Jack Borkowski, Class of 2020, did his summer internship in Accra, Ghana, where he worked at an NGO called Global Communities, on their WASH for Health project.
One of my goals for graduate school was to feel comfortable picking a specialization and career path. Declaring a specialization has always given me anxiety: focusing on a single subject makes me feel like I am losing other opportunities. For me, it is a serious problem because clearly explaining your interests and goals is the easiest way for professors and employers to understand who you are, what you are trying to accomplish, and what they can do for you. To this end, sometimes I have felt compelled to tell half-truths about my direction. When I was applying to the Global Human Development (GHD) program at Georgetown, I wanted to be a competitive candidate by communicating an intended path and explaining where GHD fit into that narrative. I had a great experience working on PEPFAR-funded projects in Ukraine, and I could see myself working in public health as a career—so I used that path to sell myself to the program. In reality, public health was only one of many possibilities I saw: there are more fields in development that interest me than not.
The pressure to concentrate in a single area of development grew more intense when we were asked to formally declare specializations. I was drawn to the Social Enterprise and Innovation Fellows program within GHD because it provided a way to specialize in skills and subject matter without closing doors. I enjoyed my classes with Professor Holly Wise (who leads the program), especially the interdisciplinary nature of the coursework. We learned how private sector actors are involved in development problems related to agriculture, public health, and environmental issues, among others. The classes gave me confidence that I have skills to offer private sector organizations, and that with these skills I could still work on any kind of project that interested me. I was prepared to work with a large private corporation for my summer internship, but when that fell through I ended up working for Global Communities, an NGO, on their WASH for Health project in Accra, Ghana. This was not the path I expected for myself, but the experience has come with valuable lessons.
The best lesson I have taken from this internship, and perhaps the best lesson of my time at GHD, is that a specialization does not mean you are closing yourself to a dynamic, interdisciplinary career. Through this WASH project, I have worked on topics with public health, agricultural, educational, and environmental components. I am using data analytics to answer questions about project sustainability, reporting the process and outcomes of a public-private partnership, and conducting a cost-benefit analysis of a piped water system. I have already written a knowledge product that makes the findings of a research project digestible to implementers. This summer, I found an exciting, broad portfolio, and I didn’t need to work in a large corporation to have that happen.
The internship has taught me it is okay to specialize because there will always be opportunities to weave other interests into the work you are doing. I thought my broad interests were a weakness, but in this environment they are a strength. These interests allow me to add context to my reports that would otherwise be missed and to take on more responsibility in the workplace. Beyond that, I also learned how much a career in water and sanitation projects might offer. The jury is still out on whether I have found my calling with these projects, but I am having a great time this summer.