#WeAreElliott: Nora Wheelehan

Nora Wheelehan, MA International Affairs, Class of 2021, #WeAreElliott Current Student

Nora Wheelehan is a second-year Masters candidate in the International Affairs program at the Elliott School, with concentrations in International Affairs and Development and International Security Studies. She received her bachelor’s degree in international studies at Fordham University in 2019, grew up in the Foreign Service, and lived in six countries prior to coming to the Elliott School, shaping her passion for international affairs. She currently works for the Center for International Private Enterprise, focusing on the women’s economic empowerment programs in the South Caucasus and Moldova. Nora previously interned with the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi and the United Nations Department of Global Communications, where she was an NGO Youth Delegate serving as the point of contact between the UN and civil society by organizing weekly events covering global topics. Nora enjoys traveling, taking photos, and meeting new people from around the world.

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

I decided to apply to graduate school after my international humanitarian action foreign service program in the summer of 2017. I originally planned to go to medical school, took all the prerequisites, and even took the MCATs! But through this summer course, I realized that my passion was for international affairs, something which seemed so natural to me growing up around the world, spending my whole life abroad. There’s so much to learn about the world, and I loved the Elliott School’s MAIA program because it would allow me to dabble in all my interests. Although I was excited for the Elliott School’s Sciences Po exchange program in the fall of 2020, COVID-19 had other plans, so I used this time instead to grow my relationships with incredible Elliott School faculty and students!

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

I currently am interning at the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) on the South Caucasus team, where I’m supporting the women’s economic empowerment (WEE) programs in the region and designing a research project to pinpoint future program opportunities. Even though this is my first time focusing on this new region, I’ve used my research skills developed in my education to better understand and analyze the WEE situation. A lot of my work focuses on women entrepreneurs and assessing the barriers they face not only in access to markets but also in firms, politics, and society. This internship inspired me to start focusing more on my international development studies and pursue a career in this path because I love using grassroots approaches to organizing and empowering people to make the change they need in their lives. I’ve also been able to utilize more of my economics background as well since there are so many ways the field needs to be updated and more inclusive, so the best way to start that is by challenging the underlying assumptions and shattering them with real-life case studies.

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

Office hours, office hours, and, once more for good measure, OFFICE HOURS! The Elliott School faculty are simply incredible, and I am so grateful for their openness and genuine interest in their students. Meeting with professors is always crucial no matter what you do, but for me, it has provided some incredible mentors and opportunities that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. The transition to online classes has been tough on everyone, but I’ve noticed professors are going above and beyond to be amenable to the new normal and work with us to create the best programs and strategies for success. I also love hearing their life stories and experiences because many are practitioners, so learning from them and their advice in my fields of interest has been so helpful. If you’re struggling in your classes, office hours provide the best platform to properly understanding the material by working with your professors. Conversely, if you’re thriving in and fascinated by the topic, office hours are the best place to ask more questions, nurture that interest, and gain guidance on what to do next. I cannot say enough great things about the Elliott School professors, and I’m forever indebted to them.

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

As someone with ADHD, staying motivated and focused is a constant struggle, especially with online classes and virtual internships. However, I find that the best help is keeping a daily planner that lets you plan out your week and your days by outlining the various tasks and assignments. I also believe that staying up to date on current events motivates me because there are constantly new things happening, and I’m always inspired to make change wherever possible. When you realize the literal world of opportunities, it can serve as an impetus to find correlations in your work and studies. Finally, I think like-minded friends who challenge you are absolutely vital. Surrounding yourself with people from various backgrounds, worldviews, and approaches engenders lively debates about global issues. You get to learn all the different ways people see problems and their solutions. Also, making friends in your classes is one of the best perks because you can exchange ideas and support!

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

My most memorable experience has to be the Elliott Graduate School Forum’s (GSF) Thursday Night Outs (TNOs). I appreciated that the GSF did its absolute best to unite the class and created so many fun ways to interact and meet each other. From networking events to exploring new parts of D.C., I cannot count the number of incredible nights I connected with my peers and had so much fun doing it. Although it’s been challenging to sustain this during the pandemic, I’ve loved their online happy hours and pandemic-friendly activities that have made us not feel as alone during this crisis. All of my best memories from the Elliott School have involved meeting the fantastic faculty and students, sharing viewpoints, and learning from each other.

If you could take a selfie with anyone in the world, who would it be and why?

If I could take a selfie and have a conversation with anyone in the world, it would have to be with Bernie Sanders. I remember going to his energizing rallies in New York during the 2016 primaries and being so moved by his movement, and I proudly continued to support him in the 2020 elections. I am incredibly inspired by his dedication to the same ideologies year after year as he has consistently always fought for the people. I have so many questions for him and would love to ask his thoughts on many issues and see how he got to these conclusions. I am dying to know his thoughts on other politicians as well because politicians are never really what they seem. But an ideal meeting would be to share a beer and bounce ideas off of each other on how to make the most positive change in the nation by empowering those around us.

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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.