UNA-NCA Graduate Fellows Address Global Challenges

Posted: January 21, 2014 at 5:00 am, Last Updated: January 28, 2014 at 10:02 pm

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By Sudha Kamath and Buzz McClain

The United Nations Association-National Capital Area (UNA-NCA) has selected three George Mason University graduate students to participate in its 2014 Graduate Fellows Program.

S. Daphney Jean

S. Daphney Jean

The opportunity is just what S. Daphney Jean, a graduate student in global affairs, is looking for. “I am very excited,” she says. “My focus is on international economic development, and this program will give me the chance to attend weekly seminars conducted by those who have been experts in their fields for a very long time.”

Jean was born in Haiti and moved to Maryland as a child. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Maryland and came to George Mason to earn a master’s degree from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

She says in the future she may focus on economic development in Latin America or the Caribbean, but for now she aims to learn as much as she can about finance on a global scale. “One of my major interests is in trade issues. The World Bank and IMF (International Monetary Fund) are on the top of my list of places to work,” says Jean.

For Mason graduate student Yarmilia Tona, the awarding of the UNA-NCA fellowship began years earlier, in the Netherlands of all places.

That’s where the Venezuelan native, on a high school student exchange, was first exposed to the dissimilarity between countries, cultures and economic opportunities. The year abroad was “a wonderful experience,” she says, but it made a profound impact.

Yamilia Tona

Yarmilia Tona

“That is where I saw the differences in countries and it made me wonder what we can do to make my country do better,” she says. “The United Nations plays such a big role in promoting economic and social development worldwide, and that’s why I’m grateful for this chance to learn from them.”

The master’s candidate in International Commerce and Policy at Mason’s School of Public Policy in Arlington, Va., completed her undergraduate degree at Universidad Alejandro de Humboldt in Caracas, Venezuela, and at Florida International University in Miami. An internship at the Small Business Administration led her to Washington, D.C., where she became enamored with the city and “how close it is to all the major nonprofits and international organizations, such as the World Bank.”

Naturally, when it came time to choose a location for her master’s degree, she researched schools in the Washington region and found that Mason offered exactly the curriculum she was looking for.

The fellowship, which will bring her in proximity to like-minded students and professors, affords her ample opportunities to “network and make connections, and to get to know more” about the field of economic development as well as further understand the challenges that the United Nations faces in addressing global problems, she says.

As for her future, “I want to combine trade and development; that is really what inspires me,” Tona says. “And of course I would love to help develop Latin America.”

Daniat Tarefe

Daniat Tarefe

Until Mason graduate student Danait Tafere reached America at age 14, she grew up in a time of post-conflict peace building, following a war that devastated her country. Tens of thousands perished in the raging border conflict in her native Ethiopia, and a sustained, disastrous drought created famine conditions, killing scores of others. “Families were dying all around us,” Tafere says.

Those harsh childhood memories did not simply vanish when she relocated to a safer haven in ninth grade, first in Montgomery County, Md., and then Seattle. After earning a degree in psychology at Central Washington University, Tafere looked for an academic program where she might focus on her main passion — finding peaceful solutions to systematic violence in Africa.

Today Tafere is busy as a master’s candidate, serving on two working groups at Mason’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR), and devoting her energies to studying conflicts in her homeland.

She chose S-CAR because “it wasn’t just one or two classes about peace at a university, but a whole school of conflict analysis, and we have one of the oldest programs in the world,” she says. At S-CAR she’s not locked into a rigid program, and she appreciates the flexibility that affords. “Every day you learn something, and I enjoy seeing where it leads me,” she says.

And now it has led her to the UNA-NCA graduate fellowship, affording her an opportunity to study, with a mentor, at the United Nations, an institute she says “is in a transformative stage right now. It has changed a few times in the last 60 years and it’s changing again. To be a part of that transformation for the better — it’s a great opportunity. My future is exciting.”

The UNA-NCA Graduate Fellows Program features 10 weekly seminars focusing on the challenges and opportunities facing the United Nations system. The seminars begin Jan. 31 at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Write to Sudha Kamath at skamath@gmu.edu

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