Diplomacy, intelligence work, and an understanding of how nations interact are like puzzle pieces to Madeline McQuade. Within these concepts are smaller issues that, when fit together, form a big picture. This notion lies at the heart of her interests as a senior in national security and foreign affairs.

On the morning McQuade, known as Maddie, first visited the main Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, snow blanketed the Drillfield. The sky was the color of Hokie Stone, and the afternoon brought a steady rain. But even in the dreariness, McQuade saw something bright and beautiful — a future in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, though she had yet to discover her place in the Department of Political Science.

“I went to the liberal arts session during Hokie Focus and I thought it was so cool that students ran half the session, telling us about their experiences,” McQuade said. “The students cared about the university and were getting so much more out of their time here than just a degree.”

She immediately felt at home, as the landscape reminded her of Ithaca, New York. The daughter of a college professor, she grew up in places that her father’s research career took the family, including not just Ithaca, but also Berlin, Germany, and Richmond, Virginia, where her family now lives. Yet she loved the landscape of Upstate New York, and the snowy day in Blacksburg resonated with her.

“At first I thought I might major in communication, with a focus on politics,” she said. “Ultimately, though, I realized my true interest is in global issues. That’s how I found myself as a national security and foreign affairs major.”

How the world functions and why people make certain decisions fascinate her. Her joy stems from analyzing data and putting it into the context of the larger picture.

McQuade said the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences provided a strong foundation for her through a trifecta of immersive learning opportunities, including study abroad, undergraduate research, and an internship.

In the fall of 2018, McQuade took part in the college’s European Affairs in a Global Context program at the Steger Center for International Scholarship in Riva San Vitale, Switzerland. She credits this experience with helping her graduate a semester early because she took two senior-level classes while there. She also found an unexpected source of social support.

“It was special to have classes with the same 16 people every day,” she said. “It gave me a lot of confidence for speaking up in class and voicing my opinions and ideas. You support each other even if you don’t agree with one another. It builds this strong community with people excited to talk about the same things you’re interested in.”

While in Switzerland, McQuade participated in the Diplomacy Lab, a U.S. State Department program that Virginia Tech participates in as a partner university. Students explore challenges provided by the agency and can contribute directly to the policymaking process. McQuade’s research with the lab centered on the United Nations’ special missions involving Israel and Palestine. At weekly sessions, she and her peers would share and discuss the information they had learned. 

“We would examine whether the mission was accomplishing what the United Nations had intended and, if not, why not,” she said.

The following summer she interned with the Office of Foreign Missions in the Department of State’s Los Angeles unit. With the office’s focus on reciprocity between countries, McQuade learned how noncoercive efforts play into diplomacy, such as how the government leverages reciprocal agreements with other nations for issuing driver’s licenses to diplomats.

“I was able to witness the inner workings of the government,” she said. “The internship helped me understand how my coursework relates to my eventual career.”

McQuade has been active in the university beyond her experiential learning opportunities. 

As a college recruitment ambassador for three years, she played homage to her pivotal Hokie Focus experience. The program enabled her to get beyond her shyness and become skilled in public speaking.

In addition, she served as a teaching assistant for a computer science course in the College of Science. She said the aim of the class is to teach non-computer science majors how to program in Python and to understand that the coding language is a valuable and understandable tool for everyone. 

She has also served as a peer mentor for the first-year experience class for international studies and political science. She helps students create a four-year academic plan so they can graduate on time.

After graduation, McQuade plans to pursue a career in Washington, D.C., either in intelligence analysis for the government or project management in the private sector.

“At Virginia Tech, I’ve learned about organizational effectiveness, strategic thinking, and cutting through the static to find what’s really important,” she said. “You can’t see the problems in small details until you’ve looked at the entire picture.”

— Written by Leslie King