Engineering foreign policy
A degree from Mizzou Engineering can take you a lot of places. It’s taken more than 500 alumni to titles such as CEO and president of their respective companies. Still others to various departments of transportation, engineering firms, construction companies and down many other great career paths.
For Kyler Turner, his set of MU Engineering degrees took him to the U.S. Department of State.
Turner holds a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, two master’s degrees — in mechanical and nuclear engineering — and a doctorate from Mizzou. All of his hard work eventually led the Lee’s Summit, Mo., native to a career as a nuclear engineering at the State Department, where he utilizes his expertise to help shape policy and provide counsel on broad civil nuclear issues facing the nation and its leaders.
“We basically drive foreign policy on civil nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear security, nuclear safety and advocate for U.S. nuclear technology around the world,” he explained.
“A majority of the time, when we are discussing civil nuclear policy with foreign partners, the foreign participants know I represent the State Department and assume I don’t have a technical background. … Being able to relate to them when they start talking about neutrons and other technical nuclear issues is extremely valuable. All of a sudden you can talk the same technical lingo while also talking diplomacy which is a useful in pursuing our policy objectives.”
Shaping policy and aiding diplomacy wasn’t always Turner’s first priority. While finishing his Ph.D., he worked on several projects involving the MU Research Reactor (MURR), and his focus was on creating medical isotopes to help diagnose and treat a wide array of medical issues, including cancer, internal bleeding and more.
That changed when he received an email with information about the Nonproliferation Graduate Fellowship with the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. Turner applied and was accepted, then headed to Washington, D.C. for the fellowship, finishing his doctorate remotely while participating in the fellowship program with the Office of Global Threat Reduction..
Turner stuck with the policy side of things, participating in additional fellowship programs before eventually landing his current role at State.
“Mine was a natural progression of seeing the fellowship, doing that for a year, going back and finishing my degree,,” he said. “I thought doing a policy fellowship would help me get in at one of the [Department of Energy’s] national labs, where I’d work more directly on technical issues. But once I got out here — naturally, as life does — it took off into its own thing.”
For students who may be looking to follow a similar career path, Turner suggested building broad internship experience and taking courses in a wide array of areas alongside the necessary engineering courses, possibly minoring in an area such as political science or public policy.
At the core, however, he credited the unique experiential learning opportunities at Mizzou Engineering for helping him get started on the pathway to success.
“Having exposure to the MURR facility and the nuclear related projects I was working on at the time, just having that unique experience is what led here,” Turner explained. “Not having the reactor and the type of facilities and the type of engineering program Mizzou has, there’s no way I end up where I am.”