Merrill Center for Strategic Studies Graduate Student Staff

Emma Vitale


Research Assistant

Emma is a second-year MA candidate at Johns Hopkins SAIS concentrating in Strategic Studies and minoring in European and Eurasian Studies. She serves as the Research Assistant to Strategic Studies Associate Director, Dr. Paula Thornhill, and is also interning in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO Policy. Before SAIS, Emma worked for a small consulting company on projects for OSD's Washington Headquarter Services and the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs. Emma holds a B.A. in International Studies from Boston College and is originally from Minneapolis.

Sam Wilkins

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Research Assistant

Sam Wilkins is an active-duty U.S. Army Special Forces officer with deployments to Somalia, Nigeria, and Afghanistan. At SAIS, Sam serves as the Research Assistant to Dr. Mara Karlin and is pursuing an MA in Strategic Studies and International Economics, with a minor in African Studies. His research is at the intersection of American foreign policy in Africa, limited military interventions, and the Cold War. His writing on these and other topics has appeared in War on the Rocks, The National Interest,The Strategy Bridge, The Modern War Institute, and The Small Wars Journal. Sam is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Hannah Dennis

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Research Assistant

Hannah is a second-year MA candidate concentrating in Strategic Studies and the research assistant to Senior Research Professor and Director of External Programs Dr. Thomas G. Mahnken. She previously served in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, the Foreign Service Institute School of Language Studies and the Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security. Hannah received her BA in International Studies from American University in 2018.

Marisa Shannon


Research Assistant

Marisa Shannon is a strategic studies MA candidate at Johns Hopkins SAIS where she serves as the research assistant to Professor Adam Szubin. She also interns in the Office of Strategy and Force Development within OSD Policy. Marisa was previously the assistant director of Washington meetings at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). In this capacity, she researched and led meetings on a wide variety of topics related to U.S. foreign policy, national security, and economics. Marisa holds a BA in International Relations and Spanish from Boston University. 

Holly Geffs


Research Assistant

Holly is an M.A. Candidate at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Students (SAIS) in Strategic Studies, with a minor in European and Eurasian Studies. She holds a 2018 B.A. with Honors from Yale University in Global Affairs and International Security. At SAIS, Holly is Research Assistant to Lt. Gen. (R.) Dave Barno & Dr. Nora Bensahel; in this role, she supports their scholarship on U.S. military modernization and the changing face of national and international security. Since January 2020, Holly also interns in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for European & NATO Policy, where she works with the Nordic and Baltic regional portfolios. Prior to graduate school, Holly was a Research Assistant in the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Europe Program. At CSIS, she co-authored numerous publications on transatlantic defense cooperation, Russian malign information operations and illicit finance, and the development of great power competition in the Arctic. 

Marina Dickson


Research Assistant

Marina Dickson is a second year MA candidate concentrating in Strategic Studies at SAIS where she works as a Research Assistant to Professor Thomas Rid and serves as a Quartermaster for the 2021 International Staff Ride. She has previously worked at University of Maryland's Applied Research Laboratory for Intelligence and Security, as well as the Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies. Marina holds a BA from Bates College in History and Politics. 

Eileen Roos 

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Research Assistant

Eileen Roos is a second-year SAIS MA Candidate focusing in Strategic Studies. She is excited to serve this year as Professor John McLaughlin’s research assistant. Her research interests include American defense policy, international security, and Eastern Europe. Eileen graduated in 2013 from the University of Virginia, where she majored in History and Foreign Affairs. She is originally from Arlington, Virginia. 

Sarah Lossing


Research Assistant

Sarah is a second-year Master of Arts student who completed her first year of SAIS at the Bologna campus. She graduated from Princeton University in 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and a certificate in Near Eastern Studies. Before attending SAIS, Sarah worked as a paralegal in the international trade practice group at Hogan Lovells US LLP. At SAIS, Sarah is concentrating in Strategic Studies and International Economics and working as a research assistant for Professor Eric Edelman. Over the summer, she interned with the Treasury Department’s Office of International Financial Markets. Sarah plans to utilize her experience at SAIS to pursue a career in the national security sector with a focus on trade, counterterrorism, or intelligence.

Jared Thompson


Alumni Coordinator

Jared Thompson is a second-year MA candidate in Strategic Studies where he serves as the Alumni Coordinator. His research focuses on sub-state conflict in Africa, insurgency, and security cooperation. Prior to SAIS, Jared worked at the National Democratic Institute, where he supported democracy and governance programs in the Sahel, and was a United States Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso. While at SAIS, he has interned with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of African Affairs, Albright Stonebridge Group, and has consulted with Freedom House. Jared holds a BA in International Studies from Centre College, and is originally from Glasgow, Kentucky.

Jacob LaRochelle


Defense Against the Dark Arts Coordinator

Jacob LaRochelle is a second-year Master of Arts candidate, concentrating in Strategic Studies with a minor in Latin American Studies. Jacob originally hails from Florida and graduated from Johns Hopkins University with majors in Political Science & International Studies with minors in Latin American Studies and Entrepreneurship & Management. Jacob’s previous experience includes serving as the Treasurer of the SAIS Student Government Association and Secretary-General of the Johns Hopkins University Model United Nations Conference (JHUMUNC). In his free time, Jacob volunteers as an EMT. Currently, his academic interests lie in health security.

Travis Zahnow


Ethics Series Co-Chair

Travis Zahnow is an active-duty U.S. Army Officer with experience in the Middle East and Europe.  At SAIS he serves as the co-lead of the Strategic Studies Ethics Series and a Research Assistant at the Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs. Travis is pursuing an MA in Strategic Studies and International Economics, with a minor in European and Eurasian Studies. His research primarily focuses on proxy warfare, great power competition, and Soviet conflicts during the Cold War. His writings have appeared in the Modern War Institute and Small Wars Journal. Travis is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Lambert de Ganay


Ethics Series Co-Chair

Lambert de Ganay is a second-year MA candidate concentrating in Strategic Studies with a specialization in emerging markets. Lambert co-leads the Strategic Studies Ethics series which arranges speaker events and small group discussions to engage students in dialogue on the ethical dilemmas presented in national security and public service. Prior to SAIS, Lambert was a member of EY's Forensic & Integrity Services Practice, focusing on financial crime investigations, anti-bribery and anti-corruption services, and insider threat risks. In addition to the US, he has led engagements in Angola, Cameroon, Albania, and the UK.

Areesha Irfan


National Security Salon Co-Chair

Areesha Irfan is a second year Strategic Studies concentrator with a minor in South Asia Studies. Prior to SAIS, she received her Bachelor’s from NYU in Political Science and Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. She is originally from Connecticut, but is a New Yorker at heart. She is currently interning at Lockheed on their Intelligence, Cyber, And Technology team.

Gregory Kist


National Security Salon Co-Chair

Gregory Kist is a second year Master of Arts candidate concentrating in Strategic Studies and minoring in Southeast Asia Studies. Alongside his studies, Gregory currently serves as a Rosenthal Fellow in the US Department of Defense’s Office of Special Operations and Combating Terrorism, where he helps oversee partner capacity building programs conducted by special operations forces in the Indo-Pacific. Prior to beginning his graduate studies, Gregory worked as a global public affairs consultant at APCO Worldwide, advising corporations and NGOs on government relations, policy, and stakeholder engagement. He also served in the Obama administration as a Briefing Book Coordinator at the US Department of Homeland Security and as an International Economics and Trade Intern in the White House. Gregory earned his bachelor’s degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science and is originally from Williamsport, PA.

Alex Kessler


Film Series Co-Chair

Alex is a second-year MA candidate concentrating in Strategic Studies. He is the co-lead of the Strategic Studies Film Series, Editor-in-Chief of the SAIS Observer student newspaper, and previously conducted research with the Henry A. Kissinger Center. Currently he is a PREP Fellow in the Engineering Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Department of Commerce. With a B.S. in Industrial and Systems Engineering from Georgia Tech, his academic interests lie at the intersection of STEM and defense policy. Before SAIS, Alex worked four years in engineering consulting.

Maxime de Vulpillieres


Film Series Co-Chair

Maxime de Vulpillieres is a second-year M.A. candidate concentrating in Strategic Studies with a minor in European and Eurasian Studies. He runs the Film Series, in which capacity he organizes viewings of films related to an area of Strategic Studies followed by a conversation with a distinguished guest on the subject. Maxime holds a double degree in English law & French Law with a Maitrise in International Law from University of Essex and Universite Jean Moulin Lyon III . Prior to SAIS, he worked at law firm DRAI.

Photo: David Solimini 2018