#ElliottProud: Nicole Mechem

Nicole Mechem brings 17 years of experience to her role as the director of IREX’s Leadership Practice, where she leads a portfolio of global leadership development programs that are advancing positive change in institutions and communities around the world. She joined IREX in 2006 and most recently served as the Deputy Director of IREX’s Leadership Practice and Chief of Party for the USAID Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders program. Her prior roles at IREX have included providing technical support and leading the design, start-up, implementation, and management of education and leadership programs. Additionally, Nicole served as IREX’s first proposal recruiter, as the director of IREX/Tbilisi, and supported IREX’s Field Operations unit. Before joining IREX, Nicole served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Telavi, Georgia. Nicole holds an MA in International Development Studies from the Elliott School and a dual BA in government and Spanish from California State University, Sacramento.

Describe your current position and what are your primary responsibilities?

My current title is Director, Leadership Programs at IREX, a global development and education non-profit. As the director of IREX’s Leadership Practice I lead a portfolio of global leadership development programs that are advancing positive change in institutions and communities in over 100 countries including the United States. In this role, I set and execute the Practice vision and provide managerial oversight of a portfolio of over $100 million in U.S. government and foundation funded programming and over 60 global staff. The portfolio of work I lead creates, grows, connects, and sustains networks of changemakers around the globe in support of building stronger, more resilient communities. I led the development of IREX’s leadership approach, setting organizational direction for our leadership development work. Additionally, I am a member of IREX’s senior management team and in this capacity, I contribute to organizational strategy and policy formation.

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 started out in my career, I’d imagined I’d be working abroad in the humanitarian assistance field, so what I’m doing now is quite different. The mission of my work now is to develop leaders around the globe to tackle the complex challenges we all face, which is important because we need competent, ethical leaders in communities everywhere, including right here in the U.S. It is a huge task and I’m proud to play a small part.

What part of your career do you find most rewarding and why?

I started my career doing more hands-on work with our participants and my day-to-day is now more focused on ensuring that our programming is having an impact and that my team has the training and resources they need to succeed and thrive. Working with my team is one of the most rewarding things I do. I love when I get to support people in solving a tough problem or progressing in their professional growth.

In your experience, how has a graduate degree related to international affairs been valuable?

The most valuable part of my IDS program was the capstone project. The skills I got to learn and practice through the capstone are skills that I draw on to this day: assessment, program design, budgeting, networking, etc. All these skills are valuable and are actually used in my field.

Share a fun/funny work from home/quarantine story!

So much at home time has completely destroyed my Spotify playlist. I went from looking forward to my “discover weekly” playlist to being horrified that songs Spotify now suggests for me are all from Disney movies. I guess that’s what happens when your three-year-old co-worker requests the Moana and Frozen soundtracks on repeat.


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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.