Kayla Matteucci’s mind is exploding with ideas about nuclear policy and disarmament.
The 23-year-old Albuquerque native recently received a Fulbright award that will allow her to do research for 10 months in England, starting in September, “where I’ll be connecting research on different approaches to what they call disarmament verification,” she says.
“Basically, if you negotiate a nuclear disarmament agreement, how do you verify treaty compliance?”
This isn’t the kind of question most 23-year-olds obsess over and dissect. Matteucci, however, is not like most 23-year-olds.
“I’ve worked in nuclear policy since I was an intern at Sandia National Laboratories one summer while a university student, and that’s kind of what got me interested in it.”
Matteucci is the 2018-19 James C. Gaither Junior Fellow in Nuclear Policy at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and an adjunct research associate at the Institute for Defense Analyses. She has also worked with the United Nations and the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonprofit think tank that focuses on U.S. foreign policy and international affairs.
Her specific Fulbright is the United Kingdom Open Award, an open study and research grant awarded on the basis of her proposed project.
Fulbright programs are federally funded cultural exchange programs that offer research, study and teaching opportunities in about 160 countries to recent graduates and graduate students. It is coordinated through the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. About 8,000 grants are awarded annually, most of them for a year or less.
Recipients are provided a stipend to cover transportation, room and board, and incidental expenses.
The program was founded by Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas in 1946 and is one of the most widely recognized and prestigious scholarships in the world.
“I decided I wanted to do research on this subject over a year ago, and I sought different opportunities that would allow me to do that, which is why the open award was such a perfect match,” Matteucci says. “It allows me to pursue my own project and to be in the United Kingdom.”
The United Kingdom, she says, has been a leader on warhead verification initiatives, such as the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification. Now, for the first time in history, countries that do not have nuclear weapons “are getting involved in the discussion about warhead verification.”
Matteucci will work out of King’s College in London and in conjunction with the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which she describes as the equivalent of America’s State Department.
“Nukes have two parts,” she explains – “the launcher, which carries or delivers the bomb to its target, and the bomb, or warhead itself.
“My project looks specifically at nuclear warhead verification. Historically, we haven’t looked at warheads within treaties. We’ve looked at the launchers. … And if you’re only verifying the dismantlement of launchers, can you say you’re disarmed? So my project asks some of the broader questions about trust and transparency.”
Matteucci will travel to international meetings with the U.K. delegation “to learn about how these initiatives are shaping up, and get a pulse on what nations are saying about prospects for warhead verification,” she says.
Matteucci says she expects her research will result in some kind of report, published paper or podcast. “I want to create something I can share. I always enjoy talking about these things and breaking them down for people because these conversations are important.”
While she’s not sure where she will wind up professionally, “I definitely know I want to be in government, or, more broadly, public service,” she says. “I’m just focused right now on enjoying what’s in front of me.”
Matteucci attended Annunciation elementary school and St. Pius X High School. She graduated in 2018 from Fordham University in New York with a bachelor’s degrees in international relations and Spanish. She is the daughter of David and Kendra Matteucci of Albuquerque.