Interview: Don Rassler, Senior Editor (2006-2007)

Why did you get involved in the Journal?

I sought out an opportunity with the Journal because I was interested in scholarship and wanted to learn more about the ins and outs of the editing and academic journal production process. I was also drawn to the Journal’s prestigious reputation, and I knew the opportunity at JIA would help me grow. 

What was your role on the Journal, what did that entail?

I was a senior Editor. In this role, I was responsible for leading and managing the production (along with my co-Senior Editor) of one of the Journal’s two, biannual issues. From an operational perspective, this involved overseeing the various nuts and bolts of the publication process, such as managing timelines, developing workflows, soliciting articles, and line/copy editing articles, that are needed to bring a journal issue to print. 

Were there any particularly memorable moments or accomplishments during your time at the Journal?

When I look back, the accomplishment that stands out the most is our work on the Iran issue (Spring/Summer 2007), a topic which is just as relevant today as it was a decade ago. And my most memorable JIA experience was working on that issue across every step of the production process - from initial idea generation and working directly with authors to the editing and final production process. This included interacting with Mohammad Javad Zarif--Iran's current Foreign Minister, who at the time of our issue was serving as Iran's Ambassador to the United Nations. Given that we were all graduate students who were working at JIA on our spare time, I am quite proud of the issue we produced, especially since it was the first time many of us had been involved with such an effort.   

What about your JIA experience did you enjoy most and why? 

All of the time I spent in JIA’s windowless office gritting it out with my JIA colleagues as we bonded over coffee or late night pizza and tried to create something meaningful from scratch. I enjoyed this experience the most because: 1) we developed and brought our ideas to life and 2) we suffered together as we did so.  

Describe your current occupation, including title and actual duties. 

I am the Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. In my role, I manage various special projects, conduct research on pressing terrorism and counterterrorism questions, provide advice to senior national security decision-makers, and help our small organization to smartly develop and grow. 

How did you go from JIA/SIPA to where you are now? (Thinking back to graduation, is this where you thought you would be in life?)

I made it where I am now through a mixture of hard work, determination, and luck. After graduating from SIPA, I worked for a period as a consultant in DC, but then one day I got a call from a former SIPA professor of mine, who was going to take over as CTC Director. He knew that I had a strong desire to work in the terrorism studies or in the counterterrorism field, and he encouraged me to apply for the CTC job. That was the luck part, especially because I had not served in the military, did not have an intelligence or operational background, and did not have a PhD. 

After being selected for the position, I worked my tail off to establish myself in a Center filled with loads of talent, which was not a small feat. I did so by being opportunity-minded, humble, and entrepreneurial in my approach. What this has meant in practice is that I have had to be dogged, overly prepared, and good at identifying gaps, seams, and solutions. I have also found that bringing a value-added mindset has been key to my journey and success, as many people will just do what is asked of them instead of looking for, anticipating, or proposing new or alternative directions or pathways that could enhance existing efforts more.   

In what way, if at all, did your time at JIA affect your post-SIPA life?

A significant portion of my job involves research and the research/writing/editing process, so the skills and hands-on exposure I gained at JIA have all been immensely valuable to me and my career. Most importantly, my time at the journal pushed me to care a lot more about, and be a whole lot more discerning and critical of, how arguments and analytical products are structured. These skills are immensely valuable. 

What advice—life, career, or otherwise—do you have for current Journal (or SIPA) students?

Be entrepreneurial, and seek out gaps and always find ways to add value. Create your own opportunities if you need to. Be a life-long learner. Take risks. Continue to challenge yourself physically and intellectually. Spend time developing your research and writing skills, and take those crafts very seriously so you can make more important, impactful, and hopefully more lasting contributions.