The daughter of a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force, Madeline O’Mara, says her family moved all around the country during her childhood. “It was great to see so much of the country and really understand and appreciate how different and unique each place is,” she says. While at Notre Dame, Madeline majored in Political Science, earning the NDISC Certificate along the way. Now a data scientist working with the Department of Defense, we were excited to sit down with Madeline to listen to her story.
Why did you go to Notre Dame?
I knew I was going to get an amazing education at Notre Dame, no matter what I decided to study. I also really wanted to continue my Catholic education at a school where the faith is truly a part of the culture and mission.
Why did you decide to study international relations?
I decided to study international relations late in my college career. I was a Science Business major up until junior year. Everything changed when I studied abroad in London and interned for a Member of Parliament. I loved both the internship and the accompanying British Politics class, and I realized that if I wanted to study political science and pursue a career in that field, I needed to change my major immediately to graduate on time. I was nervous about changing my major so late, but I had a feeling it was the right choice. I'm so glad I did.
How did you discover NDISC?
I first learned about NDISC through Professor Dan Lindley—I took his U.S. Foreign Policy course during the spring of my junior year, and he encouraged me to attend the NDISC lectures based on some of the interests I had shared in his class. I got to know Professor Michael Desch and the other professors while attending the seminars, and I officially became an NDISC fellow my senior year. Before I learned about NDISC, I didn't realize Notre Dame had a specific program that really focused on the topics I was interested in.
Was there a specific class that resonated with you?
My favorite class was U.S. National Security Policymaking. It was a great overview of the most important topics in the national security arena, and I still think a lot about the things I learned in that course. It also was co-taught by three of my favorite professors—Michael Desch, Dan Lindley, and Eugene Gholz—so, it was great learning from all of them at once, and always entertaining.
While you were at Notre Dame, you held several internships, including at the Department of Justice, the U.S. House of Representatives, and the U.K.’s Parliament. What did you learn through these roles?
I was lucky to experience different parts of the national security apparatus through my internships. My internship for a Member of the House of Representatives gave me insight into local issues—especially those veterans face. My Parliament internship gave me insight into the foreign policy of one of our closest allies. My internship at the DOJ was probably the most insightful, as I got to work on domestic security issues. All my internships helped me understand national security better.
After Notre Dame, you continued your Security Studies with a Master’s at Georgetown. How did NDISC prepare you?
I worked full-time and attended Georgetown part-time for my Master's in Security Studies. It was an incredibly busy three years, but I was very prepared for the coursework at Georgetown thanks to NDISC. NDISC ensured that I had a very strong foundation not only in IR theory and the basic concepts of military analysis, but also prepared me for some of my more advanced classes at Georgetown.
You now work at Booz Allen Hamilton, working with the Dept. of Defense and the US Government. How do you bring your NDISC education to work with you?
At Booz Allen, I've been lucky enough to support several different clients in roles that require different skill sets—which has given me additional insight into the national security apparatus. My roles have ranged from all-source analysis focused on the Middle East all the way up to organizational strategy. NDISC's encouragement of critical thinking and problem solving, the range of topics, and the emphasis on theory has enabled me to be successful in all these positions.
What would you tell someone who is considering NDISC, but isn't sure it's the right fit?
Join—you won't regret it! When I joined NDISC as a second semester junior, I had no idea that I was going to meet some of my best friends and future colleagues. There's something for everyone in NDISC: you can really make the experience what you want. In the process, you'll make great friends and have amazing mentors. A strong foundation in foreign policy and national security issues can help you in a variety of careers, even if you don't want to come to D.C.!