CNS Alumni: Risa Mongiello

Updated: January 11, 2010

Risa Mongiello, MA IPS 2005

CNS Alumni | Charles Mahaffey | Risa Mongiello | Mary Beth Nikitin

My interest in the area of nonproliferation and disarmament began in the summer of 2002 when I received a grant from my undergraduate institution, Scripps College, to study peace and conflict resolution organizations and institutes. I went abroad to Italy and Mexico to work for a small non-governmental organization (NGO) and participate in a symposium on mediation and conflict resolution.

While in Italy, I worked for the “Disarmament Archive,” a small academically affiliated NGO in Rome that focused primarily on the disarmament of small arms and light weapons (SALW) in the African region. It also analyzed the impact of violence, the illicit trade of SALW and child soldiers on communities worldwide. My work included research, the translation of documents and reports from Italian into English and travel to various workshops and seminars around northern Italy.

After my experience in Rome, I traveled to Monterrey, Mexico to participate in the International Institute for Mediation and Conflict Resolution (IIMCR), a program co-sponsored by the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS). While there, I learned various skills and techniques in the field of mediation and conflict resolution and also learned more about MIIS.

Upon graduating in the spring of 2003 from Scripps College, I took an internship at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) at MIIS as an undergraduate intern for the summer. While at CNS, I worked for the International Organizations and Nonproliferation Program (IONP) doing research and updating the Inventory of International Nonproliferation Organizations and Regimes. It was an invaluable experience that I really enjoyed and learned a lot from. By the end of the summer, I was offered a CNS scholarship to begin my Master’s degree in International Policy Studies with a focus on Nonproliferation.

During the two-year Master’s program in Monterey, I continued working for CNS at IONP. In my third semester, I participated in the International Professional Service Semester (IPSS) at the United Nations Department for Disarmament Affairs (UNDDA) in New York. In retrospect, this was one of the best experiences I had while at MIIS and one that I would highly recommend to prospective students. I worked in the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Branch as the “Monterey intern,” a position highly valued and respected by UNDDA. CNS has a long-standing relationship with the Department as it continually sends talented individuals from Monterey to the U.N. every year. I felt special in a way because I knew I was coming from a great background and that I was well qualified for the post. My experience at the U.N. also reinforced the fact that I was going to a great school. I continually came across people who would say, “Oh, you’re from the Monterey Institute? I’ve heard it’s a great program! You’re getting an excellent education in International Policy and especially in Nonproliferation.”

In terms of the IPPS semester at UNDDA, there are few words that can describe how much I enjoyed my experience at the U.N. Before I moved to New York, I was nervous, not knowing what to expect. It was the first time I had really lived in a large, metropolitan city doing the nine-to-five routine, but it was great! New York has so much to offer and the internship taught me a lot. I worked on several projects related to the First Committee of the General Assembly, which focuses on International Security and Disarmament related issues. I also attended sessions of the Security Council and the Sixth Committee, which was the international legal body of the U.N. One of the highlights of the experience was simply being in such an international environment and learning the ropes of how a big organization like the U.N. works. Similar to any large organization or company, there was bureaucracy and at times, it was difficult to get things done. Nonetheless, I always felt proud to say that I was working there because I believed in the mission of the organization. And even though the U.N. was under increasing scrutiny and criticism at that time, I still enjoyed my experience there. I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in international security related issues.

After my internship in New York, I returned to Monterey for my final semester of school. Some of the best classes I took while at MIIS were in that last semester. I took seminars on Nonproliferation in the Middle East, Terrorism Involving WMD and International Negotiations, all of which gave me both practical experience and academic enrichment.

After graduating from MIIS in May 2005, I moved directly to Washington, D.C. to participate in the Nonproliferation Graduate Program (NGP) at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). It is a one-year fellowship and I am still currently working at the NNSA for the Office of Global Security Engagement and Cooperation. My work focuses primarily on international cooperation and the fulfillment of various bilateral safeguards agreements and arrangements with approximately 12 countries worldwide. When I came on board, I felt well prepared for the post because after my experience at MIIS, I had an excellent understanding of the major nonproliferation and international security issues relevant to the work of my office.

In October 2005, I had the opportunity to travel to China to help facilitate the U.S.-China Integrated Nuclear Material Management Technology Demonstration in Beijing, a two-week workshop sponsored by both the U.S. and China. The project focused on the integration of nuclear material control and accounting and physical protection techniques to help secure nuclear facilities in China. It was a huge success for both the Americans and the Chinese and it helped lay the foundation for continued cooperation with China in the future. And of course, the trip to China was the highlight of my NGP experience!

To make a long story short, my education at CNS and MIIS prepared me well for the field of nonproliferation and international security. The combination of academic and professional experience was invaluable and helped me land my first real job in D.C. And for that I am very thankful!

I hope you will consider the Monterey Institute and the Center for Nonproliferation Studies for your graduate career.

Risa Mongiello

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