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Uncommon Journeys

Pursuing the Unexpected

June 13, 2009

When he arrived at Lewis & Clark three years ago, Brad Elkins ’10 never imagined a day like this: Between final exams on discrete mathematics and artificial intelligence, a paper on theories of international affairs, and the obligations associated with being next year’s school president, he has been working for most of the last 20 hours.

That’s not to say he wasn’t expecting the rigorous academics and schedule. It was one of the things that drew him from Pasadena, California, to Lewis & Clark. “When I visited, I sat in a class on national security and was blown away by what the students were talking about,” he says. “I walked out of that class and thought, ‘This is where I need to go.’ ”

What Elkins could not have foreseen was how discrete mathematics, an internship at the German Ministry of Defense, and research papers would all be part of his educational experience.

Elkins’ journey started at the end of his first semester, when he declared his major in international affairs. An elective in computer science got him started on another track toward a second major in computer science and mathematics.

“By the end of the semester, my professor encouraged me to take the next course. At the end of that semester, another professor suggested I minor in it. When the school introduced the computer science major, my professor said, ‘You can go for it, but I think you should go for computer science and mathematics.’ So I did.”

Elkins doesn’t plan to pursue a career in programming, but he can now see ahead to how his two diverse areas of study will help him meet the demands of his future field.

“I have a functional interest in security studies and intelligence,” he says. “Both require a great understanding of knowledge and logic. You get those from computer science.”

Starting in June, Elkins will be applying his education while interning with the German Ministry of Defense in Berlin. There, he’ll work with a task force on creating recommendations for NATO, European Union, U.S., and German military cooperation.

It won’t be the first time he has been able to bring his interests together outside the classroom. As a cochair of the annual International Affairs Symposium with Elspeth Cordua ’09 this spring, he helped bring together military leaders, international journalists, and academics to discuss the future of warfare, including the use of technology in modern conflicts.

Elkins’ interests coincide in other, more peaceful ways as well: he is fascinated by technology’s role in reshaping democracy. He brings up the Library of Congress’s website as an example of something that could use an overhaul.

“If you want to see your senator’s voting record, you have to research and go through every bill by number,” he says. “There’s no other way to look up how they voted. It’s almost embarrassing to say we’re the United States of America and you can’t quickly research your senator’s entire voting record.”

Of course, with such diverse interests, Elkins doesn’t have his future figured out completely yet. He is looking forward to discovering the unexpected adventures ahead of him.

“In the coming years I’d like to see how I fit into the puzzle, and to figure out how to give back. For me, I think, ‘What are my strengths, what are my skills, and how can I help outside of myself?’ There is some calling for me. I’m going to find it and pursue it.”