TAM graduate, Zack Dunnam, spoke during TAM’s recent 20th anniversary celebrations on the UNC campus. We have published his remarks here so that they can reach a wider audience. It is always exciting to hear alumni stories about the program and about the ways TAM has continued to play a role in their lives and careers.
At the University of Texas, I studied Political Science and pursued my teaching certificate – a career track that I hadn’t truly given much thought about at the time. It wasn’t until I backpacked across Europe with my buddies for the 2006 World Cup and then traveled there again to visit my girlfriend after she finished her study abroad in Spain that my love affair with our neighbors across the pond began.
Luckily, in my junior year they created the European Studies major at UT – and part of the requirement was to study abroad – so I jumped on that right away and did a European Union focused program in Germany the next summer that included working visits to the Balkans and Turkey. I was hooked.
After finishing my Capstone thesis and graduating, there weren’t too many European-focused jobs in Austin, Texas, but luckily, I did find an internship with STRATFOR – a geopolitical research and publishing firm – which allowed me to keep my professional and educational interests alive.
I found TAM pretty much by accident. I made a list of grad schools I wanted to apply to (Georgetown, John Hopkins, yada yada yada). I stumbled across TAM while Googling for masters programs in Europe. It didn’t take me long to realize how perfect it was for me. I loved the concept. True partnerships with other universities in Europe, several study tracks, and the flexibility to pursue a European degree if desired. And the fact that it was a smaller program run by a prestigious public university at a phenomenal price, certainly helped seal the deal.
I decided to pursue the Track II option, which meant I got to spend a full school year in lovely Chapel Hill. I liked my classmates right away. There were about 20 of us and we all bonded quickly.
I loved the classes. They were engaging, rigorous, and interesting –not to mention how wonderful it is to realize that your classmates are just as eager as you are to continue the discussion of Lipset and Rokkan’s cleavage theory with you after class over beers and billiards at the Speak Easy in Carrboro. That kind of thing never happened after my 500-person Psych 101 class at UT.
But as great as Chapel Hill is, we all come to TAM to go to Europe. And it’s easy to focus on and look forward to the abroad experience. But luckily, there is a wonderful faculty and a great director like Sarah to remind you to consider life after TAM – which is why they plan events for you to meet alumni in DC, New York, or Chapel Hill, and to help you look for a summer internship. And that ended up being incredibly important for my current career.
Sarah connected me with a 2004 TAM graduate who worked at an interesting little security and intelligence company based in Annapolis, MD called iJET. The alum and I had a nice phone call, then met in person at a TAM alumni event, and before I knew it – I had plans to come work and live in Annapolis for the summer.
Although my work focused on client management and the business side of things, I asked if I could write an article for the analyst team’s Monthly Intelligence Forecast product. And since it was 2012, I knew just what to write about: how the political and financial effects of the euro-crisis would impact business operations. It read well enough that they asked me to continue monitoring and writing for the European analyst team during my time in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam was phenomenal. Strangely, I was the only student out of our whole class who chose the city. Nevertheless, I found the same level of enthusiasm, engagement, and comradery among my Vrije Universiteit masters classmates as I did at Chapel Hill.
I had a lot of fun in Amsterdam, as one might guess. TAM friends visited me, and I visited TAM friends at their sites – lots of memories made. But the most crucial and memorable part of my experience in Amsterdam was academic. I don’t know if a lot of you guys know this, but Marxist theories aren’t very popular in the US. And it wasn’t ever presented to me as a serious academic approach during my undergrad years, which is a shame, because its contribution and utility to the fields of political science, international relations, and economics vastly outweighs the attention it receives and influence it holds.
So, I have the VU to thank for introducing me to Antonio Gramsci, Robert Cox, Susan Strange, and many others. These days, I think it’s more important than ever to step out of your intellectual comfort zone and seriously engage with another perspective. And that’s what TAM did for me. This has been invaluable in my professional career, but most importantly to my personal growth.
Five years after graduating, I still work at iJET – which officially rebranded to WorldAware in June. I was hired by the TAM grad who recruited me for the summer internship, I worked alongside another TAM grad for my first three years implementing risk management programs for global corporations, and then when I moved to the strategic partnerships department, I hired another TAM grad. We are slowly but surely taking over the business.
The company has more than tripled in size since I began and we’ve gone through three acquisitions – including a competitor of ours based out of the UK. I was well positioned to be sent over to London to meet my new colleagues and help with the integration.
My current job is as a Project Manager for the strategic partnerships division. Right now, I’m working with a major global insurance company based out of Germany on two key projects. One is to build a software development kit that translates and integrates our global intelligence into their mobile app built for the leisure travel market – rolling out in the US first, followed by several European countries soon after. And the second project entails building a geospatial threat and risk aggregation platform to help insurance underwriters monitor their exposure for the millions of properties they ensure globally and then perform predictive analytics to help drive future business decisions.
Albeit not in an academic, political, or policy sense – the transatlantic relationship remains part of my every day. Even in my personal life, I continue to travel and make time to practice my mediocre French over Skype with my friends across the Atlantic. And now that my wife and I are expecting our first child in January, we went out and bought parenting books with titles like “Bringing up Bébé: One American Woman Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting” and “Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children”.
I tell you this to remind you that no matter where your career or life takes you, the things you learn and the friends you make through your transatlantic experience will remain long after TAM ends. And I have this great program and university to thank for helping me find and appreciate them.