Category: Alumni News, Event Recap, News

Title: Event Recap:  Alumni Panel Last May

Date Published: July 10, 2020

The well-knit community of CERES always enjoys when alumni can share advice for current students.  On May 21, Dr. Angela Stent, Director of CERES, hosted a panel of three alumni, Claire Kaiser, Dave Lonardo and Jenia Ustinova, who came together to share their experiences job hunting and initiating a career path in challenging times. 2020 graduates of MAERES suggested the panel, finding themselves in a unique and difficult situation entering the workforce amidst a pandemic.

The three panelists, who represent different employment sectors, recounted their journeys post-CERES and offered tips to grads and rising second year students.

Claire Kaiser (MAERES 2008) is Director for Strategic Initiatives at McLarty Associates, a DC-based international strategic advisory firm, and an adjunct professor at CERES. She holds a PhD in modern Russian history from the University of Pennsylvania (2015) and is completing a book manuscript on the politics of nationality in Georgia after WWII.

David Lonardo (MAERES 2010) is a Research Analyst at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), a university affiliated research center located in Laurel, Maryland. APL has provided the US government with technical, engineering and analytical support for over 75 years.

Jenia Ustinova (MAERES 2008), after five plus years with Eurasia Group, made the jump to the federal government and serves as a Foreign Service Officer for USDA. She is posted currently in Brazil.

The panelists noted that while the job search is challenging, they praised the toolkit they learned from CERES.  This toolkit has equipped them with many skills that are transferable to more job types and sectors than students may realize and they continue to use these skills today.

The guidance they provided is outlined below.

The Job Search

In finding a job, it is important to utilize the many avenues available for searching.  During the time of these alumni’s commencements (2008 and 2010), that predominantly consisted of job boards, word of mouth opportunities and google searching with keywords.  While these are still relevant, students today also benefit from LinkedIn job searches and the SFS Graduate Career Center (GCC) services.  It is worth noting that alumni continue to have access to jobs linked on the GCC’s platform WalshWorks for up to ten years after they graduate.

Start entry level.  It has been said before, but it is true:  it helps to look for something entry level and be promoted to better positions later on; even a low paid internship can help to get one’s foot in the door, which can then lead to greater opportunities.

Consider location.  While Washington, D.C. remains the epicenter of jobs related to the field within the US, consider opportunities abroad or outside the DC region.  Focus on where you would like to work and what kind of lifestyle you want as this can help you consider certain job markets.

Disregard the title —do you like the employer?  Is the position interesting?  Asking these questions is a better guide than the position’s title.


Network, network, network.  This is not new, and D.C. is known for its emphasis on the importance of networking. But it truly pays off, as our alumni made clear in sharing how this helped their career development.

Build and maintain ties.  Keep in touch with people in your network, even if it is simply to provide them with an update.  Make a habit of doing informational interviews as not only a way to learn about a job or field but to expand connections. Then keep those connections.

Do not forget to stay tapped into the CERES community:  professors are there to help and have many connections. Your student cohort – now colleagues – is another outlet of support and guidance.

Staying Motivated

The process of finding a job may be more arduous and longer than anticipated.  Do not despair.  It is important to stay optimistic and keep options open.  If feeling stuck, perhaps that is a sign to open up the search to a wider scope of jobs.  And until that desired job is found, do not waste time: keep building your resume by taking internships, adding proficiencies in tech/other skills and polishing foreign language skills.

In addition to the concrete advice offered above, the personal stories the panelists shared showcased their wisdom to the students and recent grads in attendance.  CERES is grateful for their contributions to such a pivotal conversation.