Alumna Q&A: Gillian Evans (F’12) on her time at SFS and her current work at the Lahore University of Management Sciences

Gillian EvansWhy did you decide to come to SFS?

For me, Georgetown SFS was the perfect blend of a city school with a fun student body and a sense of campus community — plus it had an academic program unparalleled for what I wanted to study. I really don’t think there’s another institution that could have offered the resources, community, lifestyle, and opportunities that SFS gave me.

Did you have any mentors or advisors at SFS that made a big impact on you?

I credit Secretary Albright’s class, National Security Toolbox for solidifying my desire to work with international issues, and for impressing upon me both the importance of speaking up, and of speaking with confidence. I owe a tremendous amount to Dean Arsenault, whom I met during her Terrorism & Insurgency seminar my senior fall. She transformed how I write and redefined how I perceive the interplay between security policy, law, human rights, and American leadership. She remains an invaluable source of advice, general knowledge, and frank opinion.

Who are your heroes in real life?

Both my parents taught me to set high expectations for myself, and gave me the latitude to pursue my interests and whatever I loved doing. Most importantly, they taught me to justify my privilege by the choices that I make, and they led by example. I’m extremely grateful for them.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I think it’d be a bit bold of me to identify with any historical figures at this point in my life! But some historical figures of whom I’m a big fan include Ruby Bridges, George Marshall, and Kate Chopin.

What is your favorite memory of your time at SFS?

Summers spent living (and playing!) off campus in the Georgetown neighborhood will always stand out as some of the most fun I had as an undergrad. I loved 4th of Julys in Georgetown. And I don’t think that there’s an honest Hoya who wouldn’t cite Georgetown Day as the greatest day of the entire year, period.

Describe your current role and what makes you most proud about that.

Currently I’m the Syed Babar Ali Fellow at the Lahore University of Management Sciences in Lahore, Pakistan. I work on special initiatives for the university president, like strategic planning, and also with the university-affiliated Babar Ali Foundation, which sponsors education and health-related development projects in Pakistan. Right now, my key project is to reform LUMS’s National Outreach Program, which funds over 100% of tuition for students from underserved communities in Pakistan. It’s an incredibly progressive program that, in my view, outstrips current outreach efforts at any American university. LUMS recruits and coaches applicants from literally every corner of Pakistan, many of them first generation college students from rural areas where private education is a pipe dream. I’m hoping to rework the mentoring, advising, career, and social support for these students, so that they’re better integrated into the campus community and better positioned to capitalize on their LUMS education after graduation. I’m actually drawing a substantial amount of inspiration from the Georgetown Scholarship Program’s efforts to provide support that extends beyond pure financial aid.

How did SFS prepare you for your current role/career?

SFS taught me to think critically about the limits of development efforts and of good intentions. One of my central job challenges is analyzing where I can add value to the university and Babar Ali Foundation that Pakistanis cannot – and on the flip side, recognizing when a project would be better off without my help. This is especially true as an American working on healthcare projects in Pakistan, and with scholarship students from rural areas. SFS made me sensitive to the difference between productive development efforts and misplaced do-gooder impulses, and I’m constantly seeking to apply that to my work in Lahore.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

In my previous job as a federal defense consultant, I learned to build and manipulate dynamic simulation models. It’s not that glamorous or exciting, but proving to myself that I could work with quantitative models and not be intimidated by hard data is probably my greatest achievement since graduation.

Have you travelled extensively? For work or for pleasure? What is your favorite place?

I’ve travelled extensively throughout the Arab Middle East (I have two separate Georgetown study abroad programs to thank for that), and I’ve done some travel in Southeast Asia and Latin America for fun. I’ve barely been to Europe, though, and I’ve never even visited the West Coast! My favorite destinations have been Damascus, Cuzco, and the entirety of Lebanon. But at the end of the day, Nantucket always wins the top spot as my favorite place on earth

Have you spent time in a conflict region? Were you prepared for this experience?

I’m currently living in Pakistan, and several well-traveled Americans whom I respect told me before I left that Pakistan made their short list of countries they refuse to enter. But given my ultimate goal of working in national security policy, I believe I have an ethical responsibility to confront and better understand the impact of armed conflict – and U.S. policy action or inaction – on the civilians who live through it. Where I live in Punjab, load shedding places a greater strain on daily life than conflict and security. Remembering to stay alert and cognizant of my surroundings is a growing effort, especially as I become more comfortable here. Frankly, though, Lahore and the majority of Punjab are isolated from the violent, radicalized Pakistan that Americans watch on CNN, and people shouldn’t think that the majority of Pakistan is an active conflict zone. I think the “bravery” of my decision to move to Pakistan, which Pakistanis constantly invoke, is extremely overblown.

What advice do you have for current SFS students?

Take advantage of Georgetown’s resources while you still have access to them – the professors, the student organizations, and the breadth of quality classes. The quality of the SFS education is unbeatable, and taking the 9am class with an enthusiastic, committed professor is well worth it. Also, practice discomfort – whether it’s by picking an unconventional study abroad location; taking a class with an ideologically dissimilar professor; or serving the community in an environment that initially makes you squirm. Learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable is an invaluable skill after graduation, and one that can open doors.