In 2013, Blake Stilwell graduated from the public diplomacy program (now public diplomacy and global communications). This unique dual-degree program is hosted by the Newhouse and Maxwell schools, where students gain a master’s in both international relations (IR) and public relations (PR).
“The Newhouse School gives its students a broad view of their intended field of study.”Blake Stilwell G’13
After graduating from Syracuse University, Stilwell began his post-public diplomacy career at the Near East Foundation. There, he worked as a communications fellow, communications officer for the Middle East & Africa, and finally was promoted to media officer for the entire organization. Stilwell now works as associate veteran jobs editor for Military.com.
How did you obtain your current position?
I was asked to apply for my current position after taking a number of freelance writing assignments at Military.com. Before that, I was freelancing for a number of publications after my work was syndicated in a number of different places. I spent more than a year as a freelancer before taking a staff position. I was hired because my main beat—veteran jobs—is a very specific area, doesn’t often find wide appeal, and finding an interesting angle on old stories is really my strong suit.
I started my writing career as the managing editor of the military entertainment site We Are The Mighty, whose editorial and creative voice I helped develop.
Before my public diplomacy program, I worked in media and entertainment, including ABC News, NBC Olympics, HBO Sports, and even spent two years at the White House.
What’s an average day like for you on the job?
I start my day with a roundup of the current news in general, and then check on the markets and employment news. Then, I follow up with what’s happening in the Military-Veteran community as a whole, especially taking note of the stories our site has published that day.
I spend the rest of my day writing pieces relevant to my beat, going back and re-editing older pieces in the channel to keep them fresh and in line with our current style. I also conduct interviews and meet with people on many days.
How do you feel Newhouse prepared you for your current job?
I have always said the Newhouse School gives its students a broad view of their intended field of study, so I was prepared with the hard skills needed for what I do all the time, on both sides of the PR relationship. As a media officer, I knew what our stakeholders needed to see to feel good about what we were doing. As a writer and journalist on the other side of that, I know how to get the information I need and how to gather the essential elements necessary to keep my pieces concise, interesting, and readable.
Did Newhouse open your eyes to new professions or aspect of your field you may have not considered when applying?
The interesting part of the public diplomacy program is that public diplomacy itself is such a wide open, vaguely defined field of work that almost anything can be a bridge between two cultures. I didn’t realize this when applying, but the idea of political changes being made through cultural exchanges is a very interesting prospect. I also never considered that the skill I learned in the military—audio-visual production—could be used to great effect in an international development non-profit.
How did the Newhouse Career Development Center aid you?
What I love about the Newhouse CDC is that they are the glue that keep Newhouse alumni together in the most basic professional sense. As someone who covers a jobs beat, I can attest to how important it is to get an edge in getting that big job. When the CDC sends out its alumni openings, Newhouse looking for Newhouse, it reminds me that I’m part of a group that really values its own core training and principles and really acts on that value.
What are some obstacles or misconceptions about your field that students ought to be aware of?
I think the biggest obstacle or misconception that people may have about international development work, or working in public service, is that their skills may not be needed. There could be many useful volunteers out there who think that only doctors, farmers, scientists, engineers and the like are the only professions needed to help develop other countries.
But everyone who’s interested in development or building relationships between two societies should know that almost any skill can be used to help develop a country. If you’re a hairdresser, you can train women to use this skill the world over, and it helps them enter the marketplace with a relatively low barrier to entry. If you know marketing, there are a lot of new businesspeople who will soak up principles of marketing they can use in their communities. The possibilities are endless.
What moments in your career have been most exciting or defining thus far?
Although I love being a writer in the military-veteran space, I think some of my favorite moments have been working with local municipalities to see the innovative ways some people have overcome the unique challenges faced where they are.
In the Middle East, for example, the Near East Foundation has worked to bring Israeli and Palestinian Farmers together on both sides of the border to help develop the olive and olive oil sectors, called Olive Oil Without Borders. While this is primarily an economic development program, the peacebuilding applications of it are difficult to ignore. I have seen Israeli and Palestinian youth come together for the first time. Watching 70-plus years of animosity slip away as they meet and get to know each other is perhaps one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen.
What advice do you have for current or incoming students?
I always say start networking as soon as possible. Get to know everyone you can. Be an active member of the student community and make friends with everyone. Many of your classmates will go on to do great things. You may go on to do great things. Everyone reaches their potential with a little help and it may be one of your old classmates who give you that helping hand one day – and then you’ll be able to help someone in turn.