Unprecedented Times: Amber Morgan

During her time in the Richard B. Russell Security Leadership Program (SLP), Amber Morgan (AB ’17) studied national security and international conflict, but could not have imagined managing those issues during a global pandemic.

Morgan now works for the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and its Office of  Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation; she focuses on reducing nuclear proliferation risks by eliminating or removing excess nuclear and radioactive materials from around the globe, and minimizing their future use where possible.[1]

After graduating from UGA, Morgan earned a master’s degree in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. She also worked on nonproliferation and arms control issues in Vienna, Austria, as an intern at the U.S. Mission to International Organizations and the International Atomic Energy Agency, and held roles at Harvard’s Belfer Center, the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, the Center for International Trade and Security, and the Naval Postgraduate School. In 2019, Morgan won a Women in Defense Scholar Award from the National Defense Industrial Association, which encourages women to pursue careers in national security, defense, or foreign policy. Morgan began at NNSA as a graduate fellow in 2019, but quickly moved up to become an International Nuclear Safeguards Program Analyst as a federal contractor, and, most recently, to a Foreign Affairs Specialist as a federal employee.

Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA enhances national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA oversees the U.S. nuclear stockpile across eight sites, works to reduce the global danger from weapons of mass destruction, provides the U.S. Navy with safe nuclear propulsion, and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad.

“Much of my day-to-day responsibilities include ensuring that our experts are able to effectively communicate programmatic activities and needs with our leadership and vice versa,” Morgan said.

NNSA has continued to implement its nonproliferation priorities by adapting during the pandemic, without significant disruptions to the supply-chain or workforce. Modifications include now-standard virtual meetings to connect both internal team members and international partners.

“While the pandemic has affected our ability to travel to work with our foreign partners on the ground, we’ve largely been able to adapt by holding foreign engagements virtually through video calls”

“While the pandemic has affected our ability to travel to work with our foreign partners on the ground, we’ve largely been able to adapt by holding foreign engagements virtually through video calls,” said Morgan. “This has allowed us to maintain open lines of communication.”

In addition to its nonproliferation goals, NNSA is collaborating with international partners on possible applications for nuclear technologies to combat COVID-19. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), with $11 million in U.S. funding, is working to support the worldwide COVID-19 response with webinars on health care, radioisotope and radiopharmaceutical production, and sample collection and handling. IAEA also created and hosted trainings on the use of equipment for virus detection using a nuclear-related technique called Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (or RT-PCR).[2] NNSA’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California has worked with tech companies to produce the Corona supercomputer, which helps scientists with virus modeling and response.[3]

As Morgan engages this world of nuclear threats and opportunities, she expresses gratitude for her UGA experience. She spent time as a Vinson Fellow with the Carl Vinson Institute of Government’s International Center, where Dr. Rusty Brooks helped her develop analytical and foreign engagement skills. In addition, the SLP and SPIA courses were pivotal.

“The Center for International Trade and Security’s Richard B. Russell Security Leadership Program was instrumental in preparing me for a career in national security and nonproliferation,” she said. “Christopher Tucker, who taught the first semester course of the SLP program, has had a significant impact on my career and helped found my passion for the field.”

“Dr. Maryann Gallagher, who taught many of my international affairs courses, helped me to think about security issues critically and from many different perspectives, which I believe helped prepare me for a career working with foreign partners on global security issues,” Morgan added.

“As a first-generation university student from rural Georgia, the support of my professors and mentors was essential to my success,” she continued. “I can honestly say that I enjoyed all of my SPIA courses, and they all helped to prepare me for my career in one way or another, whether it was helping me to understand Congress’ relationship with executive agencies or how global security challenges are interconnected.”

SPIA’s strong alumni network and opportunities to interact with current students have given Morgan the chance to maintain and cultivate her UGA connection. “I am proud to have attended UGA/SPIA, and I work with SPIA alumni on a regular basis throughout NNSA and DOE,” she said. “The support of the alumni network has also been instrumental to my success, and I am thankful that there is such a robust alumni support network in the national security/nuclear field.”

[1] https://www.energy.gov/nnsa/missions/nonproliferation

[2] https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/covid-19-response-remains-top-iaea-priority-director-general-says

[3] https://www.llnl.gov/news/corona-supercomputer-gets-funding-covid-19-work