Renea Diana Williams graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs at the Elliott School in May 2019. In the summer of 2018, she was selected to participate in an “EcoChange” project in Lima, Peru as an AIESEC international volunteer. While practicing her Spanish, she taught a self-developed curriculum on environmental sustainability. The following spring, Renea interned at the Peace Corps headquarters, where she supported research, stakeholder engagement and trip preparations for invitees. As a GW Presidential Fellow (PAF), Renea is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in International Development Studies (IDS) at the Elliott School with a specialization in sustainability as it relates to environmental conservation and capacity-building. As part of a project-based course this semester, she serves as a student consultant for BEAM, a Thailand-based, educational non-profit. Through a mixed-methods approach, she is engaging the program’s graduates to curate alumni success stories for recruitment and donor engagement efforts.
When did you realize you wanted an international career?
I realized I wanted an international career when I was applying for college during my senior year of high school. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I did know whatever it was, I wanted to help make the world a better place for all, no matter where they are. After looking into the Elliott School of International Affairs, reading about the program and learning more about the opportunities for changemaking through international affairs, I knew it was what I wanted to pursue. After graduating with a B.A. in International Affairs from the Elliott School, with and reflecting on everything I had learned, I decided to continue my education there in the International Development Studies M.A. program! I believe my focus in international development has allowed me to learn the best way to contribute to positive change in the world; whether that be by elevating the voices of the world’s marginalized, involving more diverse stakeholders from the local to global levels, or recognizing the importance of inclusion to ensure projects are sustainable and making the most positive impact positive for individuals, society and the planet.
Where do you currently work, intern or volunteer, and how does it fit in with your career goals?
I am recent GW graduate (BA ’19), and am currently a GW Presidential Fellow (PAF). As a PAF, part of my fellowship entails that while I pursue full-time study, I will also serve as a part-time staff member in a university department. I am currently placed at the Multicultural Student Services Center (MSSC) as the Graduate Fellow Program Coordinator for the Pan-Asian community (South Asian, Asian & Pacific Islander). I serve in several advisory, liaison, administrative and project management roles to directly support 30 undergraduate and graduate student organizations, larger university provost departments, and the continuation of cultural programming at GW. The many hats I wear at work fit into my future career goals as a development practitioner, because I am learning how to navigate the needs of a community and adapt my approach based on these identified needs. While I am able to provide identity-centered communication, leadership, programming guidance, scheduling coordination and digital marketing support services; I ultimately support the growth and capacity-building of students. I ensure they feel empowered as leaders in programming and changemakers; putting students back at the forefront of shaping the student experience. I have been able to hone my project coordination, creative thinking, leadership and teamwork, and multicultural communication skills; all of which will be essential when I enter the development world as a young professional and practitioner.
What tools/strategies have proved most helpful in making the most of your time at the Elliott School?
Some strategies that have proved most helpful in making the most of my time at the Elliott School is building relationships with my peers and professors, and making sure I ask any pressing questions I have. I believe relationship-building is essential in the Elliott School, and makes it unique from other disciplines. International affairs is about interconnectedness through global perspective, and what better way to embody this practice than by learning from the experience of your peers and professors from around the world! Starting these conversations from shared interests, or even disagreements, is the most proactive way to start expanding your world view and developing a global perspective that will show in any international affairs work you do – from research in the classroom to international projects in the field. An additional part of this relationship-building process is making sure to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there to learn something new; chances are there are plenty of people who have the same, or similar, questions as you do! I had accepted early on that collaboration was a key part of how I wanted to approach international affairs learning and that is something that I definitely think has helped to make my time at the Elliott School such a positive and rewarding experience thus far.
What advice do you have for students for staying motivated at work or in class?
My advice to students for staying motivated is to strive to learn something new every week, or even every day! Take time to reflect on what you have read, projects you have worked on, and the positives and challenges you have encountered. I have found that through reflection I have been able to find purpose and take pride in what I have accomplished. It may also help you see things in a new perspective and will always give you an opportunity to learn something new and exciting- whether that be about particular subject matter or even yourself!
If you could have a parade on any day for any occasion, what would your parade be for?
If I could have a parade on any day or any occasion, I would choose to have a parade for international sloth day! Before pursuing a career in international affairs, I wanted to be a veterinarian. However, I quickly realized I couldn’t hurt animals to help them, and decided to include my passion for animals on whatever future career path I chose. During my undergraduate studies I concentrated in international environmental studies and currently in my master’s program I am specializing in sustainable development; a key part of which is environmental and biodiversity conservation. But why sloths? The answer is pretty simple. I absolutely LOVE sloths, and I am fascinated by their unique evolution and way of life. They may have a bad reputation for their slowness, often mistakenly confused with laziness, but their simplicity is something I truly value; especially when everything around me seems to be going at a faster pace than I can comprehend at times. I think it would be wonderful to celebrate international sloth day, not only to bring awareness to forest conservation and the preservation of the environment, but to celebrate taking things one step at a time; or one very slow climb in this case. Also, seeing their smiles just makes you feel like things are going to be okay, you know?
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.