A portrait of Rebecca Cullen posing with two of her favorite Captain America comic books.
Rebecca Cullen and two of her favorite comic books.

What is your role here at NNSA? How does it align to our mission?

I am a Program Analyst in the NNSA Office of Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation. I contribute to strategic policy, planning, and operations across the Nuclear Security Enterprise. Simply put, I help the leaders in Washington, D.C., find creative ways to keep people safe.

What led you to a career in nuclear security?

My interest in foreign policy, and specifically in national security, counterterrorism, and nuclear security, was sparked by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. For an elementary school writing assignment I received the next year, I wrote that I had a dream to “get rid of all of the terrorists and bad people that way everyone would be happy with no sad faces.” As a child, I did not know the critical war that would begin, but I felt a purpose that eventually led me to dedicating my career to national security and foreign policy.

I thrive in challenging, fast-paced, and results-oriented environments, and it was these qualities that first attracted me to NNSA.

What is your proudest accomplishment at NNSA?

Coordinating NNSA’s response to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. I served in this operations role for a full year as an additional duty, and truly believe the work our team accomplished has made a difference. 

A child's handwritten response on a colored-paper school school assignment with the prompt "for the world" written on it.
In the year following the Sept. 11 attacks elementary school student Rebecca Cullen wrote that she would want to “get rid of all the terrorists.” That inspiration carries through to today.

How has your personal background/experience shaped your work?

I was raised in a household that valued education and hard work above all else. Ever since I was very young, I have been drawn to protecting those I love. My father is a retired police officer and my mother works in business. They taught me the basic principles of right and wrong, the importance of upholding the law, and that there is no greater service than protecting others.

What did you study in school and how did it impact you personally and professionally?

During graduate school, I studied government and security studies with a specialization in counterterrorism, and I studied political science as an undergraduate. The professors, colleagues, and professionals I met throughout my schooling illuminated the many potential pathways for success in this field.

Tell us a little about yourself – a fun fact, a personal hobby, and/or accolades received.

I am a big Marvel comic book fan. I fell in love with these fantastical superhero stories as a middle school-aged kid by reading Captain America comic books in the public library after school.

Another thing many people don’t know is that I started working in the public policy, government, and national security space as a freshman in college. I initially moved to Washington for a job in political data and polling but, after a short time, I found my way into a dream job at the National Security Council.

If I were not a national security professional, I might have run a home bakery or a doggie day care.

A portrait of Rice and Cullen.
Rebecca Cullen, right, and one of her heroes -- former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.

What do you find most challenging and/or rewarding about your profession?

The most challenging part about this profession is the lack of female role models to learn from. We are still operating in a very male-dominated field that lacks significant diversity. With that said, the Department of Energy and NNSA provide women with ample opportunity to both shine and lead, as demonstrated by our Secretary and Administrator.

I am lucky to have been able to find strong, smart, and capable women throughout my career. I have a close-knit group of female national security professionals who turned into both trusted mentors and friends.

What advice would you have for anyone interested in a career in nuclear security?

I would strongly encourage young professionals to put themselves out there. Conduct research, ask for informational interviews, and connect with the people in the seats of the jobs you aspire to have one day. Learning about the different paths people take, keeping an open mind, and encouraging honest dialogue will take you farther than you could plan for.

What has been an invaluable lesson you’ve learned during your professional career?

Do not give up. Do not let others project their own professional insecurities onto you. It sounds like a cliché, but you really can do anything you set your mind to.

Who is a woman that inspire/s you and why?

My professional inspiration is former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. As a girl, I watched Secretary Rice rise through the ranks of the male-dominated national security industry as a minority female and I wanted nothing more than to display the same level of passion, grit, and dedication to public service as she has.