William & Mary senior Grace Kier ’20 is among a select group of 12 students nationwide to receive a prestigious 2020-21 fellowship to the James C. Gaither Junior Fellows Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), a foreign policy think tank located in Washington, D.C.
Kier, a double major in government and global studies with a concentration on Russian and post-Soviet studies, is scheduled to start her one-year appointment in August.
“I was really excited and grateful to receive the offer and to take it,” Kier said. “I'm really looking forward to working on more of the issues that I care a lot about, in particular all the issues in the Russian and post-Soviet sphere. I'm excited to hopefully work on my Russian language skills a little bit. But I think for me, it's really just been a culmination of all the work I've done on Russia and post-Soviet studies and my government work as well throughout my time at William & Mary.”
Kier, who came to W&M as a 1693 Scholar, was selected to work with the Russia and Eurasia Program at the CEIP. The think tank’s office located on Massachusetts Avenue in D.C. is also the site of W&M’s Washington Center.
“Their Global Russia project is really exciting to me, looking at how Russia is influencing different parts of the world and interacting with other countries, especially outside of its traditional sphere of influence,” Kier said.
Stephen E. Hanson, W&M’s vice provost for international affairs and director of the Reves Center for International Studies, said Kier is “academically brilliant, remarkably knowledgeable about world affairs and a person whose leadership qualities are undeniable.”
“In over 30 years of university teaching and administration, I have never met a student so obviously destined for future success,” Hanson said. “Indeed, I will not be surprised at all when Kier emerges as a significant figure in international politics in the years ahead."
Kier has directed some of her recent studies toward nuclear issues in relation to Russia. Last summer, she interned at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) in Monterey, California, where she learned about all aspects of nonproliferation, the practice of controlling the spread of nuclear weapons.
Masako Toki, senior project manager and senior research associate at CNS, said in a nomination letter: “In addition to her superb academic credentials and commitment to nonproliferation and international peace and security, she has an excellent work ethic. Given her intelligence, good-natured disposition and strong academic background, I am certain she will be successful in every aspect of the James C. Gaither Junior Fellows Program as well as her future endeavors.”
While working at the JMCNS, Kier conducted research on risk-reduction mechanisms and read hundreds of Russian court cases about North Korean individuals operating in Russia. Moreover, Kier and two of her fellow interns co-created a podcast called “Big Nuke Energy” about women working in nonproliferation.
Kier and co-hosts Sam Barnes and Arielle Landau have produced 20 episodes exploring a range of topics and discussing current events as they relate to nonproliferation. The podcast is available on iTunes, Google Play and SoundCloud.
“A lot of podcasts focus on women in different fields that are also great, but we didn't see one that was about women, in particular young women, in nonproliferation, addressing some of the really specific challenges of the field, because it is a very male dominated field and has historically been that way,” Kier said. “I think it's really cool to be able to empower people. What we're trying to do is make it so that these issues which seem really scary and hard to discuss are accessible to everyone.”
W&M sparks interests
Kier’s interest in Russia goes back to her family tree, which has roots in Russia and Ukraine. But it wasn’t until she spent time in William & Mary’s Russian and post-Soviet studies classes that her passion was truly stoked.
“During my sophomore year, I was able to take some more of the cultural and literature classes at the college in the Russian department, and that's what really sparked my interest,” Kier said.
Kier has become more proficient in the Russian language and has made multiple trips to Russia to take part in study abroad programs.
She studied abroad in St. Petersburg on a W&M faculty-led trip in the summer of 2018 and then studied abroad at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) in the fall of 2018 on a Robert M. and Rebecca W. Gates Scholarship. While in Moscow, she took courses on Russian language and politics and also interned at the PIR Center, a Russian think tank that focuses on nonproliferation and other security issues.
“Our Russian department is awesome,” Kier said. “I've been able to pursue all sorts of different things within the department, all different aspects of Russia and Russian language and culture and politics. So I see myself doing something with that. I'm also really interested in nuclear issues. So hopefully I can find a way to merge the two and work on U.S.-Russia arms control or Russia nuclear projects.”
In February 2019, Kier was part of a team that won the Schuman Challenge, a foreign policy contest for undergraduates hosted by the Delegation of the European Union to the United States. The topic was “Supplementing the Minsk agreements: Taking additional steps in support of Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and integrity within its internationally recognized borders.”
Kier also has a passion for journalism. She is a reporting fellow with the Sharp Seminar Collaboration with the Pulitzer Center and editor-in-chief of The Monitor: Journal of International Studies. She recently did an investigative piece on the U.S. Center for SafeSport scheduled for publication on the Pulitzer Center’s website in the coming weeks.
“Starting at the end of 2018 and moving to 2019, there were all these very public issues playing out in figure skating about how men and women were working together and how coaches were treating their students and how partners were treating each other,” Kier said. “I was really interested in that. What my story has kind of morphed into is about the criticism of the U.S. Center For SafeSport, which is a body that was created to address sexual abuse in all Olympic sports, so figure skating and every other sport that you can think of that's in the Olympics.”
As Kier’s successful undergraduate term at William & Mary nears its close, she is ready to start the next chapter in her academic career.
“I truly cannot think of an undergraduate more likely to succeed in the demanding and fast-paced environment of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,” Hanson said. “She has already proven herself as a first-rate analyst of global affairs whose communication skills and work ethic are of the highest caliber.”