WWS Blog

The Cryptologist, the Kidney Donor and the Veteran

Dec 23, 2013
Published by:
Eric Wilkens
Seth Smith at Desk

Seth Smith, MPA II in the Woodrow Wilson School, recalls watching Operation Desert Storm on television as a child. “It was the first time war was displayed on TV. From that point on, international affairs interested me. My intellectual curiosity laid in the world around me, and how countries interacted with each other,” he says.

So began a life of public service, including six years in the U.S. Navy, four of which were served in the Middle East as a Persian-Farsi cryptologic linguist. “I provided security and threat analysis to operators, unit commanders and strategic commanders in the Persian gulf region. It took me about a year to become fluent reading and writing Farsi,” Smith says.
After receiving an honorable discharge from the military in 2008, Smith attended the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he graduated in 2011 with honors and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Middle Eastern and North African Studies. Internships in the Washington, D.C. office of Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and the Pacific Council on International Policy proved valuable for Smith, as he worked alongside and networked with top defense and military strategists. 
To further his international relations experience, Smith was named a spring 2012 Herbert Scoville Peace Fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, an institute that strives to, “combat the spread of weapons of mass destruction by training the next generation of nonproliferation specialists.” There, he worked on such international issues as chemical weapons security and Iran sanctions. 
Through networking and advice from colleagues, Smith applied to the Wilson School. He says, “From day one, I was completely blown away. What sets the Wilson School apart is the level of familiarity the School’s administration has with its students. When I stepped on campus, it seemed like everyone already knew my story and me.” 
He adds, “I knew this was a place where I’d not only learn from the best professors and get an incredible education, but also a place where I’d be comfortable and successful.” 
Smith’s altruism did not stop in the military. In the summer of 2013, he donated a kidney to his mother, sacrificing an internship at the U.S. Mission to NATO, Defense Plans, in Brussels, for his family. Instead, Smith interned at the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) in Washington, D.C.
Now in his final year at the Wilson School, Smith says he’s excited about his classes. “I’m looking forward to gaining hard skills like geospatial imagery analysis (analyzing overhead and aerial images), negotiation and conflict resolution, as well as building upon a foundational knowledge in theories of leadership and management.”
“The tools I gained in my first year were directly applicable to my internship this past summer,” he says. “At the IAVA, I lobbied for veteran’s issues and affairs, regularly drafted testimony to be presented before Congress, conducted media interviews, worked in policy planning and implementation and executed strategic communication.”
After graduation in 2014, Smith plans to continue his career in public service. “I’ve had such a positive experience at the Wilson School and I want to use my experience and education to help veterans and the world around me.” 


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