Ariel Scharf is a Project Associate at Chemonics International. After completing her B.A. in Political Science and Middle East Studies at the University of Mary Washington, she pursued an M.A. in International Development Studies with a focus on equal education access and monitoring & evaluation principles, from the Elliott School of International Affairs. She has also studied abroad in Honduras and Morocco. During her undergraduate and graduate studies, she completed internships with the State Department, Palladium, and Women for Women International, as well as consulted on projects for the World Bank and Social Impact. Prior to joining Chemonics, she spent a year and a half as the Business Development Associate at Training Resources Group (TRG). Her professional interests include gender, education in developing countries, post-conflict development, and monitoring & evaluation.
When did you realize you wanted an international career?
When I was 16 years old, I participated in Amigos de las Americas, a volunteer abroad program. I lived in a small, rural Honduran village with only one other American. Together, we taught classes on basic hygiene for local children, organized a community project, and generally immersed ourselves in the community and culture. One of my favorite aspects of Amigos was that it required bi-monthly training for a year prior to departure, and the training emphasized bottom-up development and the importance of local buy-in and self-reliance. Upon returning to the states and realizing I could make a living making a difference around the world, I was hooked. I knew International Development was my calling, and I tailored the next six years of my education toward making a career in the development field possible.
Describe your current position and what are your favorite aspects of the job?
I am presently employed at Chemonics as a Project Associate in the East and Southern Africa region. My current portfolio consists of the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET) III IQC team and FEWS NET Latin America Field Offices. In this capacity, I provide Home Office support to the field offices, as well as manage subcontracts and consultants for the FEWS NET project who work globally.
My favorite thing about my job is that I enjoy going to work each day! Every day is different in my position. Some of my favorite aspects of my job include how fast-paced it is and how much responsibility I am given at the Associate level. Every day is an exercise in prioritization, and I frequently utilize creative problem-solving. An additional benefit to any position in my organization is the training, professional development opportunities, and resources that are available to employees. I also am incredibly fortunate to work with a group of talented people who all contribute to an enjoyable work atmosphere.
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?
Given my professional interest in gender equality and access to education, one of the biggest trends I have noticed since I began following international development is the integration of gender in projects across all technical fields. There also appears to be an increased focus on the integration of inclusion aspects in USAID’s Request for Proposals.
There are three pieces of advice I would give to an Elliott School student. The first is, if your financial situation allows, take advantage of whatever experiential learning experiences you are presented with – consultancies, internships, etc. Each of these opportunities teaches you valuable skills that you will use in your career, strengthening your credibility as an international development professional, widening your professional circle, and exposing you to areas and professional interests you may not have studied or known you had. One of the primary reasons I chose the Elliott School was because of the focus its International Development Studies program places on experiential and practical learning opportunities. The Elliott School places a high value on technical skills courses and employs adjunct professors who bring a field perspective to the classroom. I would encourage a current Elliott School student to take advantage of both skills courses and adjunct professors to the best of their ability. The second piece of advice I would give is to truly get to know your cohort members – one day they will be your colleagues. The final piece of advice I would give, and I know it is hard to do when you are a graduate student with a full workload (and likely a job as well), is to track current trends in your field of interest.
How does your current position compare to what you thought you would be doing when you first started your degree at the Elliott School?
When I first began at the Elliott School, my goal was ultimately to work at a top USAID implementer on the design and implementation of youth advocacy and education projects. Although I am currently in project management on a food security project, I find that my current position still serves in pursuit of my initial career goal. I am fortunate to work at one of USAID’s largest implementers where I have many opportunities available to me to gain exposure to these subjects and enhance further my technical skills. Furthermore, in my current position, I have learned the value of project management experience and am acquiring invaluable skills that are shaping me into a more experienced, well-rounded development professional and will continue to serve me for the duration of my career, regardless of where it takes me.
If you could have any other career, unrelated to international affairs, what would it be and why?
If I could have any other career, I think I would be a history teacher – either at the high school or collegiate level. I’ve always enjoyed history, and teaching is another great career that touches lives and helps people! One of the things I always appreciated about my favorite high school teachers and college professors was that, as students, we were at an age where teachers could speak to us bluntly, as equals, and could challenge our thinking. If I wasn’t an international development professional, I would love to be able to pass the gift of critical thinking on to future generations. Additionally, the bond between a student of these ages and a teacher can be really special, and influential. I actually still keep in touch with my favorite undergraduate professor on a regular basis, and even got lunch with him/her in my college town a few months ago!
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