Matthew Mitchell, M.A. '15, now lives in Washington, D.C., where he serves as a New Business Specialist in the Africa region with DAI Global LLC, an organization that functions as one of USAID's largest implementation partners. Matt began his career with DAI as a Project Associate focusing on the Africa region. In this role, he made multiple trips to Kenya to support the implementation of USAID projects on the continent. How did Matt's time at the School of Diplomacy pave the way for his work in Africa? He shares his reflections in the interview below, illustrating how his SHU Diplomacy years contributed to his success in the nation's capital and beyond.
1. What drew you to study diplomacy at Seton Hall?
I heard about the School of Diplomacy through a message I received after taking the GRE and was intrigued by the School's proximity to New York City and its relationship with the United Nations. As a member of the National Model United Nations team in college, these were big selling points for me. I ultimately decided to attend the School of Diplomacy based on a few factors. First, I did my research on the people that I would be learning from and liked that every member of the faculty had a mix of academic and practitioner experience. I was especially interested in foreign policy analysis, so Dr. Ann Marie Murphy's background steeped in ambassador briefings, overseas experience, and foreign policy expertise stood out. Second, I liked that graduate and research assistant positions were available that could help me pay for my education. Third, the personal attention I received during the application process made me feel very comfortable. I had already tentatively accepted another school's offer, but Dr. Ruby and I spoke by phone multiple times after I submitted my application and really went the extra mile to make sure that I had all the information I needed to make the right choice for me. This made the decision an easy one; I withdrew my acceptance from the other school and committed to Seton Hall.
2. What were some of the highlights of experience at the School, and what sort of lasting effects did these experiences have on you?
Three key highlights for me were the Journal of Diplomacy, Dr. Edwards' International Organizations writing exercise, and the African Union Seminar led by Dr. Bariagaber. I also made friends for life – just last week I returned from a wedding in Iowa for one of my classmates from the School of Diplomacy.
I applied to work on the Journal during my first year of my graduate program because I have always enjoyed reading, writing, and editing. This seemed like the perfect complement to my coursework and great opportunity to meet people and get involved with the School. I interviewed for one of the Associate Editor positions and the interview committee selected me for a Senior Editor position, which was unexpected, but welcome nonetheless. My year as Senior Editor allowed me to hone my editing and writing skills, which helped with both the Journal and my schoolwork as well. In my second year, I was chosen to be Editor in Chief, which was a truly fantastic experience. The leadership board and I put together an excellent team of 20 editors as well as social media and business staff. Together, we aggressively rolled out blogs and book reviews completed by graduate students, allowing our peers to gain practice in professional writing and add publications to their name. We also brought in Dr. D. James Baker, the former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator under President Clinton and current Director of Forest and Land-Use Measurement with the Clinton Climate Initiative, as part of a launch event for our issue on climate change. In the same year, we released an issue about mass immigration and refugee policy and also published an issue on international economic policy.
Dr. Martin Edwards' class on international organizations still stands out to me because of the high standards he set and the lasting impact the course's writing exercise had on my academic and professional life. As part of the course writing component, pairs of students were required to write about one international organization and then distill our semester of research into an 800 – 1,200 word op-ed that we would then submit to be published. My partner and I successfully published our op-ed with the World Policy Institute and received positive feedback from ambassadors and representatives of the organization we researched.
The African Union Seminar was a highlight of my time at the School. During our international tour, we spent time in multiple cities in Ethiopia including Addis Ababa, Axum, Gondar, and Lalibela. It was incredible to explore a regional organization like the AU so early in its lifespan and hear firsthand about the struggles and success it has experienced. Since I now work on implementing USAID projects in Sub-Saharan Africa, this Seminar has been particularly useful. In fact, one of the proposals I am currently working on focuses on strengthening regional organizations in East and Southern Africa.
3. What relationships or skills did you leverage most from your time at Seton Hall to launch your international career?
The alumni-network was incredibly useful. Alumni of the School were an important resource for me to receive CV feedback, career advice, and introductions. A number of past Diplomacy Alumni Association board members were happy to meet with me one on one to offer their advice and arrange meetings.
My work with the Journal of Diplomacy was a great selling point for potential employers, as were my graduate school internships at World Policy Institute Spring and Worldwide Orphans Foundation (WWO). I continued working part-time at my WWO internship following my full-time summer commitment so that I could have a full year of work experience added to my CV. It helped that my experience there was in Monitoring and Evaluation, which is a fundamental concept in international development. I think doing an internship for a full year is a great way for students to add meaningful work to their CV while going to school and it also allows for the building of substantive relationships.
4. How do you see your educational experiences interacting in your post-graduate career?
I went into international development (USAID implementation) following graduation, but I didn't know that's what I wanted to do as a career until midway through my second year of the graduate program. I only came to that conclusion after speaking with an alumni speaker who led one of the School's weekend skills presentations. I would encourage current and future students to start building their network and reaching out to alumni early in their graduate school careers. Alumni can provide valuable insights and change your direction based on the feedback they provide regarding the realism of your goals and how to best achieve them.
In terms of applying my education: my research methods, economic development, and international organization classes have been the most consistently useful to me. I think students should view their classwork as a way of building a theoretical foundation and then maximize their internships to gain the hard skills that employers seek like budget management, business development, concise written analysis, and more.
5. What opportunities beyond your classroom experience and your internships did you find to be most helpful in your professional development?
During my time at Seton Hall, I was the graduate student representative to the School of Diplomacy's Board of Overseers. This gave me unique access to influential people – especially in the Washington, D.C. area. I think this is a resource that should be leveraged by students more often, as the School is happy to make valuable introductions. George Laudato, an advisory board member and Former Administrator's Special Assistant for the Middle East, United States Agency for International Development was especially helpful to me in setting up networking meetings in D.C., reviewing my CV, providing feedback on my career plans and advice on how to best go about reaching my goals, hosted happy hours, and much more.