Insights and influence: Student trip to Washington provides a masterclass in networking

María Camila Peralta acknowledges that networking hasn’t come naturally to her. But as she prepares to launch her international development career, she has learned to appreciate how building relationships can help her make a difference. 

A recent trip to Washington, DC, organized by the Keough School, helped the Nicaraguan student broaden her perspective. María Camila was one of about 15 master of global affairs students on the trip, which allowed participants to connect with policy professionals and learn more about the work of important government agencies and nongovernmental organizations before they graduate and begin their careers. 

María Camila Peralta, a master of global affairs students from Nicaragua, talks with officials during a meeting at the World Bank.

Conversations with colleagues at the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and USAID helped her identify contacts and organizations to follow up with as she pursues a career in multilateral development banking, where she can help share knowledge and reduce poverty. 

“The DC trip was an amazing opportunity to talk to people at all these policy organizations,” she said. “I definitely had things that I wanted to get out of each meeting, but I didn’t expect to receive such good insights and advice, and to get such specific ideas on what I would like to do next.” 

The experience provided many opportunities for students to learn and make connections. At the World Bank, they discussed how the organization, with the private sector’s assistance, helps countries address climate change. At the US Department of State, they learned about conflict prevention and met with Anna Lande, a 2022 graduate of the Keough School’s Master of Global Affairs program, and Peter Quaranto, a 2006 Notre Dame graduate and former faculty member at the Keough School. And at USAID, they explored how to incorporate local leaders in new initiatives. Melvin Sharty, a master of global affairs student from Sierra Leone, introduced the topic, drawing on success stories from his home country. 

Interacting with policymakers during a variety of meetings enabled master of global affairs student Melvin Sharty to highlight his policy interest and expertise.

“I shared a question about engaging local leaders on the ground, including civil society and religious leaders,” Sharty said. “By bringing all of these voices together, you empower the people who actually drive change. So when we design international programs, we should give agency to local populations to lead them. This approach is more sustainable.” 

Sharty’s participation in the conversation highlighted a crucial aspect of the experience, said Maura Policelli, associate professor of the practice at the Keough School and the executive director of its Washington Office. She teaches the school’s Policy Immersion class and helped students prepare for the trip and meet new contacts.  

“Our students did a great job representing the Keough School and preparing sophisticated, policy-relevant questions,” Policelli said. “That’s an important component of the professional development we foster here.” 

So too, Policelli said, are developing communication and interpersonal skills for in-person meetings and professional conversations. Before the trip, she led students in a series of short mock interviews where they practiced succinctly summarizing their policy questions and interests. 

Attendees chat during a networking reception at the Keough School of Global Affairs Washington Office. The school co-hosted the reception with the Society for International Development-US and Howard University’s Patricia Roberts Harris Fellowship for Public and International Affairs.

During the week in Washington, Policelli arranged a networking reception with development professionals and Notre Dame alumni, as well as a private dinner where students brought guests—policy professionals they had met that week. Policelli also emphasized the importance of managing professional relationships by following up after meetings and staying in touch with new contacts. 

“Our students have identified good follow-up opportunities,” she said. “And they are constantly developing important professional skills and expanding their networks.”

Haleemah Ahmad, a master of global affairs student from Nigeria, was particularly grateful for the opportunity to grow her network. Ahmad is passionate about gender justice, interreligious peacebuilding, and preventing violent extremism carried out in the name of religion. Her meetings provided her with new insights—such as how the United States Institute of Peace combines top-down and bottom-up approaches in its peacebuilding work—and allowed her to make important new connections. 

Haleemah Ahmad highlights a point during a meeting with the US Department of State. The master of global affairs student used a recent trip to Washington to connect with peace policy experts.

“It was really striking to see the kind of networks that I have been able to build,” she said. “I met with a staffer at a network of peacebuilders, and she connected me to people at several other organizations that I’m now talking to. That was really impactful. Overall, the trip was a wonderful opportunity for me.”

Learn more about the Master of Global Affairs.

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