Alumni Spotlight: Jake Wheeler, GHD’14

What does GHD mean to you? Jake Wheeler, GHD’14, reflects on his experiences and challenges during his time at the Global Human Development Program.

I’m currently a Technical Advisor for the Carter Center in South Sudan supporting the Ministry of Health’s National Guinea Worm Eradication Program. I work closely with village volunteers, field staff, and government health workers to strengthen the active village-based surveillance system throughout the country as it progresses toward WHO eradication certification.

Jake Wheeler doing surveillance during a flood in the rainy season South SudanGHD always emphasized the practical implications of academic and technical work, which I find especially relevant as I support a project focusing on community health interventions. More importantly, though, I think the GHD experience encouraged students to critically think beyond whatever technical-related analysis was required of them. Professors and classmates often oriented their critical lens inward as well as outward to grapple with the moral and ethical dimensions of development that are often willfully ignored. The program embraced these discussions not only as useful intellectual exercises, but as necessary interventions to do effective work. That perspective has been really helpful for me working in a country as nuanced and complex as South Sudan.

My most memorable times at GHD include the anxious preparation and cathartic celebration surrounding our weekly seminar with Dean Lancaster and Professor Marshall. Not only was it our first semester in graduate school, we also wanted to make a good impression on our dean, so there was a significant amount of work and stress (albeit self-imposed) crammed into the days leading up to class. But we always survived the experience and would all gather somewhere afterward to unwind. That cycle of long hours, unnecessary stress, and Lucky Bar catharsis would serve as an apt microcosm of my entire graduate school experience!

As the inaugural class, I’m sure our identity was partly rooted in some mutual understanding that our success as a cohort dictated the program’s success going forward. But we genuinely enjoyed being together and sharing that identity and we had fun doing it. So that collective memory and special bond will always stand out to me.