Colonel Shawn Walrath of the United States Air Force looks back fondly on his time as a Georgia Bulldog, even though it was shorter than most. After starting at what is now Middle Georgia State University in Warner Robins, Georgia, Colonel Walrath transferred to UGA in order to major in Political Science. “My wife, who is also a UGA alum, teases me, ‘why do you like UGA so much?’” Walrath says. “For me, even though I was only there for 2 years, it was a watershed moment in my life; everything good that has happened to me in my life started at UGA. It’s where a lot of things came together for me personally and professionally.”
He also participated in the Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) at UGA, “ I hope it continues to survive so that there will always be Bulldog students that, not only see service to our nation, our state, and our communities in a variety of ways that UGA alumni have gone on to serve, but also see the military as another option. It’s an incredible way to serve,” said Walrath.
He graduated from the University on June 14, 1997, and later that day, was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force. A little over 23 years later, he is currently serving as a member of the Joint Staff’s Intelligence Directorate at the Pentagon as the Chief, Collections Operations and Evaluations Division.
Colonel Walrath says that there were a number of factors from his time at SPIA and UGA that prepared him for his career.
“From my perspective, no matter what branch of the government you go into, having a political science or public administration background will serve you well,” he explains. “It definitely gave me the critical thinking and communication skills that were instrumental to my success as I came into the Air Force and as I continue to build my career here.”
Walrath has advice for young professionals and SPIA students who may be interested in leadership positions. “There’s a lot of research that has been done about leadership, but when it comes down to it, being a leader is about people,” he says. “You can be a leader of a few people or a large organization, but [fundamentally] leadership is [about] empathy, compassion, and communication.”
“Being a part of SPIA and UGA, working with students and faculty, you have an opportunity to develop those skills that you can then take into the workplace.”
Colonel Walrath gives back to UGA by serving on the SPIA Alumni Board, where he feels like he can be a part of the community that set him up for success. He also knows the power of that community wherever you are, in fact, one of his fondest memories is being stationed in the Middle East with other Bulldogs.
“I was in a deployment in 2006, and through a chance of fate, there were three of us from UGA from different classes and different year groups, but we all ended up being deployed together.” The fellow Bulldogs even started a blog during their time and were able to explain how they kept up with their alma mater halfway across the world.
“Coming across other Georgia Bulldogs and reconnecting with classmates [that] has been a highlight for me, and to see how UGA has prepared them and served them in their own careers,” he says.
Colonel Walrath’s passion about preparing future Bulldogs for their career is one of the main reasons he is a part of the mentoring committee on the SPIA Alumni Board. To learn more about the UGA Mentor Program and how to help current students visit mentor.uga.edu.