#WeAreElliott: Sebastián E. Reyes

Sebastián in the World Affairs Conference. Sebastián Reyes, M.A. in International Development Studies, 2023, #WeAreElliott

Sebastián Eduardo Reyes is the Operations Lead for the Elliott School’s Student Services Division. He also oversees the logistics and planning for the Leadership, Ethics, And Practice (LEAP) Initiative and the Elliott School Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI). Sebastián is also the Coordinator for the U.S. Foreign Policy Summer Program (USFPSP) and the Japan-US Leadership Program (JUSLP). In his role, Sebastián oversees events management, financial operations, marketing and communication processes, program development, and academic affairs. Sebastián is an Elliott School alum; he graduated Magna Cum Laude with a B.A. in International Affairs and Economics with honors. Sebastián is a graduate student in the M.A. in International Development Studies Program. He plans to continue his education and earn a Ph.D. in Political Science.

What path led you to apply to graduate school? Why did you choose the Elliott School?

I have been part of the Elliott School since 2018. It has always been my safe space. I have grown, learned, and found myself more times than I could count, thanks to this institution’s structure, faculty, and staff. When it was time to decide the next steps of my academic journey, the Elliott School was the perfect match for me.

Where do you currently work, intern or volunteer, and how does it fit in with your career goals?

I work for the Elliott School as the Assistant Director of Operations. Interestingly, this job matches my career aspirations as I aim to become a Professor and dedicate my life to higher education and academia. Education has always been the great equalizer for me, and helping future generations to find their purpose and journeys in and outside the classroom is the perfect way to give back and do for others what so many did for me.

What tools or strategies have proved most helpful in making the most of your time at the Elliott School?

Be organized and ask questions. Approaching faculty members, peers, and students that were ahead of me in the program always gave me insight into the information I needed to accomplish my goals and get what I needed and wanted from my program.

How has involvement in student organizations shaped your experience at the Elliott School?

As the Managing Editor of the International Affairs Review, I have enhanced my writing, editorial, and analytical skills as my role requires me to think critically and fact-check all the student pieces that come across my desk. Being a part of this publication and being a published author myself has allowed me to deepen my understanding of the steps and processes that come before the publication of a research piece.

What advice do you have for students to stay motivated at work or in class?

Have a North Star. It doesn’t matter where, but as long as it is yours, that will give you the motivation to move forward, pursue the next milestone, and achieve your goals. The other piece of advice is to give yourself a break. It’s ok to breathe and take an evening for yourself; it’s ok to have that greasy food that you love; it’s ok if you were the best student in one class or if you got an A+ on an assignment. It is ok to need a break. Grad school can be a lonely and stressful journey, so give yourself some grace and the pampering you need to move forward without burning out.

What has been your most memorable experience while studying at the Elliott School?

One time I witnessed one of the most heated debates I have ever seen in a classroom. Everyone got involved, and the Professor took it as an opportunity to make a teachable moment about the discourse in America and how we should be better when discussing our ideas and expressing our thoughts. 

What is one book you think everyone should read and why?

Les Misèrables by Víctor Hugo.


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The #WeAreElliott profile series is managed by the Elliott School Office of Graduate Admissions and highlights current students to answer common questions posed by prospective, incoming, and current students. For more information on this series or to submit questions, e-mail the Office of Graduate Admissions at esiagrad@gwu.edu.

The views expressed by students profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs.

#ElliottProud: Hilary H. Taft

Hilary Taft smiles, wearing a white blazer. She is outside with foliage in the background. Hilary Taft, M.A. International Development Studies, 2020, #ElliottProud

Hilary Hambrick Taft is USAID’s Technical Specialist for Youth Issues in the Inclusive Development Hub. Hilary began her career in rural Guatemala as an educator at a community development center where she launched two social enterprises which still generate funds for the center’s scholarship program. Upon return to the US, Hilary worked with the Nashville, Tennessee Mayor’s office to start the city’s first summer youth employment program. Prior to joining USAID, she worked at Ashoka on the Global Partnerships Team supporting social entrepreneurs and country office business development. Hilary has an M.A. in International Development Studies from GWU’s Elliott School of International Affairs and B.A. in International Business from Belmont University. 

When did you realize you wanted an international career?

I realized that my career trajectory needed to change on a study abroad trip my freshman year to study organic coffee farming in Guatemala. Seeing the reality of poverty in the rural areas and lack of opportunities for many of the children there motivated me to change my major from Music Business to International Business as soon as I got back from the trip.

Describe your current position and what are your favorite aspects of the job?

I’m a technical specialist for youth issues at USAID. My favorite part of my job is getting to work with young people from across all regions and technical sectors. I’m also very fortunate to work with some of the smartest folks in the U.S. Government. Our mission each day is to solve the most pressing development problems in partnership with the next generation of world leaders. 

What are the current trends driving the future of your career field and what advice would you provide an Elliott School graduate student that is interested in your field of work?

The most important thing in youth development right now, in my opinion, is funding youth-led organizations. Working with young leaders to shift the power of development towards local solutions, and with groups who have been historically absent at the table – LGBTQI+ youth, indigenous youth, and youth with disabilities. My advice to grad students interested in youth development would be to find and partner with a youth-led organization through an internship, capstone study, or volunteering. The hands-on experience of working internationally can reinforce everything that is learned in the classroom.

How does your current position compare to what you thought you would be doing when you first started your degree at the Elliott School?

My current position at USAID is exactly what I had hoped for when starting at the Elliott School. DC is a competitive place, so sometimes it’s easy to get discouraged if you don’t get the dream job on the first try. For me, I worked full-time at a coffee shop and non-profit while studying full-time at the Elliott School. My encouragement to current students would be to keep working hard and applying to lots of opportunities, eventually you will land what you’re looking for.

What do you most value about your experience at the Elliott School?

The people – both the professors and my peers made me a better person over my two years at the Elliott School. I’m grateful for all the coffee meet-ups and office hours that folks spent guiding me through the graduate school experience. There are plenty of Master’s Degree programs out there, but the special thing about the International Development Studies program is that you are surrounded by like-minded travelers who want to make a difference in the world. There’s always something to be learned from their personal stories, beyond the academic alone.

What TV show or movie have you most enjoyed in the last year?

Only Murders in the Building! Loved seeing the intergenerational comedy combined with a lot of mystery.


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Find out more about this program by creating a CustomViewbook!
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The #ElliottProud profile series is managed by the Elliott School Office of Graduate Admissions and highlights graduate program alumni to answer common questions posed by prospective, incoming, and current students. For more information on this series or to submit questions, e-mail the Office of Graduate Admissions at esiagrad@gwu.edu.

The views expressed by students profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs.

#WeAreElliott: Onyinye Ijeh

Onyinye Ijeh smiles, wearing a white shirt and stands in front of a glass door.  Onyinye Ijeh, M.A. in Global Communication, 2023, #WeAreElliott

Onyinye “Onyi” Ijeh is a second-year M.A. candidate studying Global Communication at the Elliott School of International Affairs, with a concentration in Public Diplomacy. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree from University of Virginia in Foreign Affairs, studying international relations theory. Before grad school, Onyi worked many odd jobs, as a legal assistant at a trade law firm, executive assistant at a French luxury hotel, as a host at a Michelin star restaurant, as well as an admin at a real estate agency. Currently Onyi works on the Communications team of Family Planning 2030 (FP2030), an initiative housed under the United Nations Foundation, where she provides support to the support team and manages digital communications. Onyi hopes to translate her broad range of experience into a career in public diplomacy or nonprofit management. During her free time Onyi loves to go running, spend time with friends and family, and travel.

What path led you to apply to graduate school? Why did you pick the Elliott School?

My path to grad school was due to a few circumstances: I studied Foreign Affairs in undergrad and needed a graduate degree to supplement my education to qualify for the career path I wanted. As a third culture kid, I always knew I wanted to do something related to International Affairs but needed to gain some professional experience to discover what my niche would be, which I did and worked in D.C. for a few years before applying. I am also a lifelong learner, and love being surrounded by a community of people who love to spar intellectually. And the final reason was a link sent to me by a friend to apply for the Rangel Fellowship, which I did not get unfortunately, but was a big push in narrowing down programs that would place me on my desired career path. I picked the Elliott School specifically because of its reputation and network, as well as an interest in the coursework itself. I found the courses fascinating, as well as the requirement of skills courses and Global Capstone, making it a great program to ensure that I would be more well-rounded and more prepared for leadership positions.

What has been your favorite course at the Elliott School so far and why?

Favorite course so far was my first semester, I took an international trade course for a requirement. I initially disliked that class because it was very challenging and not at all what I thought it would be. It was very heavy math and graph based and took a lot of my time, mostly because I could barely understand the homework. The reason I remember this class so fondly, however, is because I enjoyed how challenging it was and how I felt once I passed. I invested so much time and care into the class and it left me with so much invaluable knowledge, that mostly allows me to understand economics jargon in the news. The class also taught me to advocate for myself and set the tone for my experience in grad school so far. I worked so hard to get accepted to this program and was faced very immediately with a class that threatened my staying power and the fact that I doubled down my efforts and made sure I didn’t give up, was the confirmation to me that I needed to know that I was ready to face the journey ahead.

Where do you currently work and how does it fit in with your career goals?

I currently work for an initiative called Family Planning 2030 (FP2030) housed under the United Nations Foundation, as a communications coordinator. This role perfectly fits with my career goals because working in development has been a dream of mine since I could remember, specifically for the United Nations. I also always wanted a career where I could utilize my traveling experience. I was very fortunate to have been offered a position right at the beginning of my time in graduate school that perfectly matches what I am studying and provides me the opportunity to travel for work. FP2030 is the only organization that focused on family planning, championing for the rights of women to choose when or whether they want to have children. This experience, combined with my capstone coursework, researching the solutions to combatting the root cause of gender-based violence in West Africa, will provide me with the knowledge and experience I will need to grow in my current field.

Think of where you were when you applied to the Elliott School. What advice would you give yourself knowing what you know now, as a student?

I would tell myself to just chill out and maybe go for a walk to clear my head. But in all seriousness, I would tell myself that I might not see it now, but there’s a point where I’m truly happy with what I do every day. It is easy to forget when we’re working towards a goal to be happy with yourself as you are in that moment, because we put so much of our own ego value into certain achievements. I would remind myself that just because I am working towards something doesn’t mean that I cannot enjoy where I am now. I would also tell myself that all my anxieties about the “unsurmountable” goal of being a student again are not real and that it is normal at the bottom of a very large mountain to feel insanely overwhelmed, but every step will take me closer, and one day I’ll look up and it won’t seem so bad.

What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned so far at the Elliott School?

That I don’t know anything at all and to always remain even more humble as I acquire more knowledge and experiences. I am surrounded by so many intelligent, hardworking, and successful people and I get to listen to their insights and perspectives, and it just reminds me to listen. It’s so easy to feel like you know so much especially when pursuing knowledge is so important to you, but listening to other people’s ideas has been such a rewarding experience to me. And this has taught me more than anything to just listen more.

What is your favorite region that you’ve visited and why?

My favorite region to travel to is anywhere on the water, and preferably the Mediterranean. I realized over the summer when travelling in the south of France that I am subconsciously attracted to that part of the world. And not just in France, the last time I felt that at peace was visiting Bodrum, Turkey.


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Find out more about this program by creating a CustomViewbook!
Join us for an information session, RSVP here!
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The #WeAreElliott profile series is managed by the Elliott School Office of Graduate Admissions and highlights current students to answer common questions posed by prospective, incoming, and current students. For more information on this series or to submit questions, e-mail the Office of Graduate Admissions at esiagrad@gwu.edu.

The views expressed by students profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs.

#WeAreElliott: Holiday Traditions

To celebrate the diverse traditions of our community, we asked Elliott School students, faculty, and staff to share some of their favorite holiday traditions. On behalf of the Graduate Admissions Office, we are pleased to wish you Happy Holidays and best wishes for 2023!

Carese Bates
Program Manager, Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Lecturer, Part-time Faculty

Carese Bates smiles, wearing a black shirt and orange blazer

I have a large family with a lot of cousins! Every year we have a progressive Christmas party where we go to 3-5 houses with different themes of cocktail spirits, themed food, and sometimes attire. At the last house, we play dirty Santa. Dirty Santa is a Christmas gift exchange where you draw numbers and pick a gift. You can steal gifts or swap gifts for something you like. It is a lot of fun! 


Justin Berry
Student, M.A. in Latin American and Hemispheric Studies

Justin Berry and his wife Kerstin smile together. They are outside in front of several azalea bushes.

My tradition is poking fun at my wife Kerstin for watching those cheesy hallmark holiday movies with the same plot and literally the same actresses/actors.


Andrea Chang and Poofy Chang
Graduate Admissions Officer & Alumna, M.A. in Asian Studies

Andrea Chang, smiles, wearing a white shirt and holding a birthday cake that says "Happy Birthday Andrea." Poofy Chang is an adorable Pomeranian, standing in front of a large vase of flowers. Poofy has a red envelope tied to her collar.

When I can make it back home for Lunar New Year, my favorite holiday tradition was staying up till midnight the day before.  When celebrating with my extended family that would involve taking turns playing mahjong and eating food or sweets throughout the night.  It is also the time where I get to eat my favorite new year treat, niangao, which is like a sweet mochi made from brown sugar.  My family likes coating it with egg before cooking it in a frying pan.


Jasmine Coombs
Student, M.A. in International Development Studies

Jasmine Coombs smiles, wearing a black shirt holding a small gray and white dog.

Every year on Christmas Eve my family unwraps one gift, pajamas! Some years we all get matching pjs and others we get pjs that match our personalities. On Christmas morning, everyone comes downstairs in their new pajamas and my dad makes eggs Benedict for breakfast. 


Yovela Debesay
Student, M.A. in International Development Studies

Yovela Debesay smiles. She is wearing a blue shirt.

My mom grew up Eritrean Orthodox, where they follow a calendar similar to that of the Julian Calendar, the predecessor to the Gregorian calendar most countries use today. Based on that calendar, Christmas is set on January 7th, so in my household we celebrate Christmas both on December 25th, and January 7th!


Hannah Ettelstein
Student Administrative Assistant, Office of Graduate Admissions

Hannah Ettelstein smiles. She is wearing a sweater that is black with "USA" in blue letters.

My favorite holiday tradition is going to the movies and getting Chinese food on Christmas Day with my family.


Igancio Gomez
Student Administrative Assistant, Office of Graduate Admissions

Ignacio Gomez smiles. He is wearing a beige turtleneck and a black jacket.

One of my favorite holiday traditions in the winter would have to be my family’s celebration of Three Kings Day on January 6th. On this holiday we bring together family and friends to celebrate by eating Rosca de Reyes. It is always so much fun being all together, especially when somebody gets a ‘baby’ in their bread as the person who has the most in the end has to throw a party on Valentine’s Day.


Lakeisha Harrison
Professional Lecturer, Part-time Faculty

Lakeisha Harrison smiles. She is wearing a pearl necklace and earrings and a red blazer.

My favorite holiday tradition growing up was cooking holiday meals as a family. My mother did a good deal of the cooking, but we all contributed in major ways. My father was responsible for smoking the turkey outside on the grill, and for making pecan pies. I was on cheesecake and pound cake duty. My brother was the youngest and provided prep work and other assistance to my mother making the sides. My mother made the sweet potato pies by herself because none of us could make them like her!


Erin Heffernan and Rocky Heffernan-Esmail
Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions

Erin Heffernan smiles. She is wearing a blue dress and is at the Elliott School, overlooking the Washington Monument. Rocky Heffernan-Esmail is a brindle dog with a white face, lying down on a grey sofa, wearing a festive red and white patterned Christmas sweater.

My favorite New Years tradition is to spend some time doing reflective journaling to think about what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown in the previous year and also what priorities and intentions I want to set for the new year. It seems that things always go in a different direction from what I planned the previous January, but it reminds me that the journey is the destination and growth is always possible.


Debolina Saha
Student, Master of International Policy and Practice

Debolina Saha smiles. She is wearing a chic all-black outfit.

Diwali (the festival of lights) which is celebrated between 3 to 5 days across India generally in the month of October or November, is my favourite festival. On this day, we decorate our houses by lighting diyas (oil lamps), visit the temple and exchange gifts and greetings. Children and adults burn crackers and most of us wear new clothes. Besides bringing in many wonderful childhood memories, this festival is also special to me because it signifies defeat of evil and victory of truth!


Sara Wolverson
Student, Master of International Policy and Practice

Sara Wolverson, wearing a black shirt and blue pants, sits near the water with trees and the blue sky in the background.

My favorite holiday tradition is something we started as a family during COVID when we were unable to travel or see extended family. My kids created little paper basket placeholders for my husband, me and themselves at the dinner table. Every year now, we each write down on small pieces of paper specific details – memories, qualities or images – about each other that we appreciate, and then we sort the papers into each person’s basket. At Christmas dinner, each person reads aloud the contents of their basket. Sitting as a family and sharing each other’s words of kindness fosters such a wonderful sense of gratitude for the blessings and memories we have shared and cherished together.


Meg Wurm
Career and Academic Advisor, Graduate Student Services

Meg Wurm smiles, wearing a black shirt with a flower pattern.

Every Christmas break my family and I marathon the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies – the extended editions, of course! We’ve been doing this for about 10 years, starting with just the Lord of the Rings and incorporating the Hobbit movies as they came out. It’s my favorite Christmas tradition, and I never get tired of watching them. My favorite parts are Bilbo leaving for his adventure in the first Hobbit movie and Eowyn’s iconic “I am no man” line in Return of the King.


Want to connect with current Elliott School students and alumni? Click here to see how!
Find out more about this program by creating a CustomViewbook!
Join us for an information session, RSVP here!
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Twitter · Facebook · Instagram

The #WeAreElliott profile series is managed by the Elliott School Office of Graduate Admissions and highlights current students to answer common questions posed by prospective, incoming, and current students. For more information on this series or to submit questions, e-mail the Office of Graduate Admissions at esiagrad@gwu.edu.The views expressed by students, staff, and faculty profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs.