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My Nuclear Journey: How Nuclear Security Has Enriched My Life

Over the past four months, my Scoville Fellowship has given me the opportunity to fulfill many of the goals I set for myself over a decade ago. I visited Washington, DC for the first time when I was ten years old and I fell head over heels with the city, the history here, and the weight of the decisions that were made in this town. Fourteen years later, the opportunity to live here and work on pressing issues of nuclear security have made every day an adventure.

Sara Beth’s first trip to DC in 2005.

Like many millennials, my worldview shifted after September 11, 2001. I come from a military family, and my dad had just returned from a deployment a few days prior to 9/11. Our priorities as a family and as a country shifted, and I was able to grow up thinking about national security issues and history as a core part of my life. Because of the experience my dad had in Afghanistan and Iraq, it was always pressed upon me how lucky I was, and still am, to be a young woman who was able to go to school from the age of 5 to 24, studying without fear or intimidation. The politics of education, human rights, defense strategy, and human security intrigued me in school, and I found I could not picture a fulfilling career that did not address at least one of those issues.

While at the University of Georgia, I had the opportunity to take part in the Richard B. Russell Security Leadership Program (SLP) through the Center for International Trade and Security (CITS). I was able to spend a year learning about nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction and applying my knowledge through weekly policy briefs, high value target threat assessments, a major research project, and by assisting with the CITS Security & Strategic Trade Management Academy. They also took us to DC, setting up informational interviews with different organizations or government departments so we could further understand the career opportunities in the field.

My time at CITS was a turning point for me. Beforehand, I knew I was interested in policies surrounding international security, but I did not have any specificity or know how I would go about building a career. The SLP program gave me exactly that and I was hooked on nonproliferation; the idea that a fairly common, civilian dual-use good could also be used as a trigger mechanism for a dirty bomb blew my mind.

Sara Beth and her dad, Command Sergeant Major Roy Marchert, at Dobbins Air Reserve Base.

Knowing I did not have nearly enough knowledge on nonproliferation to begin my career, I decided to go to graduate school, committing a new dual-degree program between the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. I dove headfirst into this program; I did not have any background in Russia or speak Russian, but I felt I needed to push myself outside of my comfort zone & apply myself in order to understand the Russian perspective on nonproliferation and arms control. I was struck by the necessity for cooperation, where we can find it, and the potential there is for cooperation among the next generation of experts in both the United States and Russia.

All of these experiences shaped not only who I am today, but my passion for global security. I think we all have a duty to be a global citizen, doing our best to create a safer world for one another and everyone who will come after us. I’ve been so lucky to find that same passion at the Nuclear Threat Initiative and have continued to grow as an early career professional as I learn and experience new challenges.

The CITS Security Leadership Program at the FBI Headquarters, March 2017.

Currently, I’m a member of the Scientific and Technical Affairs program at NTI, where I focus on the applications of publicly available data and technology to nuclear security. I had little technical experience with data analysis or cybersecurity prior to join the STA team, but it has allowed me to use my fellowship to learn and grow in ways I couldn’t have at a traditional job. The opportunities I’ve been given at NTI have been monumental, from planning a Track 2 meeting in Moscow to discuss cybersecurity around NC3 to attending a conference in Hiroshima at the end of July. I’m incredibly grateful for the support and learning opportunities the Nuclear Threat Initiative has given me so far, and I’m excited to see where this step puts me next in my nuclear journey.

Sara Beth Marchert is a Spring 2019 Scoville Fellow with the Nuclear Threat Initiative.