As the United States wrestles with the threat of another terrorist attack, Kristina Meko is working on a plan.
A technical program analyst with the government contracting firm Booz Allen Hamilton in Arlington, Virginia, Kristina provides technical and programmatic assistance to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Chemical and Biological Division. In other words, Kristina is using risk modeling to assist government decision- and policy-makers in making risk-informed decisions, policies, and strategies in regards to chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear terrorism threats. The report will go to the White House and assist the National Security Council in understanding and prioritizing terrorism risks.
“I feel like the work I do is important,” says Kristina. “I am helping to protect the country, and I get to work with brilliant people who are ahead of the curve in keeping our nation safe. My William and Mary education has certainly gotten me in the door for opportunities I didn’t think I would get, and it’s given me confidence once I’m there.”
The Difference a Couple of Years (and a Great Degree) Can Make
When she graduated from W&M just seven years ago, Kristina says she never would have imagined the course her career has taken.
"I started at William and Mary as a biology major wanting to do medicine,” says Kristina. “Then in my sophomore year I decided to switch gears and pursue a degree in finance. Eventually I began to miss my work in biology, so I landed on a dual major, graduating with a B.B.A. in finance and a B.S. in biology. I was thinking I would pursue a career in pharmacology or the biotech industry."
Kristina’s first job, though, was in the asset management department of a government contracting company, where a whole new set of opportunities began to unfold.
As her job continued to evolve, she became an emergency preparedness consultant, analyzing the risks and benefits of pandemic preparedness plans. In 2006, she decided to go back to school to get a master’s from Georgetown University in biological threat agents and emerging infectious diseases.
Since earning her master’s degree, Kristina has worked on a number of high-level projects including developing a pandemic flu plan for the Federal Housing Finance Agency (successfully tested in an area-wide Washington, D.C., exercise) and writing operations plans for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service laboratories.
"As a scientist, I can talk to other scientists and understand the technical aspects behind a project," says Kristina. "Then my business skills are helpful for process, logistics, marketing, and project management. I very much tap into both of my William and Mary degrees."
Kristina’s Advice for Biology Students
"I would tell biology students to be open-minded," says Kristina. "When I was at William and Mary, I thought I had to step away from biology if I didn’t want to do medicine. I’ve since learned how much I’ve gained from my bio degree. Like problem-solving . . . how to approach, analyze, and solve a problem. I use this skill every day both inside and outside work."
"Biology teaches you not to give up, to be persistent until you get an answer, and use questioning to understand why something didn’t work out," says Kristina. "I’ve benefitted from my William and Mary education more than I ever thought possible. With my liberal arts background, I’m well-rounded to see different perspectives, think outside the box, and think for myself."