Hamilton Lugar School (HLS) alumna Alex Lebel says “curiosity mixed with a love of history” sparked her interest in international studies. Her degree has led to her current position as an intelligence analyst with the Washington/Baltimore HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area), where her work helps to reduce drug trafficking. Lebel graduated from HLS in May 2022 with a B.A. in International Studies, a concentration in Diplomacy, Security, Governance, and a minor in Criminal Justice.
Lebel describes how she became interested in international studies. She says, “When I was younger, I was attracted to books about conflict, terrorism, and history. I became interested in the historical context behind massive events and acts of terrorism.” She continues, “When I was in middle school and the Boston bombing took place, that’s when I knew I wanted to be on the investigative side of things.”
As Lebel researched colleges offering international studies programs, she was impressed with Indiana University (IU). She says, “IU had far and away more variety and opportunity than most of the schools I looked at. I could tailor learning topics to what interested me, and I was impressed with the flagship and study abroad opportunities. Plus, it was a quintessential college campus with all the resources I might need.”
During her time at IU, Lebel studied Italian and Arabic, and participated in many campus activities including serving in the IU student government. She says she was particularly impressed with the IU faculty. “The professors have both academic and practical experience, and they are so accessible. It was hugely important. They were able to provide advice, direction, and networking opportunities that I don’t think I would find at a lot of other schools.”
Although she speaks highly of all the faculty, Lebel says Assistant Professor of International Studies Andrew Bell is one of her favorites. She elaborates, “He was so kind and so smart and had so much real world and educational experience. I took every one of his classes. My favorite was one on civilians in warfare, it was so interesting. He also teaches a class to help us prepare for our capstone, and that was super helpful, too.”
In addition to outstanding faculty, Lebel says, “One thing I didn’t expect when I came to HLS was the number of incredible speakers and conferences, we would have access to.” She was particularly impressed with the annual HLS America’s Role in the World (ARW) conference. She says, “I was able to hear from senators, former ambassadors – people with all the dream jobs that I was ever interested in. I would encourage any incoming student to attend as many as they can. It’s an opportunity to learn from and connect with leaders on a level that is uncommon for students to have access to.”
During her time as an HLS student, Lebel gained professional experience in national security before graduating. She spent a summer interning at the Transaction Record Analysis Center, a nonprofit in Phoenix, Arizona, funded by the U.S. General Services Administration. In that position, she was part of a team investigating money laundering activities of complex national and international organized crime syndicates, monitoring darknet cryptocurrency transactions, and supporting the Southwest Border Anti-Money Laundering Conference. Later, Lebel completed a nine-month internship with The Counterterrorism Group, a global organization in Washington, D.C. where she helped collect and analyze intelligence information on terrorists and extremist organizations, identify threats, determine their likelihood, and seek to deter them from being carried out.
These hands-on experiences were a real asset for Lebel when she was ready to launch her career. She says, “It helped a lot that I had two solid internships that gave me skills I could bring to the table for a prospective employer.”
Lebel’s HLS education prepared her well for her career. She says, “I learned to think critically. In my academic and practical experiences, I also learned to always ask questions – to learn and to keep an open mind, because you may not always be right, someone might know more than you.”
Now that she is an intelligence analyst at the Washington/Baltimore HIDTA, Lebel says she is living her middle school dream of being on the investigative side of things. She says, “Although I’m not a detective, and I’m not technically law enforcement, I’ll collaborate with detectives wherever they need me. I assist on cases for federal, state, local, and tribal agencies in parts of West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, and Washington D.C.
Lebel continues, “For example, a couple of weeks ago, I was in Baltimore working with Homeland Security. Another time, I was in Prince George County in Maryland, working with their homicide unit. I handle a variety of cases for a lot of different agencies with the goal of having better interagency collaboration. Sometimes it’s like one giant puzzle, so we need to use analytical thinking. “
Lebel finds her work to be very rewarding, “It’s gratifying, knowing that I’m working alongside of and learning from brilliant investigators and brilliant analysts. We might be working on cases that no one really hears about, but they are really important to the families of people affected.”
Meanwhile, Andrew Bell, Lebel’s favorite professor, says that it is students like Alex who make his job rewarding as well. “Alex personifies the best of HLS students: motivated, inquisitive, hard-working, and interested in improving the world we live in. It’s a privilege to teach students like her.”