- Field of Study: International Agriculture and Rural Development
- Hometown: New York City
- Fun fact: I helped volunteer/coach the Polo team during my time as a Graduate student. I played on the Women’s Polo team for all four years as an undergrad!
- View Ariana's LinkedIn profile
What were you doing prior to your degree program?
Prior to pursuing my masters, I served as an Agroforestry Extension Agent in the Peace Corps in Senegal. My service lasted nearly 3 years. The first two years were spent in a village in the Kaolack region in the center of the country just above the Gambia and for the remainder of my time I was based in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. I travelled frequently to Thies, where the Peace Corps training center was located and across the country to help support the Agroforestry program and other Peace Corps volunteers as they navigated their service! Passionate about our work, I spent most of my time strengthening our training program. I worked on updating manuals that volunteers used when working with the communities they were living in and getting feedback from those communities on their specific needs and how we could help them develop resilience, food security and improve livelihoods through our work as agroforestry volunteers.
What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome in order to participate in your degree program?
I did take a few months off to travel before going back to Ithaca and starting my masters. Reentry into the United States, and more specifically, New York City, was difficult. Shopping at Wegmans was so overwhelming after spending three years shopping in the equivalent of a farmers market. I came back to the US with different eyes and perspectives on what was important and necessary in life and what wasn’t. I guess you could say that I didn’t sweat the little stuff anymore which was great.
Why did you choose to pursue the degree?
Prior to pursuing my MPS, I had received my B.S. from Cornell in Natural Resources with a focus on IARD and spent nearly three years living and working in Senegal. I chose to pursue my masters back at Cornell because of its environment and access to resources. In thinking through what my post-Peace Corps career might look like, and what expertise would be required, I needed to continue to develop to make sure that I was successful. I also appreciated the time and flexibility of the degree. I started my graduate studies thinking I wanted to focus on one topic and ended up focusing on another.
What did you do after earning your degree?
I joined the Clinton Foundation as a graduate intern while finishing my thesis. I hoped to learn more about the Foundation world, and more about agriculture in East Africa as most of my experience in Africa to date had been in Senegal, I wanted to expand my horizons. I was then hired as a Program Associate around the time that I obtained my degree in the Spring of 2014. I am still at the Clinton Foundation, and am now the Director of the Clinton Development Initiative.
What are the strengths of your program, in your opinion?
Bringing people together from diverse backgrounds. Giving students the freedom to explore their interests and support from professors who have had their own extensive experiences and expertise in those areas. It was also important to me that everyone in the program had had around two years of international work or volunteer experience before coming to campus. It was really helpful to share experiences and exchange ideas with fellow students that had done work in a variety of different disciplines all over the world.
What were some of your most rewarding moments from your time in the program?
The connections I made with my classmates, and professors; the opportunity I had to reflect on my time and experience while serving in the Peace Corps.
What are your long-term career goals?
I want to get more private sector experience in my field with the long-term goal of maximizing my contribution to the agri-business sector in Africa and beyond. I hope to build on what I’ve started earlier in my career, focusing on the role of the nonprofit/NGO sector, exploring its effectiveness and finding ways to encourage the private sector, government and what civil society stakeholders take on, financially and substantively, thus creating more sustainable long-term solutions to overcoming challenges.
What courses stand out as most helpful for your specific career goals?
Most courses I took during my time as a graduate student! I studied a wide array of topics, including resource economics, animal science, and sustainable agriculture. I’d recommend a mix of courses relevant to your specific focus area for your thesis and those that are of general interest to round out your education and meet professors and students interested in different things from you.
What advice would you give to your younger self embarking on the journey of graduate school?
It is of paramount importance to recognize the value, perspective, and position in which you exist, as it relates to who you are working with and where you are working. Ask questions and listen. My time living and working in Senegal gave me perspective and skills that I could have never gained from a classroom.
Graduate school is what you make it. Cornell has so much to offer - a great variety of classes, professors with a wide range of expertise and experiences, extracurriculars and opportunities to enrich its students. I’d advise students to look at everything as an opportunity to learn and take every chance you get to learn more – both formally and informally!
How did your professional master’s degree program experience change you, both personally and professionally?
My master’s degree program gave me the space and time to process my Peace Corps experience and think about if and how I would engage in the international development sector professionally in the future. It also enabled me to be a part of one of the greatest networks in the world! I regularly keep in touch with both former classmates and professors, on personal and professional matters, and even ended up working with some of them in my current role!
What professional organizations are you involved in?
I am on the board of an agroforestry non-profit, Trees for the Future, based in Silver Springs, MD, focused on ending poverty and hunger across Sub Saharan Africa through their forest garden approach. I am always open to exploring new opportunities to collaborate and work with other organizations.