. So it was no surprise that Beckner, who majored in international studies and Spanish, decided to seek a global career.

“I always thought of myself as becoming involved in international affairs, so I wanted to gain experience through a specialized program,” Beckner said. “I was born in DC, so I know trying to go out on your own and get internships can be difficult. Having a reputable program and people who coordinate these internships can really help.”

Beckner took part in the Wisconsin in Washington, D.C. Internship Program in fall 2012. The program allowed her to take courses matched to her academic interests, while also growing her professional portfolio.

“The seminar courses were really helpful,” Beckner said. “There were very interesting speakers who talked about issues they had expertise in as well as the structure of the organization they belonged to. They gave us a preview of what it is like to work at the organization and how to get involved. We weren’t just becoming involved in political issues or issues in international affairs, we were also learning about what you can do with this degree while meeting people with those backgrounds.”

Beckner’s internship was at National Defense University (NDU), a higher education institution funded by the Department of Defense that educates and develops national security leaders. While interning for NDU’s Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies–Central South America Unit, Beckner assisted regional experts in developing presentations, gathering data, and conducting research. She would also do daily monitoring of news sources and make lists of top stories that seemed critical to a region. Her supervisor provided feedback on how to analyze this information and discern what was relevant, and what was not.

Following graduation, Beckner volunteered for the Peace Corps, eventually serving in Georgia. While she was waiting for her service to begin, she utilized her experience to secure a part-time analyst position at iJet International (former name of WorldAware). Beckner would continue to on with iJet and WorldAware after her service in Peace Corps, even while enrolled at The London School of Economics and Political Science in the European studies master’s program.

Beckner continues to draw from her experiences in the Wisconsin in Washington, D.C. Internship Program and also maintains her personal drive that has pushed her to take part in new international experiences.

She advises future participants in the Wisconsin in Washington Program to take an active role in finding their internship to give the best chance that it will connect them to a path that will be useful on their academic and professional paths.

“Research places where you really want to work,” Beckner said. “Don’t just leave it up to the placement committee. If you do the research, you can write it into your personal statement and you will also gain a better understanding of your ideal work situation. Also, reach out to personal contacts, they can be very helpful in gathering information.”