2008-09 Diplomacy Fellow at the U.S. Department of State
As AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellows and social scientists, Sharri Clark and Janis Johnston have used their expertise to better understand security and communications issues. They also met some long-admired people along the way.
For Sharri Clark, meeting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was an unforgettable moment. “On her first day at State, many of us gathered in the main lobby to welcome Secretary Clinton,” she says. “When security cleared a path, I wound up on the front line and got to shake her hand.” Sharri, a Fellow in the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the Department of State, has been interested in foreign policy since she first decided to return to graduate school. “I had a career in computers as an IT professional, but decided to take some graduate coursework in archaeology,” she explains. Sharri eventually earned a PhD in anthropology from Harvard University, with expertise in the archaeology of South Asia and the Middle East. That training made her a good match for the State Department.
“I chose State because I wanted to be part of policy development,” she says. “I am interested in how national identity affects politics because how people see themselves affects how they deal with other nations. Cultural differences can have a large impact on relations with other countries. Little things like touching the wrong hand or use of a particular color can leave an impression,” she explains.
Because of her experience in the Middle East, she was asked to develop a strategy for protecting critical infrastructure and resources in those countries. “Infrastructure protection—such as oil refineries—is of national concern,” she explains. Even vaccines or rare minerals could be considered critical dependencies. “Each year we develop a list of these items and engage with countries to protect resources by developing procedures or vulnerability assessments,” she explains.
Sharri has also been working on violent extremism and radicalization, a priority in her office and in the White House. It is an area where she hopes to have an impact. “At State, even though I am a small cog in the machine, I feel like I’m making a contribution.”