A Political Scientist in Development: An Interview with Kaan Jittiang

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Kaan (right) at graduation with his mentor.

Hi Kaan, tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? What brought you to the Elliott School?

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My name is Bhanubhatra Jittiang, but most of my friends call me “Kaan”. In Thailand, where I’m from, almost everyone has both a real name and a nickname. Kaan is a shorter version of my Thai nickname—Kaankaew.

Before coming to the Elliott School, I was living in Thailand. I graduated with a B.A. in Political Science in 2011 from Chulalongkorn University and then spent two years working towards my Ph.D. in Political Science at the same institution, until I completed my coursework and passed the qualified examination. I was also a teaching and a research assistant. I came to DC because I was granted a scholarship from the Royal Thai Government to pursue graduate studies abroad. After finishing both the Master and PhD, I’m required by the scholarship to work as a university lecturer in Thailand.

I chose the IDS program at the Elliott School because I wanted to study development in Washington, DC, a center for international affairs. While I will be working in academia in the future, the IDS program gives me a chance to gain practical knowledge and expertise. I think this is very important because it will allow me to understand the practical limitations to theory. I’ve chosen democracy and governance as my concentration and want to learn about development from a political scientist’s perspective.

 You have decided to write a thesis instead of completing the capstone. Why? Tell us a little about your topic.

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Enjoying Washington, D.C. with friends

It was a big decision to opt-out the capstone and choose to write a thesis. I hope to gain a strong research background for my doctoral studies.  More importantly, working on the thesis will allow me to deeply investigate the topic in which I am particularly interested.

I will investigate the No-Dam Movement, an environmental movement in Thailand. I am researching how social media is used to gain supporters, mobilize them offline, and to urge the government to reconsider its plan to construct a dam in a national forest area.

The case study that I will investigate in Thailand is interesting because  social media has never before played such a vital role in mobilizing popular support for an environmental cause, especially to urge the government to reconsider its plans and to halt the construction of a dam. This topic will allow me learn more about social movements, social media, and environmental politics, topics that are not seriously investigated in Thailand. I hope my education in the US will provide me with expertise on these issues so I can contribute more in my home country when I return.

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Kaan participates in the Young Leaders Program, The 25th Asia – Pacific Roundtable

How has it been adjusting to life in Washington DC? What are some of the challenges to being an international student? What are the benefits?

Although I previously lived in the US for a year long student exchange from 2005 – 2006, I was still afraid of re-adjusting to life in the US before arriving last year. However, living in Washington, DC has not been difficult for me because it is a very international city. I can easily find foods and other things that I prefer. Moreover, living in DC allows me to meet, talk to, and exchange views with new people who have various backgrounds and come from several countries around the world.

The biggest challenge for me is that I do not like living in a busy city (though I had lived in Bangkok for several years before coming to the US). I have to balance the time that I spend in the city and the time that I go out to the countryside. Luckily, I can easily escape to the forest in DC since there are several huge green spaces located in and around the city.

5 Tips for Landing a Summer Internship Abroad

We talked to a few second year IDS students about their experiences last summer, how they found their internships, and tips they would offer those looking for summer opportunities. Here’s what they said:

  1. Start early and plan ahead. Now is the perfect time to start reaching out! Many organizations have formal internship processes, so make sure you research and make all deadlines. However, Morgan Blackburn, who interned at Karen’s Women Organization in Thailand added, “don’t be discouraged if something comes together at the last minute. Most organizations are so busy they can’t even bother to think about summer plans in the winter.”
  2. Determine what you want to gain from your internship experience. Of course, traveling abroad for a summer with an organization sounds fun and exciting! But you also want to make the most of your experience in order to leverage it for future career opportunities. As Jason James, who interned with Sustainable Bolivia in Cochabamba, Bolivia last summer advises, “Make sure you have an idea of the type of work you want to do and the experience you want to gain and make sure the internship will give you that.”
  3. Don’t forget about small organizations! Yes, many people choose to intern with big name organizations, but you often have more room to explore your interests and learn a variety of things at smaller organizations. Anne Sprinkel, who interned with Mercy Corps in Nigeria, suggests reaching out to small organizations working in your area of interest and pitching what you can offer them. She explains, “it takes more work to contact them, sell them on what you can provide for a few months, and probably find your own housing, but in the end I think they’re a great opportunity for good experience.”
  4. Use your network. Talk to professors and other students about potential organizations to reach out to. Sometimes, professors  have contacts at organizations that can find you an internship even if it’s not officially posted. Kevin Robbins, who interned with iDE Bangladesh explains, “The important step was finding a contact in the country I wanted to visit. Then he introduced me to someone else, and she introduced me to someone else, and that person had a position for me. I had more luck using the relationships of others abroad than internet searches, in large part because so many of the opportunities there never make it online.”
  5. Be persistent! Reach out first by email to let your contact know who you are and what you are looking for. As people and organizations are often extremely busy, it is important to write a couple of follow-up emails and be prepared to call them directly at some point. Simon Boehler, who interned with the German development agency GIZ in Kosovo advises, “Don’t take it personally if people do not respond immediately!”

Special thanks to Anne Sprinkel, Alejandro Guzman, Jason James, Katya Verkhovsky, Simon Boehler, Kevin Robbins and Morgan Blackburn for their input!

Niyara Alakhunova on Going Back to School, DC, and Changing Perspectives

Niyara Alakhunova

Niyara Alakhunova

OID: Tell us a little bit about yourself: Where are you from and what interests you most about development? 

Niyara Alakhunova: I come from Kyrgyzstan – a small post-Soviet country located in the heart of Central Asia that gained independence 22 years ago. It is still overwhelmed by social and economic problems, which affect its development. I graduated from the American University in Central Asia with a BA in Business Administration and frankly never thought that my focus would become so global. In 2007 I started working for a USAID-funded project on agricultural development. In my work I applied my business administration skills in a very different but relevant context, helping farmers to cope with difficulties they face in the undeveloped agricultural sector. I was part of the implementation team working with the local communities with scarce agricultural resources to rehabilitate the irrigation system on dehydrated and stony lands to make it suitable for harvesting. That is how I began to gain first-hand experience in development. Additionally, I was involved in several small-scale humanitarian and charity initiatives which made me realize that I am capable of being helpful even if I can change lives of a few. At that point of my life I understood that I need a deeper knowledge of development and how it operates.

Violent ethnic clashes that happened in June 2010 in the south of my country mostly affected my desire to help people and it came clear to me that working towards development, ensuring social justice and human security should become a great pursuit of mine. I still don’t believe I have the chance to study at a university as prestigious as George Washington, and it’s great to be in DC, where so much of development theory and action takes place–it’s like being in the center of development.

On a visit to a project's livestock farm

On a visit to a project’s livestock farm

Niyara on a trip with Kyrgyz farmers to Russia

Niyara on a trip with Kyrgyz farmers to Russia

OID: You’re halfway through your first semester: has anything about your interests changed or been challenged thus far?

Niyara Alakhunova: Before I came here, I thought I would concentrate on agricultural development and food security. However, as I started learning different sides of development, its’ history and approaches,  talking to professors and groupmates, and participating in Elliott school social events, I was overwhelmed by so many new and interesting things I want to learn! By the time we had to submit our plan of study I made up my mind to concentrate on conflict and development, humanitarian assistance, and human rights. As I look at the list of courses available at GW; I’m always so eager to take more than I am eligible to!

OID: Tell us about your cohort and what aspects you enjoy or find challenging about being a part of it.

Niyara Alakhunova: First of all, I have to admit that IDSers are the best! I am very happy to be a part of such a great team of smart and interesting people. They make me feel motivated to learn more, and to develop further. It was a bit difficult to keep up with them in the early beginning, although they all told they didn’t see it! We have students from Mexico, India, Pakistan, Senegal, and lots of other countries, so it is always fun to talk about different cultures!

OID: As you are from a developing country, do you feel that your insight into class discussions differs from others in your classes?

Niyara Alakhunova: Class discussions are my favorite, particularly our Cornerstone class debates on different aspects of development. As our professors like to say, we have to learn so much from our peers. Yes, I definitely feel that being from a developing country and on top of that representing two ethnic minorities in from that country, my insight into class discussion is different from others’. I like to compare the theoretical knowledge I get from the readings with the reality of living in a developing country versus the experiences of my groupmates from a developed country. I am very grateful to Professor Fink, who encouraged my class participation and always supported my ideas.  Dr. Sean Roberts (our Cornerstone professor and the head of the IDS program) has been working in my country for two years and it has been great to meet a person who has lived in my country and knows a lot about it.

Niyara on a visit to Moscow

Niyara on a visit to Moscow

OID: You worked for several years before going to grad school. How do you feel that helped you, and how has your grad school experience differed from undergrad?

Niyara Alakhunova: I worked for 7 years before going to grad school. It was a hard decision for me because I had gotten used to the work atmosphere, schedule, and way of life you can have being employed full-time, (and the things you can afford being employed!) I feel that this experience has helped me a lot, as I am able to look at development through the lens of my previous work and it definitely enriched my knowledge of how development works in practice. That said, being a student again is very challenging. It took me some time to get used to my new graduate school life. I did my undergrad in Kyrgyzstan, at the American University in Central Asia, and my grad school experience as of now is very different, not only because I’m studying in a different country, but also due to the work load, content of the coursework, greater focus on discussions and analytical thinking. My life has become different here, and it has changed me in a positive way. Feeling the spirit of school again is amazing! Grad school is tough, but it is rewarding too. Dare to dream, and get rid of any fears in accomplishing your goal!

OID: If you could draft the perfect position based on your interests, what would it be, and where would you work?

Niyara Alakhunova: I don’t set any limits in terms of my career interests in development, but I would be very much interested in working with conflict prevention, poverty reduction and human security programs at the UN, USAID, OXFAM or CARE. I have recently read a case about the implementation of a rights-based approach CARE used to increase accountability of development institutions and governments, and I was truly excited about their work and results. Being influenced by Amartya Sen’s book of “Development as Freedom”, I want my future job to be focused on removing “unfreedoms” that make a lot of people around the world suffer from inequalities, poverty and other social ills.

Wherever life takes Niyara, OID expects big things!

Wherever life takes Niyara, OID expects big things!

Thank you from the OID Board of 2013

2013 OID Board

The OID board of 2013, (from left to right): Ani AvetisyanRachel Clement, Alejandro Guzman, Ashley McEvoy, and Morgan Blackburn would like to thank you all for voting for us, supporting and encouraging us, attending our events and reading our blog. We’re moving on, but OID shall live on. Please come to the celebration ceremony and election results party on Thursday, November 21st (RSVP here) and stay involved by submitting your thoughts to oid@gwu.edu and attending the future events, film screenings, and discussions the new board sets up. Thanks again, everyone!

Alum Kerry White on International Education, the PMF Process, and Networking

Kerry White

Kerry White

OID: Hello from OID and thanks for talking to us today! Let’s start with the basics: Who are you, where do you come from, and why did you pursue development at GWU?

My name is Kerry White, and I’m originally from the suburbs of New York.  I ended up in development in kind of a circuitous way.  I started my career in international journalism in Northern Ireland, then did Teach for America and taught for a few years.  Then I took a job doing academic counseling in China, and found myself really fascinated by the ways different elements of culture add up to influence an education system. A friend in international public health recommended I look into international education development, and I decided to get a degree and give it a go.

I really liked the emphasis on practical skill building at the Elliott School, including the IDS capstone experience.  And GW offered the most financial aid.  So it was an easy choice.

OID: When did you graduate and what was your area of concentration?

I graduated in May 2012 with a concentration in international education.

OID: How did you find making a career change from domestic education to international education to be? What were some things that helped or hurt you in this transition?

It was intimidating at first, since I really had no contacts in the international world.  But I actually found that the academic realm was a big gateway for me. There is a lot of overlap between the academic and professional aspects of international education, and even though I picked ESIA for its practical focus, my research gave me reasons to contact and interact with international education development experts.  These people also happened to be working at the leading development organizations. I actually met the contacts that got me the job I have now at a conference where I was presenting an academic paper I did at GW.

I remember doing an informational interview with a GW alum, she told me to make sure I took some classes taught by full-time professors—not just professionals—as they are usually taught really well and give you great subject-area expertise.  And I’d second that and add that academic pursuits can lead to professional opportunities, as well.

OID: What tips do you have for people seeking to network, get internships, and jobs? Any pet peeves of things you see on resumes or cover letters or interviews?

Like I said, use your GW classes, even the academic ones, as ways to meet the “studs” of your field, so to speak.  And be an active member of your sector’s community of practice.  If there anything you’ve written a paper about or read about that you find really interesting—a sector or a trend or a specific area of technical expertise—look for events or lectures surrounding that.  Become a familiar face in that community.  DC is a great location that makes it easy to do this.  And networking is much easier when you’re honestly passionate about the topic of conversation.

Be persistent.  The first inquiry I sent to the company where I am now went unanswered, but when I applied I was able to reference it and my name was familiar.  Now that I’m on the other side, I see how easy it is for e-mails to get lost in the shuffle or forgotten.  Finding the balance between persistent and annoying can feel tough, but polite persistence shows that you’re really interested in a company and that you understand how busy the people on the other end of your message are.

As for resumes and cover letters, my former boss said she’s used my cover letter as an example—I had modeled mine off of a classmate’s from my first Master’s program.  Her advice was to remember that the cover letter can be a road map.  You don’t want to just regurgitate your resume, but you also don’t want to throw a whole lot of new things on there in case it isn’t fully read.  Use it to point out the pieces of your resume that speak to the job description.  Take the required skills and experience from the job posting and show that all of those skills and experiences are on the resume.  And don’t be afraid to use bullets.  These people are busy and the more obvious you can make your awesome qualifications, the better.

OID: Tell us what you are up to these days and more about the PMF process. 

I am working in business development, writing proposals, which I love.  And I’m currently waiting to hear about clearance for a PMF position at State.  The process is very intense and I’d recommend anyone who makes it to the in-person assessment phase to do the practice session at the Graduate Student Career Development office.  It’s worth it just for the peace of mind alone, just to walk in with a sense of what’s coming and to not be blind-sided.

If you get to the finalist phase, I’d recommend you use all the possible outlets for finding a position.  I had people tell me the job boards online are useless and that personal networking is the only way to go, and I had other people to tell me the exact opposite!  I got solid leads and interviews from personal networking, asking friends to forward my CV, jobs forwarded from the ESIA career development center, the PMF job fair, and the PMF job board.  So don’t rule any avenue out.

The Elliott School at GWU

The Elliott School at GWU

OID: Any final words of wisdom? Any classes you really loved or wish you had taken (or even classes you didn’t love but that have proven to be really useful in the real world!)

I can’t think of any off the top of my head, but I would say to remember there is a whole university and a consortium of universities that you can take classes from.  I ended up taking comparative ed classes in GSEHD, a Trachtenburg methods class, a cognitive neuroscience class from CAS, and even a linguistics class at Georgetown.  It gave me expertise in mother-tongue language literacy acquisition that I could talk up in interviews.  It also made networking easier by being able to “talk shop” with the people I wanted to work with/for someday.  Pairing that with the IDS core and the ESIA skills classes that taught me how to write PMPs and design projects helped me present myself as a total package.

Learning and Practicing Development: An Interview with Mariam Adil

Mariam Adil

Mariam Adil

OID: Thanks for talking to OID today! Tell us a little bit about yourself: where are you from, what makes you passionate about development, and why did you choose GWU for your Master’s?

Mariam Adil: Hi Rachel. Well let’s see, I am a first year IDS student at the Elliott School and am super excited about talking to you today. I come from Pakistan and have spent the past four months trying to make DC home.

GWU was a natural choice when I made the decision to pursue a second master’s degree. Having experienced the depth of issues in international development in my three years of employment at the World Bank (WB) Country office in Pakistan, I was determined to pursue an enhanced mix of technical skills to be able to tackle the complexities of evidence-based policy making.  I feel the field of development is fairly complex and therefore I joined the Elliott School in an attempt to understand the horizon of global practices that populate the development canvas.

The opportunity of pursuing graduate studies at ESIA allows me to learn from distinguished faculty, interact with a truly global student body and live in a city brimming with career opportunities in international development.

Mariam Adil and the globe at WB HQ

Mariam Adil at the World Bank HQ

OID: Where do you work right now and what kind of work do you do there?

Mariam Adil: I am currently working as an Economist for the World Bank Africa Education Unit. Having previously worked on primary education in Pakistan, I am extremely excited about the opportunity to not only work in a new region but also focus on a different dimension of the educational pipeline, tertiary education. I am a member of the higher education team that assists the region’s governments with policy advice, financing and technical assistance to improve education outcomes.

OID: What made you decide to work and go to school simultaneously?

Mariam Adil: In my mind, there was no other way to do it. I feel the benefits of being able to create linkages across my work and study far outweigh the pressures of multi-tasking. Development is about unveiling channels through which lessons are learnt across regions, knowledge is shared across borders and experiences inspire across time zones. The WB-GW mix is ideal for celebrating the spirit of development.

OID: Do you feel your experience as a practitioner has aided in your classroom experiences thus far? If so, in what ways?

Mariam Adil: I used to think, I would have to zone in and out of the student mode if I am working and studying at the same time, but it turns out that everything I do feels like an excellent learning opportunity with my student hat on. Given my experience in the World Bank, I am better able to contextualize the concepts that are discussed in class and relate them directly to my professional experiences. In the past few weeks, I have come across several development perspectives that are critical of the way that the IFIs function. Being part of an IFI, I am not only able to understand these criticisms in a meaningful manner but also appreciate the progress that has been made in the past decade in addressing some of the longstanding concerns. Lastly, examples from work help in taking a shot at those class participation marks.

Mariam shared this picture from the field-the boy is standing in a gaping hole in his school's wall, he found the entire thing very funny. Mariam said, "every time i look at the picture, I wonder if we could give him a different reason to smile."

Mariam shared this picture from the field-the boy was playing between a gaping hole in his school’s wall. Mariam said, “every time i look at the picture, I wonder if we could give him a different reason to smile.”

OID: The semester is still just getting into gear, but do you feel like what you’re learning in class helps you professionally? If so, how so?

Mariam Adil: I am truly enjoying the mix of faculty at the Elliott School. We have a great line-up of anthropologists, with the likes of Professor Roberts, Professor Fink and Professor Gow, giving me an opportunity to view development with a different lens, one that is shared by the World Bank president who is also an Anthropologist. And then there are the inspirational economists that that have strong linkages with the Bank. Professor Foster is buddies with the WB Chief Economist, Kaushik Basu, and Professor Fox, having worked at the WB for several years, is super popular amongst my class-fellows and colleagues J.

Also, the biggest advantage of being in class is the fact that there is no such thing as a stupid question. In development, there are many things that can boggle one’s mind and I am glad I have a second shot at learning more about the work that I so passionately enjoy.

OID: How is your cohort so far?

Mariam Adil: While I do not get much time to enjoy the student life, I can easily say my class fellows have made the entire experience an absolute treat. I am super excited about the cornerstone project and can’t wait to group up and dive into development challenges. Some last words: I think OID rocks. It’s inspiring the work the second years have done, especially on the blog, and I hope we can keep the legacy going. (Editor’s notes: elections are coming up in November!! If you, or someone who inspires or challenges you seems like they would be a good fit to be on the OID board, encourage them to run!

Rachel Clement on Gender, Youth, & Urbanization

OID: Rachel, tell us more about yourself and why you chose development?

Rachel Clement

Rachel Clement

Rachel Clement: I’m originally from Colorado (and I miss it terribly especially when it’s hot and muggy here in DC!), but have spent several years working in Austria, Costa Rica, and Ecuador. I majored in Sociology and Spanish in undergrad. Professionally I have spent time working for a small NGO in a rural village in the Andes in Ecuador and as a Bilingual Program Specialist for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado. Both instances helped me to realize that my calling was development.

Rachel and her "little sister" before indoor skydiving in Denver

Rachel and her “little sister” before indoor skydiving in Denver

At BBBS I interviewed volunteers, children and families and matched children ages 7-12 with suitable adult mentors. I mentored a girl for over 5 years, and still consider her my “little sister.” Working with youth domestically who were living in poverty and seeing them rise above so many challenges and obstacles and make their own paths in life really inspired me. While I was in Ecuador I learned a lot about development, and felt frustration at my own lack of knowledge. The organization I worked for was trying to build tourism, invest in human capital by building computer and English-language skills, as well as improve  water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) systems. The water in the village was not potable–you could actually see things floating in it–and there was no formal road in to the village to bring supplies (such as water and medicine) or to transport the children to the next village over for secondary schooling. I attended several community meetings and there were several times when the concerns of the community did not align with those of the NGO. Being an insider/outsider allowed me to see both sides, but not how to resolve the issues that were presented. There were a lot of factors for the NGO to work on, and they tried to work with the community on a lot of them, but I felt that going to graduate school would allow me to see the “big picture” of development and program management so that I could be prepared to tackle the processes involved in a development project.

OID: So, why did you decide to stay in DC this summer and are you happy that you did it?

Rachel Clement: I’m really happy I decided to stay in DC this summer. I was able to attend several lectures that I wouldn’t have had time for with school and interning during the school year.  I heard from top people from the UNDP, Population Council, Oxfam—just recently I saw Rajiv Shah  talk about women in Afghanistan.  It’s amazing to have the opportunity to hear people you read about in class speak and often have the chance to talk to them afterwards and ask questions. It really makes you question what you hear and read in class in an intelligent and critical way. It’s also a great way to explore topics that aren’t  necessarily in your area of concentration, and to hear different points of view.

I’ve been an intern with The Coalition for Adolescent Girls since February and when I was offered the position I knew it would be through December (and that I couldn’t go abroad.) The Coalition is made up of 40+ member organizations who come from all areas of development.  It’s the perfect internship for me because gender and youth are both cross-cutting issues and members of the Coalition address both from all areas—economics, health, advocacy, education, and more. It’s given me a really healthy perspective on what is and what isn’t being done for girls in development as well as which areas I want to specialize in. So, while I was sad to not be in the field I think the experiences I gained are well worth it. It also afforded me the opportunity to take my research methods class over the summer, which means I’m better prepared (and able to go part-time second semester) for the IDS capstone project.

OID: Your concentrations include Youth and Gender. What got you interested in these aspects of development, and how have you found them to be inter-related?

Rachel Clement: I was in a sorority in college and am the kind of girl who loves wearing a dress–I don’t think I’m my mother’s generation of feminist. I didn’t start out identifying myself as a feminist, which would make my poor mother cringe to hear, but in all of my previous professional experiences I realized how much of how we interact with the world around us is impacted by gender. Everything from how you walk to school or work, to what you wear and what you say, to what kinds of jobs you take is impacted by gender. And yet, traditionally a lot of development policies and programs lumped people together as though men and women—and boys and girls—all have the same needs.

A group of GWU students participating in a Day of the Girl advocacy campaign. This year's theme is girls' education.

A group of GWU students participating in a Day of the Girl advocacy campaign for ABC News. This year’s theme is girls’ education.

I’m passionate about girls in development, which is why I am concentrating on youth and gender in urban spaces . I’m a huge proponent of consistent collection of sex and age disaggregated data (and I’m not alone). (If you’re interested in gender but don’t have space for it on your schedule, DevEx made this list of the “top 10” books you should read and it includes everything from value chains to mainstreaming. It’s not comprehensive but might be a good starting place!) I decided to focus on young women because I think often they are the most overlooked part of any population. In most cultures, including my own, we are taught to be quiet and respectful while boys are taught to speak up and dominate classroom discussions, relationships, politics, business, you name it. And I don’t think all men are bad or that all men hit women, but I do think there are a lot of girls and women whose voices aren’t heard, and I want to help amplify them, and give them a place within the world and their own communities.

Urban Quito, Ecuador

Urban Quito, Ecuador

I chose urban spaces based in large part on my own professional experiences with youth in urban and rural Ecuador and urban Denver. The global trend, particularly in the developing world, is towards cities and urbanization. About half of the world lived in cities as of 2000, and it is projected that by 2050, seven out of ten people will live in urban areas. I was born and raised in a city and feel I have a better understanding of urban issues and aspirations, and living in rural Ecuador really helped me to define that I don’t have that same passion for rural areas. One of the big issues we saw there was a rural to urban migration of young people, so I don’t think the two are separate issues, either. I think building good cities that provide economic and educational opportunities for young people can also increase the kinds of migration we see, and help to improve rural areas, keep young people at home to finish their education, and to be more financially stable in general. I’m hopeful that by concentrating on vulnerable populations in an emerging area of need will position me where I can be marketable and of the greatest use.

Rural Pistishi, Ecuador

Rural Pistishi, Ecuador

OID: You have previous work experience working with domestic youth, how has this impacted your view of youth and international development?

Rachel Clement: I think sometimes people forget how big a little thing can be, which was really brought home to me working with youth domestically. I paired children with one-to-one adult mentors. Usually the mentors took their mentees to do fun things like go out to ice cream, to the park to play, or maybe work together on homework. We really discouraged spending money (and encouraged spending time) with the kids. I was fortunate to see several of our “Littles” graduate from high school and move on to pursue tertiary education. Interacting with the kids everyday really brought home to me how having those support systems—whether it’s family, friends, or a role model or mentor—can make all the difference for someone. I didn’t start out with this concentration when I entered GWU, but through the cornerstone and other courses came to firmly believe that interventions made in childhood and adolescence can be the most impactful long-term investment one can make. I often think of the children that I supported at BBBS and about what a big difference simply having one extra person who acts as your cheerleader can make, and how enormous of an impact organizations that promote healthy youth outcomes and supported mentorships can make.

OID: You’ve completed a few internships while in the IDS program. Can you speak to how you found these internships and how they have benefited your studies at the Elliott School?

Rachel Clement: I found my first internship through the Elliott School Career Center job website. I had an interest in gender and a vague interest in youth and Plan International posted two positions related to adolescent girls. The position I applied for was a research internship looking at funding that is either targeted at interventions for or eventually reaches adolescent girls. From this internship I began focusing most of my class papers on adolescent girls and the various interventions that are being used currently. The thing with writing a 20 page paper, and doing it well, is that you have to be interested in what you’re writing about and I found that I always had too much to say and too many pages to write! From this, I began looking at organizations that have programs specifically working with and for adolescent girls. Naturally when the Coalition for Adolescent Girls advertised an internship opening, I applied immediately! I think interning while going to school is the perfect balance. I was in a youth class with a professor who helped to write a major US government youth policy. Actually talking to the person who wrote the policy was a truly memorable experience. That, coupled with people who are working to translate that policy into practice, gave me a really full view of all of the moving pieces that go into changing development policies, priorities, and programs.

OID: What was the best advice you received before your first year? What is your best advice for incoming IDS students?

Rachel Clement: In the fall, about one month into my first semester, one of my friends died. I was still new to DC, and my cohort really came through. I remember the now-President of OID, Alejandro, stopping me outside of Gelman and saying, “we are your family now. You have to deal with this, and we are here for you.” I think that’s what really makes IDS unique: you’re in this cohort of people from such diverse backgrounds and interests, but everyone is really compassionate and caring. We edit each other’s papers during finals, host dinners and study groups, and are just really there for each other as a support system. I don’t know of another program that has that. It doesn’t have to be something as tragic as a friend’s death: being in a new city or a new program can be really stressful and isolating for anyone. Just know that your whole cohort feels some degree of the same thing and that they (and the second years!) are here for you, and can and will make that transition easier. I’d also echo some of the advice given by other second-years: don’t worry too much if you don’t have all the answers right now. Take on internships, even if they are unpaid or part-time. Attend as many events in DC as you can, even if you don’t think they are in your area of interest. You’ll figure it out (and if you stay in DC and want to take a class you couldn’t fit in, GWU has really good alumni rates for auditing classes!)

GWU students listen as World Bank President Jim Yong Kim's new strategy to end global poverty.

GWU students listen as World Bank President Jim Yong Kim’s new strategy to end global poverty.

OID:  What is (are) the best class(es) you’ve taken at GW? Do you have any recommendations on how to find the best schedule?

Rachel Clement: That is a tough question. Best classes: I loved the Gender and Development class with Dr. Fink. I was a little intimidated to take two classes with the co-chair of the department my first semester but I am very happy I did. It was great to see Fink in her element and I think she brought to that class the perfect balance of structure and debate. We had some really eye-opening and thought-provoking discussions that made me decide on gender as a concentration (and that I wanted to look more into youth interventions as well). I still reference the readings in meetings and other classes I’ve had. I think other interviewees have echoed this but Mr. Yetter’s Participatory Planning class was also incredible. I wrote my final paper for that class as a re-imagined second-chance at my experiences in Ecuador, and what that would have looked like using participatory methodology. It was phenomenal to apply a real-world experience in a class like that.

Best schedule: Don’t give up! Search other schools in GWU at the Consortium. This semester I’m actually only taking one Elliott class; the others are in the School of Public Health and one via the Consortium. Taking classes outside of Elliott is an extra step (you have to have your professor, advisor, and the registrar sign an additional form for consortium, and sometimes really justify your class choices for other GWU schools) but for me it’s been worth the hassle! I really appreciate that about GWU: since I have been able to hone down my concentration through my core coursework and the papers I wrote in my first year, I can take classes now to apply that knowledge and further increase my skills as they relate to my concentration. My class with Dr. Ruiz on Adolescent Health is really engaging and it’s interesting to get a non-development perspective from my fellow classmates. I’m taking an urban development class at American University and we are actually doing a service learning project with a community here in DC. I applied to AU and GWU initially, so this is a great way to get the best of both worlds! The class is also really diverse: about half international students and half-Americans, with several students from business and law perspectives.  I’m also taking Introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS) course which is out of my comfort zone and fast-paced but I am loving it thus far and  can’t wait to apply it in urban contexts with youth-oriented services. I’m contemplating taking Advanced GIS next; I think the way youth can and cannot move around a city and obtain services like education, transportation, and sexual/reproductive healthcare is intriguing and directly impacts effects of programmatic interventions.  I am confident that having a GIS skill-set can help me provide additional expertise once I enter the workforce.

Event Recap: Apple Picking!

As summer turns to fall (wait, it was 90 degrees, this is fall?) the apples get ready to fall off their branches, and OID was there to catch them. Despite the long drive, first and second year OID students trekked out to Butler’s Orchard to pick apples, raspberries, and even corn! OID has heard that there are some accomplished and intelligent first-years, but now we also know how nice you are. Thanks to everyone who came out, including Dr. Fink and her family.  Here are a few pictures submitted to OID of the event:

The OID apple pickers, 2013

Paola, apple picking with OID 1377185_10100166298313822_1914817795_n

Mariam Adil, apple picking

Thanks, everyone!

What a Week!

We hope everyone enjoyed all of the great events around town this week in DC and at GWU. Did you attend the World Bank event with President Jim Yong Kim’s speech about ending poverty by 2030? (If not, the speech is online, here.) What about the Society for International Development’s Career Fair? George Washington and the Elliott School work hard to bring these events to DC, and our school. We love to see OID faces in the audience!

GWU students attend WB and SID events

GWU students attend WB and SID events

As midterms rapidly approach it can be tempting to move into Gelman, but don’t forget to take a break and attend some of the great events in and around DC. Please support your fellow grad students and consider attending these upcoming events:

Youth Dialogue: Innovation in Job Creation
from and for the Youth

October 9, 4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

George Washington University, Lisner Auditorium

The Youth Dialogue, which has been organized as part of the Annual Meetings for the past 2 years, will provide a platform for youth to share their views on the persistent high unemployment, especially among the Youth. With traditional channels of job creation not working fast enough to deal with joblessness, innovation in self employment and private enterprise may be key.

Twitter: #YouthDialog, and watch onlinehere: http://www.imf.org/external/AM/2013/seminars/youth/index.htm (Allison DeMaio will be a featured panelist for this prestigious event.)

International Day of the Girl Summit

October 11, 10:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. (For a full schedule please click here)

American University

http://dayofthegirldc.wordpress.com/ (Rachel Clement, OID Social Media Chair, will be a featured panelist at this event.)

And please, please, please submit any events (particularly if you are on a panel or find it relevant to your own work and studies) to oid@gwu.edu so we can add it to the calendar of events.

Nikhil Gehani on Career Changes and Development Challenges

Nikhil Gehani

Nikhil Gehani, studying with a friend

OID: Thanks for talking to OID today! Tell us a little bit about yourself: where are you from, what makes you passionate about development, and why did you choose GWU for your Master’s degree in IDS?

Nikhil Gehani: I’m from Michigan and have actually spent my entire life there. So, as surprising as it sounds, this is my first time moving away from home! After graduating with a BA in Marketing from Michigan State University, I spent five years working in Detroit for a couple of advertising agencies (assigned to, of course, two of “The Big 3” accounts). Working in Detroit, I would see the effects of poor policy decisions, corruption and a single-source economy. But I also saw the resurgence of a city rebuilding itself through innovation, entrepreneurship and community involvement.

The Detroit skyline

The Detroit skyline

I wouldn’t say that’s the reason I decided to pursue a degree, but it definitely impacted my thinking and approach. It forced me to think about development each day. I chose to come to GW for a number of obvious reasons (ie location, prestige, curriculum). But what really made the choice clear was a conversation I had with Dr. Roberts in the spring. If I can simplify it, he basically said that the program encouraged students to challenge long-held assumptions, to be critical of the status quo and then to get out in the field and do something about it. That was refreshing to hear, especially from a program director. I accepted the offer later that week.

OID: What specific areas of development are you interested in and why?

Nikhil Gehani: As of now, my focus is on entrepreneurial and enterprise development. I’ve always wanted to build businesses and I enjoy building brands and market strategies. In many parts of the US, entrepreneurs and small- and medium-sized enterprises have a plethora of resources to tap into whether that is financial or knowledge support. But in other parts of the world the soil isn’t as fertile, so to speak. Yet, there are very capable, competent and committed entrepreneurs all around the world who are pulling their communities out of poverty through job creation and market development. I don’t want to dictate how they should build their business. I just want to help in any way I can, whether that is raising capital or crafting their brand strategy.

Lafayette Greens in Detroit

Lafayette Greens, an urban farm in Detroit

OID: You’re making a seemingly big career change—what made you decide to get out of advertising and into development?

Nikhil Gehani: I’m not sure I see the move as a complete departure from advertising into development, at least in terms of what I want to do with my career. I mean, in terms of moving from one industry to another, absolutely it was a big switch (and seemingly random to most people). The ad industry is full of brilliant, creative and dedicated people. It was difficult to leave the agency world and some of the perks that came with it (let’s just say the beer and wine fridges were a nice touch). But there is plenty of overlap between advertising and development (not just the drinking part), especially in entrepreneurial and enterprise development. We built campaign strategies, brands and, ultimately, businesses. Now, using that experience along with what I’m learning at the Elliott School, I want to help build businesses in the areas that need them most.

OID: Tell us your first impressions: How is your cohort so far? How has grad school differed from how you imagined it would be?

Nikhil Gehani: Let’s just say the first week was extremely humbling. I spoke and debated (and, yes, drank) with insanely smart people from all over the world with fascinating backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. In the few short weeks that we’ve been here I’ve expanded my thinking, challenged nearly all of my assumptions, and revised my approach to development (more than a few times). As for grad school expectations, well, I had a very narrow focus on what I wanted to do. But seeing the different perspectives has made me realize there are other aspects I need to consider. Development has many facets and seems to become more complex each week.

Nikhil, demonstrating an important facet of development work

Nikhil, demonstrating an oft-important facet of development work

OID: Where are you currently interning and how did you find this opportunity?

Nikhil Gehani: Right now I’m interning at Encite Capital, a start-up that not only invests financial capital in Haitian-based companies, but also provides consulting and mentoring services. It’s a great organization and the co-founders are really inspiring and talented people who have already taught me an enormous amount about the sector. I stumbled upon them while reading about impact investing and, after poring over their website, it was clear that this was the organization I had been searching for. I spent a week meticulously composing an email (that may or may not have sounded completely desperate) and, after a few email exchanges, phone calls and in-person interviews, I joined them as a part-time intern. I’ve been there for about a month and absolutely love it.