University at Albany

Q & A

Stanislava P. Mladenova, MPA ’05

Lead Instructor, Security Sector Education Team
United States Institute of Peace
Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding

Gen. John R. Allen, former commander of the
International Security Assistance Force,
Afghanistan, recognizes Stani for her work.
Stanislava Mladenova traces her interest in international affairs back to a young age. Stani, who came to the U.S. from Bulgaria as a 15-year-old high school student, recalls, “That experience taught me how important it was to be able to adapt and understand the perspectives of two different cultures. With that came a sense of curiosity about how people in different places view the world around them and a responsibility to work to improve the lives of others.” The desire to make the world a better place continues to drive Stani. She’s spent five years working for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as an analyst in Brussels and a political advisor to the NATO ambassador in Afghanistan. She was also responsible for running daily operations for the Afghanistan Rising Initiative (ARI) at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., a highly respected think tank that promotes constructive U.S. leadership and engagement in international affairs. As liaison for ARI, she served under one of the United States’ most respected diplomats, James B. Cunningham, former ambassador to Afghanistan and Israel. Today she is the lead instructor for security sector education team at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) Academy for international conflict management and peacebuilding in Washington, D.C., an independent, nonpartisan, federally funded organization that works to prevent, mitigate, and resolve violent conflict around the world. In this role, Stani trains advisors who are supporting the development of institutional and operational-level capacity missions. At the USIP Academy, Stani is able to share the real-world experience she’s gained working in the field with students in a classroom setting.

How did Rockefeller College prepare you for a career in international affairs?

Examining equipment remaining from
the Soviet presence in Afghanistan
Rockefeller helped me to better understand how to think about problems and issues, analyze them, and provide solutions. Much work in international affairs involves analysis that asks why a policy is shaped in a certain way, who the policy impacts, and how it might it be improved. Students need to know how to recognize the gray areas and be able to provide more clarity and understanding on issues to senior policymakers. This is something that is needed in all policy work, domestic and international.

What global experience did you gain as a student?

During the summer between my first and second year as an MPA student, I had the opportunity to complete an internship with a USAID-sponsored project in Bulgaria which focused on transparency and accountability in government. I remember going to conferences and taking notes for the chief of our project. Listening to the issues firsthand, and then hearing the discussion once back at the office, I learned a great deal about politics within and between governments.

What skills did you learn in your MPA coursework that have proven useful in your past and current professional positions?

Teaching English in Istalif, Afghanistan
At Rockefeller, I learned how to analyze information and communicate with an audience. These are essential skills as we spend most of our professional life using them to achieve our goals, whether it is to express a brand new idea or propose an improved solution. Another skill I learned is to put issues in perspective, more specifically the ability to reach across audiences and colleagues whose circumstances and context are different than our own. This is essential in policymaking as we must always consider all sides to the issue at hand. This was particularly true in my work with the military, where oftentimes I served as the bridge between the civilian and military worlds and had to balance their differing sets of priorities.

What advice would you give to a student who wants to pursue a career in international affairs?

My first piece of advice would be to get international exposure as soon and as often as possible, without worrying too much that it is not in the right geographical location or focus that you might want to pursue ultimately. Second, I’d advise someone to find a good mentor in the field of international affairs, whether through school or a current job or project. Finally, I’d recommend developing the ability to present one’s ideas verbally and in written form. Can you write a short memo? Can you persuade a colleague who has an opposing view? Can you negotiate a win-win deal? Can you make a decision with limited information? Can you inspire and empower your team or colleagues to do and be their best in the most difficult of circumstances when morale is down? These abilities are invaluable.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 Rockefeller College News Magazine.