May 22, 2014

Experiential Learning in the SFS Global Human Development Program

The School of Foreign Service graduated its inaugural cohort of 21 students from the Master's in Global Human Development (GHD) program in spring 2014.

The program curriculum includes traditional development-related courses, such as economics, politics, evaluation, and program design. But the emphasis is on experiential learning—student projects, internships, and extra-curricular workshops—which help highly qualified development professionals excel in their careers. 

Ann Van Dusen, founding director of the GHD program, says that "traditional classroom studies are critical for imparting knowledge and skills. But hands-on work pushes students to apply this knowledge, often to real-world challenges. These experiences also strengthen our students’ professional portfolios as they prepare for their next steps after graduation.”

Hands-on Learning Opportunities

Experiential learning is integrated throughout program coursework. During their first year, all students take a course on Strategic Planning and Program Design. In addition to learning about the latest tools, approaches, and issues in program design and implementation, students work in teams to apply their skills during strategic planning projects for clients, which have included Save the Children, the Hewlett Foundation, Global Rights, Empowered Women International, and the Public Welfare Foundation, among others.

The GHD program culminates in a capstone client engagement project. In their second year, students enroll in Policy and Practice in Development and are tasked with selecting a client organization, conducting a comprehensive analysis of an issue facing their client, and presenting options and recommendations for action. Clients have included USAID, Peace Corps, the Inter-American Investment Corporation, International Medical Corps, and Green Mountain Roasters. 

Other hands-on learning opportunities include the Global Innovation Lab, an intensive three-day design challenge offered as part of the “Innovation in Action” course; the Humanitarian Innovation Jam, a UNHCR summit held in Washington, D.C. to explore the impact of innovations in humanitarian response on refugees and forcibly displaced persons; and practical skills workshops ranging from STATA and cost-benefit analysis to public speaking and data visualization. 

Field Projects and Internships

Students extend and apply their learning through internships in Washington, D.C. and field projects overseas with development organizations. 

The summer field project is a required element of the GHD program, and is completed between students' first and second year. Working closely with faculty and advisors in the GHD program, each student selects a two- to three-month overseas assignment with a development organization. Over the past two summers, GHD students have worked in more than 25 countries, including Brazil, Liberia, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Vietnam, South Africa, and Turkey. Their assignments have included program evaluation, data collection and analysis, communications, proposal development, and stakeholder coordination across public, private, and non-profit sectors. 

Students report that these experiences have helped hone their expertise and refine their career objectives. One student reflected, “I thought about things differently because of this program. The way I talk about things and the way I ask questions changed.” 

During the academic year, students also gain direct work experience through internships in Washington, D.C. More information and sample internship sites are available on the GHD program website. 

Prepared for the Future

Hands-on experiences reinforce students’ skills and often help inspire their next professional endeavors. Sarah Mintz (GHD’14) says, “Looking back, these opportunities helped me to better understand real-world scenarios and augmented classroom learning in a unique and powerful way. It was these experiences that have helped me to chart my career path forward and will certainly continue to provide value throughout my professional career.” 

Students in the first graduating class are now employed and applying their learning and skills in a wide range of development organizations, including the World Health Organization, World Bank, International Medical Corps, Technoserve, Chamonics, CARDNO, Educational Development Center, Inter-American Investment Corporations, and Results 4 Development, among others. 

In July 2014, Professor Steve Radelet took over as director of the GHD program. Radelet, an economist who served in the U.S. Treasury, USAID, and State Department, is the first Chair in Global Human Development.