We’re deep into the 2020 Virtual Idealist Grad School Fair season, and we’ve been taking the opportunity to showcase some of our favorite success stories. Find out how these young professionals found the right program for their social-impact career aspirations, and how their graduate school experiences provided them with the tools to plan their professional futures.
Name: Michelle LeMeur
Idealist Grad School Fair Attended: New York, 2016
Undergraduate Degree: Bachelor of International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, class of 2011
Graduate Degree: Master of International Development and International Economics, Johns Hopkins University, class of 2019
Current Job: Program Development and Quality Officer for Mercy Corps, Bamako, Mali
What was your motivation for attending graduate school, and what were you looking for in a graduate program?
It’s been a bit of a winding path. I earned my bachelor’s at Johns Hopkins in 2011, and worked for five years before going back to school. My first job was with a nonprofit that developed and delivered professional development programs to teachers from underserved schools. After that, I taught English in Malaysia for a year, and that was a really good introduction to international development and humanitarian work.
I’ve always known that I was interested in other cultures, as well as education and gender and inclusion. I had been thinking about getting a Master’s of Business Administration, but when I finished my year in Malaysia, I realized I was interested in programs that support women and girls.
What was the search like for you, and how did the Idealist Grad School Fair help?
Idealist was a key part of my grad school research—particularly because I was looking for a really rigorous program with international opportunities. I went to a few grad fairs, including the Idealist Grad School Fair in New York, and I had a long list of schools with strong international development programs. I had a few specific questions prepared, but I also used the fair to get a better sense of the vibe of the schools on my list.
The Idealist Grad School Fair was much bigger than the other fairs I attended, and there was a lot more variety there. I was there for two or three hours and had given myself permission to just ask whatever I wanted. I was pleasantly surprised that the school representatives didn’t come off as though they were giving me their spiel. They had an incredible amount of information, and it was enjoyable to have conversations with real people, and ask them real questions.
That’s when I talked to a really kind alumni from Johns Hopkins, my alma mater. I think that conversation addressed some things that were a big part of my decision to go back there for graduate school. They also have a campus in Italy where you can spend your first year, so that was a huge draw for me.
What was your graduate experience like?
I was excited to go back to school and felt like I had found the type of program that made sense for me. Transitioning back into the classroom after six years was a challenge, but being able to spend a year in Italy was really wonderful.
The amount of work and the caliber expected was on a completely different level than what I experienced in my undergraduate program, but I felt that I was being prepared for the types of careers I was interested in, and developing a really important foundation.
The alumni network and career services have also been extremely useful. Having those two years during my graduate program to take a step back and research organizations, meet with people, and to learn and ask questions, was invaluable to me.
When you approached graduation, what did you have in mind for next steps?
I’ve always been interested in work that is of service, and that has been a guiding light throughout my career. I spent my second year of graduate school in Washington, D.C., and I networked quite heavily.
Heading toward graduation, I knew that I wanted to move abroad again and I also wanted to incorporate gender and inclusion work into my future role. I had been interning at Mercy Corps in D.C. and had a really positive experience, so I was quite focused on staying with them if I could. I am now a program development and quality officer for their team in Bamako, Mali. It checked all the boxes in terms of what I was looking for!
What advice would you give to people considering graduate school?
I think it’s really important to do your research. For me, doing the research online, talking to alumni, going to events like the Idealist Grad School Fair, and going to open houses were all part of the puzzle.
The Idealist Grad School Fair was a great way to gather all of the information and programs in one place, so I didn’t have to run up and down the East Coast going to a bunch of different school events. It was also really nice to be with the other attendees, because you’re all there doing the same thing. It’s comforting to know that there are hundreds of other people going through this intense process with you, all with similar questions and concerns.
None of the schools I looked at did in-person interviews, so for me the Idealist Grad School Fair was the most personal part of the process, and it was really beneficial.
Interested in learning more about what graduate school can do for you? In 2020, all of the Idealist Grad School Fairs are virtual—and, as always, are free and open to all. That means you can easily attend as many fairs as you’d like this year! Learn more about Idealist Grad School Fairs and start planning your future today.