Political science alumnus Nate Wilson working for the cause of peace in Libya
He won’t soon forget the splendor of the more than 2,000-year-old Roman ruins standing in the twilight on his return trip north.
Sightseeing opportunities such as that are a perk of his job, but they’re hardly the reason he came to the Mediterranean coast of Africa.
Rather, the University of Missouri–St. Louis graduate has been working since October as a program officer for the United States Institute of Peace, overseeing peace-building projects in Libya while stationed, for the time being, in the nearby and more stable capital of Tunisia.
“We are refining our strategy for USIP’s work in Libya, as well as managing project implementation,” Wilson wrote in an email interview.
The country remains embroiled in conflict and chaos six years after Muammar al-Qaddafi’s ouster, which ended 42 years of authoritarian rule. There are intensifying geographical and political divisions between the east, west and south in the country, and terrorist groups and armed militias have been exploiting the turmoil.
“Events in Libya happen very fast, but our experience tells us that certain peace-building activities will be impactful,” Wilson said. “For example, we train youth and others to undertake local reconciliation efforts to reduce tensions in society and transform how Libyans regard the conflict. We also build skills and knowledge of police officials to reform the criminal justice sector more effectively.”
Working with local and international organizations to stabilize Libya and support inclusive reconciliation efforts can help undermine violent actors and promote peace.
“Conflict is part of the human experience, but there are ways to deal with it without violence,” Wilson added. “The mission is to promote this idea there, which will serve the causes of stability and peace in Libya as well as the region. Ultimately, a robust peace is important for Libyans, key allies in Europe and for the United States.”
Wilson began working for the U.S. Institute of Peace while still in graduate school at American University in October 2011.
USIP is a congressionally funded organization, but it operates independent of the government. Its mission is to prevent and mitigate the impact of violent conflict around the globe by engaging directly in affected areas and providing analysis, education and resources to the people there working for peace.
Wilson started as a research assistant, and was hired full time as a program assistant working as the point of contact for Countering Violent Extremism courses in the United Arab Emirates in 2012. He was promoted to senior program specialist in 2014 and remained in that role until the fall.
His interest in international affairs, particularly involving the Muslim world, could better be traced to his senior year at St. Louis University High School in 2001.
“I had great teachers who helped to broaden my outlook on the world,” he said. “And over time I began to understand that the attacks in New York City were a sign that the world was changing. Then came the wars, and people in the news began to talk about Islam quite a bit more, and the ideology that fueled people like Osama Bin Laden. I did not think that the whole picture was being captured in our political discourse but also did not have a framework with which to understand why people were taking different, seemingly wildly opposing stances.”
Wilson didn’t jump right into pursuing that question. After graduating from high school, he enrolled in business school at Loyola University Chicago only to quit the program less than two years later.
He returned to St. Louis and went to work for several years. It was during that time he came to realize how much reading about world politics interested him.
“I found UMSL was the perfect school for serious students who are there to get an education,” he said. “I had already had the college experience so it served my purposes well, especially considering its cost was less than other schools.
“Looking back, I actually have more appreciation for it as a university because, while I did not partake in sports, for example, the education I got there was very good. They offer a wide variety of teachers with diverse political viewpoints. It was also a space where one was free to present controversial opinions and consider them critically.”
He pointed to professors such as Marty Rochester, Ruth Iyob and Barbara Graham as particularly influential. Rochester shared his keen observance of international relations. Iyob helped him think through questions and exposed him to Alexis de Tocqueville. Graham taught him to study Supreme Court cases and helped him understand debates and how they change over time.
Wilson – whose wife, Danielle, also works overseas running women’s protection and empowerment projects for the International Rescue Committee – finished his degree in 2010 and enrolled in graduate school at American University in Washington later that year.
“The U.S. Foreign Policy program appealed to me because it focused on the history of U.S. relations abroad, as well as modern ways we engage in the world,” he said. “This is something that I wanted to know more about, especially with respect to the Arab and Muslim worlds. American also was located in D.C., which was crucial to understanding national institutions and people in our capital.”
His original goal was to join the U.S. Department of State and work as a diplomat – something that might still be part of his future. But he has since discovered myriad ways of working on international affairs.
He was a student at American in 2011 when a friend working there introduced him to USIP. He saw the organization was hiring research assistants, and the job paid – a rarity for internship-type positions in Washington.
“When I came on board at USIP I was amazed at how relevant peace-building work is to the national security of the United States,” he said. “I find it to be at the nexus of development, diplomacy as well as military force. U.S. interests are served when we can support people working for peace abroad, in tough places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
“This job has been a great education in broadening my thinking about how peace is possible and how it is in the interests of the United States.”
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