Alumni Feature: Marco Calderon ‘05

What college or university did you attend after SAAS (or what did you pursue instead?)

After SAAS I went to UC Berkeley ('09).

What did you major in? Did you get other degrees?

At Berkeley I double-majored in Political Economics and Psychology. Afterward, I got my Masters in International Relations and International Economics at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).  SAAS to SAIS - go figure.

What unique experiences have you had since leaving SAAS? Trips, internships, jobs, etc.

SAIS was a unique experience in itself.  After realizing that I hadn't taken advantage of the extracurricular opportunities that were presented to me at Berkeley, I really made an effort to get involved in everything I could in grad school.  Luckily, my department, Strategic Studies, (essentially military history/leadership) was very active and I had plenty to get sucked into, including field trips to military bases and a leadership course with the Marines down in Quantico.  Over the course of my time there, I was exposed to some pretty incredible people, including Hillary Clinton, Madeline Albright, George Tenet, John Brennan, Joe Biden, Eliot Cohen, John McLaughlin, and many others.

The real highlight of my time at SAIS were what are called "Staff Rides."  Taking after the military tradition of the same name, Staff Rides are a very hands-on way of teaching about decision-making in wartime.  Each trip would take us to the site of the actual battlefields we were studying, where we would present our research in the form of in-character presentations given to the entire group of around fifty participants.  After you present, you're questioned by professors, students, and whomever else wants to get in on the action. To the Honors American Studies students - does this sound familiar?  SAGN trial, anyone?  We had a total of six Staff Rides during my time at SAIS - four domestic, weekend trips to civil/revolutionary war sites, and two international trips over spring break for Napoleon's peninsular campaign (2011) and the Battle of Britain (2012).  These are entirely student-run operations, from logistics to research to execution, and I was lucky enough to work on all of them in some capacity and lead the international trip my second year with a classmate of mine.  We made a video to showcase the trip.  There's truly nothing else like it:

Outside of the Strategic Studies department, I traveled with one of my classes to Korea for nine days to learn about the continuing tensions between the North and South, and what it means for politics, business, and the average citizen.  Coincidentally, we were there when the North shelled Yeonpyeong in 2010.  It was quite the feeling, thinking you were going to be in the middle of the start of World War III.

What are your favorite memories from SAAS? What programs, teams, extracurriculars were you involved in while at SAAS? Who were your most influential teachers at SAAS?

I still have fond (?) memories of cramming for all of the Honors AS projects and tests in Maddie Bolton's ('05) basement with a bunch of other people. We'd be up until 3AM and then go drive around for a while to let off steam and get food. Oddly enough, this seemed to be a wonderfully accurate preview of college study habits... Far less stressful were my days in Advanced Visual Art with April - I really, really enjoyed having the sort of freedom to just create during the day. While I didn't end up in graphic design like I thought I would, everything I learned in those classes has helped me in one way or another throughout my educational and professional career. As enjoyable as Honors AS and Visual Art were, the Alaska trips are still the height of the SAAS experience for me.

I went on two of them - 35 and 27 days long - and, trite as it may sound, they were transforming experiences for me, though I wouldn't realize that for years.  We got lucky on the first one, and during more than a month in Alaska we had only five days of clouds, two of which were light rain.  This is coming off of the previous year's trip where it had apparently dumped almost nonstop.  Couple that with multiple encounters with friendly fishermen that had overfished their limit and needed to offload some of the day's catch and, well, it seemed pretty plush for a trip through the wilderness.  That said, we had our rough patches too, like an 11mile evening hike through the tundra to get to Canuche's cabin in the middle of nowhere, 290mi of the Arctic circle.  There were so many mosquitoes that at any given time it looked like it was snowing.  We had a great game we played to pass the time - see how many mosquitoes you could kill with one slap of one hand, or by opening and slamming shut a book.  The record?  72 with one hand, 512 with the book.  Ugh.  We spent the majority of the second trip convincing Matt Riser ('05) that holes in glaciers were made by ice snakes, which were lethal and not to be messed with.  Melinda Mueller “wing—womaned” this operation like a champion, lending scientific credibility to an otherwise absurd notion, and Matt was wary of holes for a solid half of our time in SE Alaska before someone finally broke the news to him.

The most influential teachers for me were Rob, Joe, and Conner. Coddling teachers are a dime a dozen, but those that really force you outside of your comfort zone in order to grow are few and far between.  There's tremendous value in learning from people who will directly challenge you, make you openly uncomfortable, and force you to argue instead of just present an argument.  Sometimes the learning process was not pleasant (Rob, Joe - that would be my Lexington and Concord moment) but it was invaluable nonetheless.

Where are you now and what do you do? Where do you see yourself in 10 years? How did SAAS help prepare you for your job today?

Since graduating from SAIS in 2012, I have remained in DC and work at a consulting firm as a market analyst. Without getting too far into the weeds, I research defense spending around the world - track who's buying what, how many, and for how much - and use that information to help guide defense contractors' business development and strategy discussions. The defense industry is so localized that it's easy to see myself still in DC ten years from now, though there's a strong pull to return to the Pacific Northwest at some point too. I enjoy what I do and there are a lot of great people here, so it wouldn't be too big of a shame to stick around.

Over the course of my education, one thing that really stuck out for me was how well SAAS prepared us to write going into college.  It's amazing how many people cannot clearly articulate and support an idea, and while we hear so much about how important math and science are (and they are), writing seems to be falling by the wayside.  I was able to skip otherwise required writing courses going into Berkeley because my writing was so strong coming out of SAAS.  Having that sort of fundamental understanding of how to construct and sustain a written argument was crucial during college, and remains so today.