Degree: MA, 1991
Location: Washington D.C., U.S.A.
Gina Erickson became involved in international affairs as an Arabic translator in the Army. Her military service was intended to be a way to earn money for college, but it ended up playing a role in her undergraduate and graduate education, both at the University of Minnesota. She continues to use her Arabic skills, as well as French and Spanish, as an informal ice-breaker in her work on oil and other international issues for the U.S. Department of Energy.
What do you do in your job?
It’s hard to put into a sound bite, but our office supports the Secretary of Energy. If the Secretary or Assistant Secretary travels to the Middle East, I’ll write the policy and policy papers on issues that might come up. If there’s an issue the Department of Energy wants to highlight—bilateral or international—I’m one of the writers on Middle East issues.
What do you like best about your work?
I like that I can influence policy based upon consultation with colleagues—I can’t just wing it, of course. And I really enjoy working with foreign ministries. We have a very good relationship with our counterparts across North Africa and in Middle Eastern countries.
What has been your career path?
At the Humphrey, I focused on agricultural economics. When I got out, a consulting firm hired me to work on energy markets. I worked a little bit with FEMA on emergency preparedness and quite a bit with the CIA on climate change and security risks. For a short time, I was with a nonprofit that did energy taxes and, less than a year later, came to the Department of Energy. I was with the Office of the Americas for two years before switching to the Office of Middle East.
Do you have any advice for incoming and current students interested in a career like yours?
Don’t limit yourself to one track because you might not like it. Every time I took a class, I would take off on another tangent. When I came to D.C., people said I had an “eclectic background,” but it was based on what I wanted to know more about. Some people can’t handle that chaotic, no-plan path, but I really benefited from going with my instinct. It has served me well in the end and has given me lots of options.
March 15, 2012