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Alumni Newsmakers

Seizing Every Opportunity

Brock Dahl's resume is impressive: three degrees, work for the U.S. Department of Treasury in Iraq and Afghanistan, articles in the National Review, research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, coveted fellowships, an appearance on a national radio talk show, and now a new job working on entrepreneurial business issues at a California law firm.

And that's just in the last decade.

What's behind this high-achieving professional trajectory? "It's a reflection on GW and the opportunities it gave me," says Mr. Dahl, B.Accy. '03, JD '11.

But one of his GW Law School professors, Gregory Maggs, has a different take: It's not only what GW Law offered but also what Mr.Dahl embraced.

"Brock assumes that everything is an opportunity," Professor Maggs says. "He's energetic and enthusiastic. And he's curious—he has a real scholarly bent that is practically focused. 

"He doesn't take things as they are. He wants to change the world," he adds.   

When he graduated from high school in Wichita, Kan., in 2000, Mr. Dahl had his sights set on a job with the FBI.

"At the time, the bureau was focusing a lot on white collar criminal activity. So the skill set they were heavily recruiting was accounting," says Mr. Dahl. "I did a lot of research, talking to agents back in Kansas, and they told me to go to a D.C. school with a good academic reputation plus internship opportunities. I chose the School of Business at GW."

Mr. Dahl might have ended up in an FBI job had 9/11 not occurred. That's when his interest shifted to foreign service and national security.

"In the course of my first year or so at GW, I did an internship at the White House and then I was up on the Hill, as is the case of many GW undergrads," Mr. Dahl says. "That exposure opened my eyes to some international opportunities."

He landed a highly competitive David L. Boren scholarship through the National Security Education Program and, at the advice of a professor at the School of Business, went to Turkey in 2003. The scholarship allowed him to study Turkish; in return, he owed the U.S. government some work. He served as a summer intern for the Consulate General of the U.S. Department of State in Istanbul.

"I traveled through the Middle East and became more fascinated with the region," he says. "Then I came back to D.C. and learned about a unique opportunity: If you applied for a Rhodes Scholarship or a Marshall Scholarship, GW also considered you for a J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Scholarship."

The Shapiro family and GW supported his studies in the United Kingdom, where he earned a combined master's in philosophy and modern Middle Eastern studies at Oxford and also studied Arabic. When finally ready for the job market, he found a place at the Treasury Department—in Baghdad.

Among his assignments was work on the International Compact with Iraq, the five-year national plan that the United Nations said would move the country toward "peace, sound governance, and economic reconstruction." He traveled back and forth to Afghanistan, too, as part of his Treasury Department assignment.

"In the course of both my time in the Middle East and Oxford, and my time in Iraq and Afghanistan, I started to develop pretty strong opinions based on my experience of seeing militia groups taking power," he says. "I started thinking about how you address these powerful actors who achieve positions of strength where you're trying to build a country."

Discussions with Ralph Steinhardt, Arthur Selwyn Miller Research Professor of Law at GW, helped Mr. Dahl understand human rights mechanisms that could be used as tools in conflict zones.

"He may have taken every course I offered," says Professor Steinhardt, who referred to him as "one of the best students I've ever had" in his 26 years of teaching 

Professor Steinhardt says Mr. Dahl was meticulously prepared for class and a voracious reader. He described him as a student with a rare ability to think across disciplines, exceptional writing skills, and "a terrific sense of humor."  

"I know that he was interested in human rights and a variety of other parts of international law," he says. "The fact that he got the Arthur Helton fellowship is a real sign that he wanted to be—and was fully qualified to be—a human rights lawyer."

But to define Mr. Dahl as a "human rights lawyer" shortchanges the bigger landscape that captures his energy. He says his new job at the Palo Alto office of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati is broadening his perspective about what is possible in the world. The firm represents many international and tech-industry clients.

"I returned from Iraq and Afghanistan knowing that there will always be physical threats to our safety, but feeling that perhaps the greatest existential threat to American well-being is an economic climate that suffocates entrepreneurial initiative and human potential," Mr. Dahl explains. "Working with entrepreneurs who are sharing their talents with society offers an incredibly satisfying way to further enable the potential that has always been essential to our national character."

—Mary A. Dempsey