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International Development Alumni Spotlight: Susan Cornforth

Susan Cornforth’s search for a field project led to a full-time job very early in the program. She began working at Self-Help International, an NGO dedicated to empowering individuals in developing nations, taking on everything from clean water access to business development.

Because she started working well in advance of her field project, Susan was able to get a head start on applying everything she was learning in class to real-world situations — giving her invaluable experience while providing a huge benefit to her organization.

“I feel as though my Saint Mary’s experience really prepared me well for the real world of development work. The class subjects were timely, and I was able to immediately put what I learned to practical use in my position at a small NGO working in Nicaragua and Ghana to alleviate hunger and poverty,” she says.

For example, Susan was able to take the Master’s in International Development classroom knowledge presented in the economics course and put it to work right away. She chose one of her NGO’s projects in Africa and did an economic breakdown, evaluating the feasibility of the program. She then used those findings to write a grant, ultimately changing the project entirely. “That’s the sort of thing I ended up doing throughout this program, so it’s been really useful for my organization, as well.”

Her field project gave her the opportunity to extensively evaluate a program dedicated to providing microcredit loans to women business owners in Nicaragua. She was able to assess every aspect of the program, despite a lack of strong metrics. As part of this work, she traveled to Nicaragua to interview many of the women involved or who wished to be involved. What she discovered was that many of the business owners they were trying to help did not have the basic literacy and math skills needed to effectively run their businesses, resulting in nonpayment and many other problems. These discoveries were a huge benefit to the organization and allowed them to work toward implementing solutions to truly meet the needs of program participants.

After graduation, Susan accepted a full-time position with increased responsibility at Self-Help International. She enjoys building on the knowledge she gained through her degree, applying what she learned, and “[having] the opportunity to make a difference every day.”

Learn more about other student experiences, or explore more about the Master’s in International Development here.