Grace Nagel hails from Columbus, Georgia, and currently serves in the Peace Corps as a Community Economic Development Volunteer in Senegal, West Africa. She earned a Master of Science in International Affairs from the Ivan Allen College Sam Nunn School at Georgia Tech in December 2014. She is passionate about working toward sustainable global change. We spoke with Grace about her career and perspectives.
After graduating from the Master in International Affairs program in 2014, I took a job with a Georgia state-contracted mental health agency providing housing and transitional case management services to homeless individuals with severe and persistent mental illness. While this job was a jarring shift from the realm of international affairs and politics, it was this position that solidified my desire to work for the public good in a direct, tangible way: I knew that I wanted to have a career devoted to public service.
I made the decision to apply to the Peace Corps to challenge the limits of my duty to public service and to gain experience in international development work. I was selected to serve as a community economic development volunteer in Senegal. I departed for service in February, 2016 to complete an intensive ten weeks of pre-service training and later swore in as a Peace Corps Volunteer on May 6, 2016.
“I made the decision to apply to the Peace Corps to challenge the limits of my duty to public service and to gain experience in international development work.”
I have been awarded extraordinary freedom in pursuing projects of all kinds with local work partners and with the support of my community.
The majority of my projects involve teaching entrepreneurship via soap making as an income-generating activity. While making and selling soap is not a guarantee for financial success, it is an opportunity to teach financial literacy, cost-benefit analyses, product development, accounting, and recordkeeping for any business, particularly to women and youth. My favorite part of service is seeing women’s groups begin to make a profit selling soap in the market.
After having served at my post for over a year and a half, I can safely say that my education and experiences in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs contributed greatly to my success as a Peace Corps Volunteer, particularly in monitoring and evaluation. I often thought back to my course with Dr. Danny Boston on Evaluating International Development Projects when I had to design, execute, and evaluate my own projects on site. I also took two excellent courses on development with Dr. Barbara Lynch: Urban Transformations of the Global South and Modernization and Development. These courses helped challenge my preconceptions of people living in developing countries and their economies, beliefs, and communities. When working in development, you quickly learn that preconceptions are pitfalls to success: until you learn what motivates a person to behave a certain way, you can never effectively establish behavior change.
As I enter the final nine months of my Peace Corps service, I hope to continue working in sustainable development. I am applying to extend into a third year of service as the monitoring and evaluation coordinator based out of Dakar. I would like to pursue a career with USAID or the U.S. Department of State in international development. Looking back on my education, I am confident that I would not be in the same position as I am currently had I not earned my master’s degree from the Nunn School.
My time at the Nunn School was one of deep personal and professional growth, full of unforgettable experiences: from assisting with the 2014 Nunn Policy Forum on Energy Technology and Policy and being privy to a bevy of speeches by global experts, to interning at The Carter Center, to having guest lectures with Representative John Lewis and the Honorable Sam Nunn himself!
Being able to have such intimate encounters with political giants made me realize what a powerful impact I could have on the world. My peers in the Nunn School have grown to be movers, shakers, and influencers in the domestic and global spheres.
First, take advantage of the close-knit community at the Nunn School and Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts. In no other program will you find such dedicated faculty and staff who not only know your name, but can serve as your mentors and guides to a global career. The program at the Nunn School is exceptional in its ability to deliver technically innovative solutions to global problems. Second, take advantage of Atlanta and its multifaceted opportunities in politics, government, business, and development. Third, take advantage of the remarkable reputation of a Georgia Tech education. Our alumni network is one of the largest in the country and opens a variety of doors.