Alumni Spotlight | Amy Kramer '18
Amy Kramer graduated from Duke this past May, earning her degree as a Robertson Scholar in Public Policy and Political Science. This fall, she will begin her Masters in Global Affairs in Beijing as a Schwarzman Scholar. Amy was also recently elected by Duke undergraduates in February 2018 to serve a two-year term on Duke University's Board of Trustees. While at Duke, Amy was a member of the Duke Program in American Grand Strategy Undergraduate Council for four years. As a sophomore, she also conducted research in Rwanda and Israel on women's empowerment in conflict resolution. Building on her experience in Army ROTC, Amy recently earned the Highest Distinction for her senior thesis, which evaluated the impact of female leadership in Army ROTC programs nationally. In 2017, Amy worked at Fort Knox to help write a National Diversity Strategy for Cadet Command.
In between Alaskan excursions and summer classes at Hertog, Amy took time to interview with us about her AGS experience, transition from Duke and vision for the future...
Q. You're a recent graduate, but for those who don't know you, why don't you tell us a little about yourself?
A. I just graduated this past May but love Duke so much, I didn’t want to leave. Since graduation, I’ve been working as a research assistant for Duke Government Relations all summer and also giving tours for the Duke Undergraduate Admissions Office. While at Duke, I double majored in Public Policy and Political Science, and largely through AGS, I discovered my passion for studying gender and security. As a Robertson Scholar, I traveled to several countries after my sophomore year to interview female government and military leaders in order to better understand the role of women’s empowerment in conflict resolution. I built on that research after my junior year and worked for Cadet Command at Fort Knox and helped them write a National Diversity Strategy. My senior thesis (which I hope is only the beginning of work on this topic) evaluated the impact of female leaders in ROTC programs nationally. Extracurricularly, I was a member of Army ROTC for 4 years (although have not yet Commissioned into the Army due to having needed a few foot surgeries while at Duke). I was also a member of several pre-professional women’s organizations, including serving as a Cohort Executive Officer in the Penny Pilgram George Women’s Leadership Initiative. Through AGS, I’ve served on the Undergraduate Council for four years and helped lead the 2017 international staff ride to Vietnam. I love music and was the principal bassoonist in the Duke Symphony Orchestra. I also love good TV political dramas and actually taught a House Course with fellow AGS-er Matthew King titled “Intro to Foreign Policy Through the West Wing!” We watched episodes of Aaron Sorkin’s West Wing and then lectured on various aspects of foreign policy depicted in each episode. (The course has been picked up and implemented in at least two high schools in the country so far as well!) In my free time, you can almost assuredly find me tweeting, eating Chipotle, or watching a Duke basketball game with friends.
Q. Looking back on your time at Duke and with AGS, what would you say was the most valuable lesson you learned?
A. At Duke I definitely learned to take advantage of opportunities. There are a lot of them at Duke, but sometimes you have to find them and not hesitate to accept when they come along. (And to keep applying even when you get rejected!) Never sit on the sidelines.
Through AGS, I learned to take advantage of the network and follow up. Whether it is an AGS alum’s couch in DC (the best couches) or leveraging a guest speaker’s connections to get a job, the AGS community is bound by similar experiences and a commitment to grand strategy. Dr. Feaver frequently says he wants to be a professor for alumni. Stay in touch. Be an active member of the community. Continue to participate in staff rides, if your schedule allows. Attend events when you’re in the area. Donate. Agree to mentor others. However, it’s all worthless if you don’t follow up. Knowing how to make small talk during cocktail hours and give an elevator pitch of your research when introducing yourself at dinners is all important... But if you don’t email those guest speakers who inspire you to thank them immediately after the event, they will not remember you. Adopting a commitment to following up is probably the most important lesson that I’ve learned through AGS and essential to being a good leader.
Q. AGS provides students with consistent opportunities to interact with prominent figures in the national security arena. The goal is to help students develop strong networking and interpersonal skills... but sometimes there is a learning curve. Any embarrassing stories you'd like to share?
A. I don’t really have an embarrassing story, but I am only 5’0” tall (in case anyone hasn’t noticed) and most national security figures who visit campus are north of 6-feet so I’ve definitely been at cocktail hours where it seems every tall person at Duke decided to join my circle and the conversation ends up happening in a different atmosphere. I guess my only advice is to wear heals, project your voice, and know that dinner will come soon and every one will eventually sit down.
Q. Did you meet anyone during your time at AGS who deeply inspired you? Tell us about them and what about their life impacted you.
A. Emma Campbell-Mohn was an AGS-legend two years older than me who basically mentored me through all my course selections, academic decisions, and pre-professional crises while at Duke. She mentored me under one condition — that I would take the time to mentor others in a similar way, which I have actively tried to do. She was also Duke’s first Schwarzman Scholar and encouraged me to apply as well. While I can of course name many famous AGS speakers who visited campus and deeply inspired me, I think peer mentorship has absolutely been the most valuable part of the AGS program. Getting to know upperclassmen (like Emma) but also graduate and PhD students (like LTC Jaron Wharton), War College Fellows, and alumni has had the most direct and positive impact on my life. If I had to name a single AGS speaker (this is difficult because there have been so many), I think the private dinner with Condoleezza Rice was the most inspiring because I asked a question about the impact of women in diplomacy and asked for advice for other women who seek entrance into male-dominated fields. Condi’s answer was nothing short of inspiring and motivated every woman in the room. I think that was also my final AGS event, so definitely the single best way to graduate from the program.
Q. Do you wish there was anything you could go back and change about your time at Duke or with AGS? What would you do differently if you had another chance?
A. I was actually new to national security and foreign policy when I came to Duke. My initial interest was in economics and business, but after attending several AGS events, I quickly realized that I’m far more interested in the application of economics through public policy than the theory of economics itself. I soon switched my major to Public Policy, later picked up a Political Science double major, and haven’t looked back. Although I have attended nearly every AGS event during my time at Duke, served as an Undergraduate Council member for all four years of my Duke career and was a member of ROTC, I still felt insecure at times about my knowledge of the national security field. Early in my Duke career, I spent hours deliberating whether or not to take certain courses with Dr. Feaver or others because I was afraid I didn’t have enough background knowledge in the material to have a competent voice in the class. There were one or two classes for which I never got off the waitlist precisely because I spent two much time doubting my preparedness before applying. I still thought of myself as new to national security and foreign policy. I had discovered my interest in college and beyond a cursory following of current events in high school, I was more or less starting from scratch. I kept going to just one more AGS event or reading one more book to be better prepared... If I could go back and change one thing about my time at Duke and with AGS, I would have engaged sooner, despite any perceived knowledge gap. You are at Duke to learn and you were accepted to Duke because you have the aptitude to learn. You only have four years. Eight semesters. Approximately only 32 chances to have doors open to a new passion and your life changed by a professor. If I could do Duke over, I would do a better job at taking classes with Duke’s most brilliant professors and not worry so much about earning graduation requirements. I would apply for the AGS international staff ride as a freshman. Most importantly, I would be more confident in my own ability to learn and my capacity to do the work. Other people certainly won’t stop to doubt themselves. You can’t learn if you’re not in the room where it happens (yes that’s a Hamilton reference).
Q. You will be headed to China soon, correct? Tell us more about what you'll be doing and what you're most excited about.
A. Yes! I am off to Beijing in mid-August to earn my Masters degree in Global Affairs as a
Schwarzman Scholar. I am so excited and will actually be traveling with two other Duke students (and AGSers), Aron and Riyanka. I have been taking private Mandarin lessons for the last few months to prepare, but I have so much more to learn. I’m probably most excited for the people. The scholarship has been described to me as “AGS-on-steroids.” The focus of the program is really about leadership development so I can’t wait to learn from all the other scholars and the guest speakers throughout the next year. Beyond the Schwarzman, what do you think next steps will look like? I’m not exactly sure yet, but I am pursuing a career related to analysis, consulting, strategy, and policy implementation within foreign policy and national security fields. I will probably begin in private sector defense before eventually moving to the public sector in government one day. I also plan to continue my undergraduate thesis through a PhD program, so that is also on the horizon. With this said, I am purposefully going to China with an open mind and no plans so that I
may retain the largest number of options. No matter what I do, I want to constantly learn new things.
Q. If anything was achievable, what would be your highest career or life aspiration?
A. My life aspiration is to be a women at the top of my field, inspiring more women to follow in my footsteps.
Q. In what ways did your time with AGS prepare you for those goals?
A. AGS helped me discover my passion for studying gender and security and connected me to the female leaders I aspire to be. I have been surrounded by peers from whom I have learned so much and with whom I have accomplished more than I could have ever imagined. Most importantly, I have been presented with so many opportunities to grow and have been mentored through it all.
Q. Whether inspirational or practical, what advice would you give to AGS students today?
A. Engage and contribute early on, mentor those who follow you, and constantly seek knowledge.