Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Student Spotlight: Aaron Pluto

Aaron Pluto is a current MIPP student and Foreign Area Officer who has served two combat tours in the U.S. Army. Prior to attending Johns Hopkins SAIS, Aaron was assigned to the Office of Defense Cooperation at the US Embassy - Kyiv, Ukraine assisting the Ukrainian military with non-lethal defensive equipment and training.

What are you most passionate about?
Investing in other people has always gotten me up in the morning. Over the course of my career, I've had the opportunity to learn from amazing mentors. Their influence has shown me the importance of investing in others' lives. The confidence that others have placed in me has opened doors for me professionally that would otherwise have never been opened. In return, I've had the distinct privilege of leading other great Americans, both in combat and at home, as I've watched them grow personally and professionally. I hope this next chapter of my life will be a continuation of this theme. As Attach←, I look forward to working with an important partner nation and building rewarding professional relationships. I've also been fortunate to develop relationships at SAIS that have deepened into long term friendships.

When considering graduate school, what was appealing about SAIS?
My graduate school search began with a review of Foreign Policy magazine's ranking of top International Relations graduate programs. I used these rankings to compile a list of schools that interested me. Staying true to my Army training, I did a recon of DC schools on this list and sat down with the admissions personnel at several of the city's top universities. What separated SAIS from the pack was its combination of impressive staff and alumni with customizable degree programs, which allow students to pursue their individual interests. SAIS exposes students to a variety of disciplines and provides countless opportunities to broaden their experience through distinguished speaker series.

What has surprised you the most being at SAIS?
My graduate studies at SAIS have been a unique opportunity for me to take a year from my normal schedule to devote my time to serious academic study and thought. While the classes and professors have been amazing, I have been most surprised by dialogue with colleagues between classes. These dialogues have introduced me to different perspectives and have allowed me to formulate logical, salient and persuasive arguments.

What would be people be surprised to know about you?
I like to think that I don't reveal all of my cards at once, so I'll skip that question. Retaining a bit of mystery is important.

Coolest trip you have taken with your peers?
Last year a few of my current SAIS classmates and I took a whirlwind trip through Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova. The first leg was a horrific overnight bus ride without a restroom after a pub-crawl. The second leg from Romania included a tour of Braun castle in Transylvania followed by watching a Dracula movie on our Soviet era train. As we got closer to Moldova, we were woken by train engineers swapping the train's wheels to fit Moldova's Soviet gauge train tracks. In Moldova we toured the Cricova Winery's solid limestone cellars complete with the wine collections of such notables as Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and John Kerry. While the sights were amazing, I think what made the trip most memorable was the train ride, which gave my colleagues and I the feeling of being transported back to the Cold War era.

You're a student interviewer, so you meet with a lot of prospective students. What is some advice you would give to someone considering applying to a program like SAIS?
The most important piece of advice I could give is to bring your "A Game" to the application process. SAIS is a very competitive institution and an applicant that strives for an edge in every way possible always impresses me. A candidate who thinks ahead to anticipate his/her answers to possible interview questions comes across far more at ease and polished. The application interview is really about the intangibles, i.e., how well a person can sell himself/herself. Before each interview I review the applicant's resume' and use this to craft relevant interview questions based on the applicant's background and experience. Once the interview begins it is quickly apparent which applicants are poised, prepared, articulate and passionate about where they are going in life. I believe this type of applicant will carry the SAIS brand forward to make a positive, global difference in the years ahead.

Aaron finding Texas graffiti in Sofia, Bulgaria (he's from Austin)
Aaron in front of the Palace of Parliament in Bucharest