Alumni Profiles Series: Natalya Wallin

 April 23, 2014

Natalya Wallin

Tell us about yourself.

I received a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) from Duke Graduate School in 2010 and am currently a Master of Public Policy Candidate at the University of Chicago Harris School, a DACOR Fellow, former International Affairs Staff Writer and newly appointed Executive Editor of the Chicago Policy Review. I am also serving as Student Advisory Board Member of the newly launched Center for Policy Entrepreneurship at the Harris School which is a critical initiative to help students master the politics of policymaking.

What professional or career plans did you have in mind as you were completing your graduate degree here?

While completing my MALS degree, I thought I might want to do a Ph.D. that would allow me to focus on Eastern European studies and human rights. Instead I ended up doing a White House Internship for the Obama administration which gave me my first taste of DC politics and policy.

What have you been doing since you graduated?

After the White House Internship I had the opportunity to work at the U.S. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons – first as a Public Affairs Specialist and then as Special Assistant to the Ambassador. During my time there, it became clear to me that I wanted a background in public policy so that I could really have a voice in strategic decision making and policy planning. I wanted to look at underlying issues impacting vulnerability, and had a fire in my gut about wanting to do something about poverty, access to education, and economic opportunity, especially for women and girls.

With the support of Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, Senior Coordinator at the State Department Laura Rundlet, and Dr. Martin Miller at Duke, I went to University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and started their MPP program in the Fall of 2013. My first year at Harris has been pretty much a full-immersion experience in economics and statistics. That’s not my background and the Harris School has some amazing professors in those fields so it definitely whipped me into shape. I wouldn’t exactly say I enjoyed every minute of it especially around finals, but it was exactly what I needed.

Tell us more about your current work. What is your favorite thing about what you do? What are you looking forward to, professionally?

In between exams and problem sets, I’ve got several activities and projects right now that I’m excited about as I finish up my first year at Harris, prepare for a summer internship in Kosovo, and think about plans for next year!

Chair of first ever Ready for Hillary event in Chicago!
My favorite project this month is Chairing the first ever Ready for Hillary event in Chicago on Thursday, June 5. I never thought I would be chairing something like this, but I believe we need more women in higher office (we’re not even close to 50% representation in public office). And it’s easy for me to say that we need more women in those positions, but I realized I needed to put some skin in the game and personally support a woman I believe in. I was really impressed with Hillary Clinton when she served as Secretary of State and saw how she supported efforts to empower women and girls and to fight human trafficking. She has the brains and the heart for the job and I think it’s time for a woman in the White House, so I’m working with a great team to get this first event off the ground and I’m happy to share the press release and RSVP link here! 

Executive Editor, Chicago Policy Review:
For the first year I was an International Affairs staff writer for the Chicago Policy Review and am now serving as Executive Editor. Writing for the Chicago Policy Review gave me opportunities to engage policy debates outside the classroom on issues like chemical weapons, NSA surveillance, human trafficking in Guyana, and counterterrorism efforts. It’s really given me a chance to look at issues that I want to tackle down the road.

Clinton Global Initiative 2014 Commitment:
This year my two teammates, Mary Desmond and Nora Bouacha, and I took a proposal to the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) in Phoenix and had the chance to present. We are now following up on our proposal and are launching GirlsInsight with the goal of developing and implementing an app in Chicago to empower women and combat trafficking. We are currently developing a facebook page so people can stay in touch and follow our progress. We met so many incredible people at CGIU and we’re excited to work with partners and sponsors to see if we can create a common-sense, sustainable product to pilot in Chicago.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Someone at the White House told me when I was an intern to always treat colleagues and co-workers with respect; the people you work and study with today might be reviewing your resume or writing a recommendation for you down the road.

Any advice you’d like to share with current graduate students at Duke?

In a recent interview I did with Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson of Gary, Indiana, she told me that the best career advice she ever received was “don’t take yourself too seriously,” and her advice to others was to keep a good sense of humor about life. I think that’s pretty solid advice, especially since it can be really easy to get caught up in titles and degrees.

What is one of your favorite memories of Duke?

Warm North Carolina nights sitting on the Chapel steps with friends, taking a course with Dr. Martin Miller in the History Department, and all the outdoor social events. I realize now how much I enjoyed the beautiful campus and long summers after living through a Chicago winter!

[Note: the original "Ready for Hillary" press release and RSVP link have been updated to reflect a change in the program date. See this article in the Chicago Sun-Times for more information.]


Abbie Langston
Abbie Langston, Ph.D.

Ph.D. Candidate

Abbie Langston is a former intern in the Office of Graduate Student Affairs, and will receive her Ph.D. from the Graduate Program in Literature in December 2014.