SPEA from an International Development Perspective

Today’s blog is by second year SPEA student Weston Merrick.

I’ve found in my tenure at SPEA that whether by innate character or past educational experience, my fellow graduate students want to make an indelible mark on the world. While the inspiration might be innate, actually making the mark takes the qualitative and qualitative know how to do so. The International Development concentration at SPEA creates a balanced and flexible curriculum to give us the skills to make an impact.

The course load helps cultivate two distinct skill sets that are necessary for international development practitioners. First, it seeks to equip SPEA students with the ability to think analytically and quantify the impacts of the programs they are administering. Quantitative skills may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of development, but the predominant players in development, whether it be USAID, Oxfam, or CARE, understand that resources are scarce, and therefore practitioners must meaningfully and accurately demonstrate the impact of their expenditures. Relatedly, knowing how to budget and manage finances is critical in development programs, and through relevant courses, SPEA gives a fundamental understanding of what public finance entails. In addition, it is vital to be well read on the latest development literature, which requires the ability to understand statistical results and assumptions used in academic papers. To refine these skills, students take courses in Data Analysis and Modeling, Public Finance and Budgeting, Cost Benefit Analysis, and Public Program Evaluation.

The second skill set that SPEA provides students is the ability to analyze the context of countries and regions through relevant curriculum. Some of this done in broad strokes, through classes like Developmental Economics and Globalization and Entrepreneurship, through which students are taught best practices and their inherent strengths and weaknesses. These courses help build the basic skills upon which more specialized knowledge is added.

International development is a diverse field that encompasses everything from working at the Treasury Department on loan forgiveness plans to implementing anti-malaria programs in Lagos. Recognizing development’s many career possibilities SPEA offers a wide range of electives and allows students the flexibility to build a learning plan appropriate to their unique interests. These electives include everything from NGO Management in Comparative Perspective to Global Health Issues and Management from Art of Diplomacy to foreign language courses.

These courses have helped shape my view of development and the impact I can make. However, the most important thing to me about SPEA is its student body. Every day, I am inspired by my peers’ vigor and knowledge. Their commitment to shaping the world pushes me to want to do and learn more. My peers’ charity, humility, and passion permeates everything at SPEA, and these characteristics will have the most lasting impact on me.


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