#WeAreElliott: Valli Chidambaram

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Valli (Sindhu) Chidambaram is a second-year Master’s candidate in the International Development Studies program at the Elliott School, concentrating in global health and gender. She received her bachelor’s degree in global studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has studied and worked abroad in South Africa, Singapore, Malaysia, and Japan. She has also interned with the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Indonesia, and the U.N. Foundation’s Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (now the Clean Cooking Alliance). In 2018, she received the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship to enter the U.S. Foreign Service. Sindhu speaks Tamil and Spanish, is an avid Bharatanatyam dancer and loves adventure and travel.

What inspired you to select your program/concentration at the Elliott School?

I am passionate about international affairs and addressing global development challenges. My previous international work and travel experiences in Asia and Africa have shown me the interconnected and multifaceted nature of development issues. Although I wanted to pursue graduate studies in the field of International Affairs, I also wanted to retain and utilize my background in health and the environment. The International Development Studies (IDS) program offers the opportunity to dive into these issues with the flexibility to customize my area of specialization, which has allowed me to learn from multiple schools within GWU. I have been able to take classes at the Milken Institute School of Public Health, Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration, and Columbian College of Arts & Sciences.

IDS has the ideal balance of theory, projects, and fieldwork for me. Many of the professors have extensive field experience and teach from a practitioner approach. It has been incredible to hear their stories and learn from their firsthand expertise.

Through the capstone applied research project, we complete a consultancy for an international development organization, which typically include a few weeks of in-country fieldwork. This provides us the opportunity to develop expertise on an issue and contribute to real change before we graduate.

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

My favorite course has been Development Policy and Practice (IAFF 6122). We learned about results chains and log frames, theories of change, social entrepreneurship, advocacy, monitoring & evaluation, budgeting, and development policy implementation and created a comprehensive project portfolio addressing a development issue of our choosing. My project addressed racial disparities in health care access in South Africa. While it was challenging to create a robust project to address this complex issue, it was rewarding once I was able to narrow down and articulate a method to remediate it. It was also inspiring to learn about my classmates’ projects, which ranged from sports development to facilitate community reintegration of child soldiers to expanding midwifery education programs. We also had extensive class discussions on the ethics of international development which made us reflect on our positionality in the development paradigm.

What has been your most rewarding work, intern, or volunteer experience since starting your program at the Elliott School?

My most rewarding experience has been this past summer at the State Department. I monitored worldwide breaking events and observed how U.S. foreign policy evolves in response.  It was an enriching experience and I was surrounded by exceptional colleagues who had served all over the world and had remarkable stories to share.

What advice do you have for first-year students who are starting their graduate studies?

Check your email and use your resources! There are a variety of events, graduate student services (GSS) workshops, language lunches, job/internship postings, and more to take advantage of.

What is your favorite part about living in/around DC?

The diversity! DC is such an international city with universities, embassies, government agencies, international development finance institutions, and nonprofits so there’s always something to do and something to learn.

The #WeAreElliott series highlights current Elliott School graduate students and seeks to answer common questions posed by prospective, current, and incoming students. 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. Find out more about this program by creating a CustomViewbook!

For more information on this series or to submit questions, e-mail esiagrad@gwu.edu.