Transferable Skills in Development at UNICEF Nigeria [Elena Klein MPA/IEM ’23]

image of Elena Klien with some of their UNICEF team members.
Image of Elena Klien with a team analyzing data for a proposal — all in matching green.

Elena describes her internship at UNICEF Nigeria. She worked in the nutrition sector. Her personal account on her challenges and personal triumphs creates a refreshing and motivating read.


I often say that I came to MIIS because of its practice-oriented pedagogy: I wanted to learn how to actually thrive in the development and education fields, rather than exclusively learn theory or how to write academic research. My MIIS classes have indeed been wonderful in their immediate practicality, and as the semesters have passed, I have felt more and more prepared to succeed in the field.

That being said, I am a human being just like everybody else, so as my graduation date was approaching, I sometimes felt panicked that I could never know ‘enough’ to be what the field needs. But when I had the opportunity to intern at UNICEF Nigeria this past summer in the nutrition section, I was able to see how everything I have learned so far comes together to make me a flexible and effective professional.

When I first heard about the internship opportunity in the nutrition section, I was immediately interested, but I wasn’t sure how well I could do the job, because I don’t come from a background in nutrition. As a joint MPA/IEM student, my development focus has been education. But the job description talked about data systems and literature reviews, which I had studied before, so with the encouragement of the Experiential Professional Learning staff and my professors, I decided to apply and learn as much about nutrition in Nigeria as possible before beginning the position. Malnutrition in Nigeria is an urgent and serious issue, so I wanted to make sure I was doing the best job I could do.

When I was not sure about something, I found the appropriate time and place to ask. In some cases, I learned to observe and trust that with time, I would understand the situation better.

Once I started in Nigeria, I realized that despite not having an ample nutrition knowledge base, I had the soft and hard skills to contribute to the nutrition section as a team member. In terms of hard skills, I was generally comfortable working with data systems, and when there was a data system feature I wasn’t familiar with, my supervisors were happy to help me pick it up quickly, or I was able to learn it on my own with some online tutorials. The same thing happened with the proposal writing I helped with. I had a good foundational understanding of proposal writing from my coursework, and it was easy to pick up any specifics that I wasn’t familiar with. In any case, none of the projects I worked on were done just by one person, so each team member contributed based on their strengths and skill sets. When I did some research on the food fortification landscape in the country, I knew where to look to find similar studies in other countries and how to perform an extensive literature review, despite not being an expert in the topic. I noticed that I was not the only one who did not come from a heavy nutrition background; some of our team were nutritionists, and others were experts in data or management, or a combination of both. I also started to meet other professionals in the UN offices who used their expertise in a few versatile skill sets to easily move between different knowledge areas. When starting in a new knowledge area, they would jump into learning about it while utilizing their hard skills in proposal writing or data analysis.

I feel more confident now that I can do the work that needs to be done. Every development or humanitarian project should have experts in the knowledge area and experts in program management, development and implementation, and depending on the project, I could function as either.

The experience helped me understand how I can further hone my skills in program management, evidence and data management, data analysis, research and funding management, and how I could apply those to a literacy program in Belize or an anemia intervention in Bangladesh. I feel more confident now that I can do the work that needs to be done. Every development or humanitarian project should have experts in the knowledge area and experts in program management, development and implementation, and depending on the project, I could function as either.

Additionally, it became clear that no matter how many hard skills you develop, those skills are no less important than the soft skills such as positivity, initiative, teamwork and attention to detail. It was as simple as this: When I didn’t know how to do something, I immediately and enthusiastically tried to learn it. When I was not sure about something, I found the appropriate time and place to ask. In some cases, I learned to observe and trust that with time, I would understand the situation better. At the career center at MIIS, the advisors are always telling us that the soft skills are key to employers because they are harder to teach. It is one thing to teach a new employee how to use a certain software, but it is another to teach them intercultural competencies or communication skills with internal and external stakeholders.

My internship at UNICEF Nigeria taught me many things, but one of my biggest takeaways that I would like to share with my classmates is this: focus on those transferable skills, and keep an open mind about positions that seem a little out of your comfort zone. You probably already have plenty of transferable hard and soft skills that will allow you to thrive, and what you don’t know, you can learn if you want to!

Protecting the Environment and Music in Uganda [Irene Fernald IEP ’23]

Fernald learning about the social and ecological functions of local plants at St. Francis Junior School in Mpambire, Uganda
Irene Fernald learning about the social and ecological functions of local plants at St. Francis Junior School in Mpambire, Uganda

Mwasuze mutya bassebo ne banyabo! My name is Irene, and I am earning a Master’s degree from MIIS in International Environmental Policy with a focus on Natural Resource Policy and Management. I received EPL funding to cover some expenses for a four-week Middlebury College course in Mpambire, Uganda titled Performing Arts and Community Engagement in…


On a personal level, this experience introduced me to Ugandan history, politics, economics, and culture. Many of these lessons were classic serendipitous study abroad moments. I learned to pick mangos by hitting them with a very long stick and was introduced to some of my favorite local foods—peanut soup and chapati. However, being a white American woman in Uganda also exposed me to many of the upsetting lingering effects of European colonialism in Africa. Children and adults often bowed or kneeled when greeting me, and several people spontaneously repented to me for fictitious “sinful traditional practices” before the arrival of Christianity.  

Central Forest Reserves recently changed access to forests and swamps, so women who used to harvest plants freely to produce crafts must now turn to men for alternative job opportunities. . . this policy directly threatens women’s independence. 

Understanding these social dynamics was essential for uncovering root threats to sustainable instrument making in Mpambire. For example, the kingdom of Buganda passes down knowledge orally, but Westernized schools promote a written system of knowledge transfer. This threatens the practice of instrument making and playing, which relies on learning through observation. Other threats to sustainability come from colonial forms of land management. For example, the establishment of Central Forest Reserves recently changed access to forests and swamps, so women who used to harvest plants freely to produce crafts must now turn to men for alternative job opportunities. In addition to threatening traditional ecological knowledge, in a culture with traditional gender roles, this policy directly threatens women’s independence. 

More broadly, this course let me practice ethnographic research methods including taking detailed field notes and conducting unstructured and semi-structured interviews. I also got to practice using situation analysis tools I learned through DMPI at MIIS. This experience has also given me vital skills in intercultural communication that I believe will help prepare me for a career in International Environmental Policy. I hope reading about my experience encourages future EPL funding recipients to pursue projects relating to musical culture and environmental policy! 

Combating Terrorism in sub-Saharan Africa with the UN [Adeline du Crest NPTS ’23]

This multitude of flags represents dedication to multilateralism and cooperation.

Greetings from Vienna, Austria! My name is Adeline, I am currently a graduate student in the Non-proliferation and Terrorism Studies degree at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, and for the past three months I have interned at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), located in the Vienna International Center. In addition…


At United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), I have been working in the Terrorism Prevention Branch (TPB), focusing specifically on sub-Saharan Africa. Thanks to my French language skills, I work primarily on Western and Central Africa, covering different topics related to criminal justice aspects of terrorism prevention. The main role of TPB is to deliver technical and legislative assistance to Member States to help them in preventing and countering terrorism. As such, most of my work here involves planning and following up on activities held in countries like Mali and Nigeria, on various topics like expanding skills around collecting battlefield evidence, or improving inter-agency cooperation related to the prosecution, rehabilitation, and reintegration of people associated with terrorist groups. Participating in the implementation of these workshops from start to finish definitely helped me develop program management skills, and I got an insider look at how a UN office operates on a daily basis. I’m happy to say that this experience has confirmed my interest in working for an international organization like UNODC after I graduate from MIIS, and internal sessions with HR learning about the UN selection process, as well as UN core values and competencies, will surely help me in future applications. 

Participating in the implementation of these workshops from start to finish definitely helped me develop program management skills, and I got an insider look at how a UN office operates on a daily basis.

Beyond my work at TPB, I really appreciated being at the Vienna International Center because it allowed me to connect with peers and colleagues from all the agencies hosted here. I also had the pleasure of meeting several experts who had either studied at MIIS or had been affiliated with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. I enjoyed the opportunity to engage with this community and learn more about the practical aspects of the non-proliferation and disarmament fields. 

I also had the pleasure of meeting several experts who had either studied at MIIS or had been affiliated with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

It’s been a pleasure to share a bit more about my three-month internship in the Terrorism Prevention Branch of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. I am also very grateful to have received the Experiential Professional Learning award in the context of this internship, which has contributed to supporting my professional development. This internship has been a critical step for me to apply the knowledge and skills learned at MIIS in a hands-on setting, and to engage with challenging and significant topics of international peace and security. This will surely help me return to a UN agency or other international organization once I graduate.  

Connecting with Young Ukrainian Refugees [Austin Carwell TESOL ’22]

group picture of language teaching instructors
group picture of language teaching instructors
Group picture of Austin Carwell and his fellow language teaching instructors at the program.

Austin Carwell describes his experience teaching English in Klaipeda, Lithuania. He outlines the daily activities, the challenges of the program, and the further growth of professional skills.


This program was an intensive summer English program with students in class from 9 am to 4 pm. I was one of the Intermediate English morning teachers as I finally put what I have learned from my professors at MIIS into practice. Over the course of four weeks, my class and I covered various short stories and podcasts as we discussed larger questions of how our past has shaped us and where we are heading in the future.  

The majority of my students were recently displaced Ukrainians, who exhibited tremendous drive in the classroom despite all that is going on their lives.

This experience has also solidified my decision to go into TESOL as I met some truly amazing students. The majority of my students were recently displaced Ukrainians, who exhibited tremendous drive in the classroom despite all that is going on their lives. It was also personally rewarding to use my Russian language skills from Middlebury to clarify points or check in with them. Outside of classes, I was also involved in soccer and running club where I was able to get to know my students on a more personal level.  

For future TESOL students who are trying to do their summer practicum, I could not recommend this program more. There were several graduate students from other universities also teaching for their practicum, so there was a fostering environment where experienced teachers would share their ideas and insights. Plus Klaipeda is a beautiful city which most people will not have the opportunity to see. 

Fighting Crop Contamination and Building Community with MIIS Students in the Colombian Andes [Alexander Christodoulou IEP ’23]

beautiful image of Libano, Colombia
Photo of Libano, Colombia from Finca El Pensar the farm that hosted Alexander Chistodoulou research

Alexander describes his summer research project in Colombia focused on post crop management. First, he summarizes his work and its motivation and need in agricultural development. Then, Alexander accounts the deep, positive influence of the Libano community and his personal growth.


Along with Libano native and MIIS student Jaime Canon Gonzalez we have launched Team Colombia a project involving MIIS students and faculty focusing on environment and development issues in the area.

I used my EPL funding to help fund a summer research project in collaboration with the UC Davis horticulture and innovation lab on the topic of post crop management. Post crop management is a crucial part of the agriculture supply chain as poor management strategies can lead to mycotoxin infection or infestation of pests leading to crop loss. These losses can be massively consequential for rural economies from a capital and nutrition standpoint. Aflatoxin and fumonisin contamination of basic grains and pulses is widespread in the developing world and is suspected of being a primary cause of high levels of childhood stunting in the humid tropics. Although some contamination occurs in the field, a major source of aflatoxin is storage of grain at high moisture content. The UC Davis DryCard is a simple tool that allows farmers and traders to determine whether grain is dry enough to store. The problem for many farmers, particularly smallholder farmers, is that they do not have a simple means of drying grain that is not dry enough for safe storage. Present technologies are either very simple or relatively sophisticated. 

The experience of traveling around the farms of the Andes will stay with me forever and consequently

 In response UC Davis developed the pallet dryer a solar dryer that can more efficiently dry crops and prevent the development of mycotoxins. As a part of my research, I wanted to see if it was possible to effectively construct the UC Davis Pallet Dyer with locally sourced materials in the small farming town of Libano in the Colombian Andes. The experience I had working in Libano was wonderful the people are incredibly familiar and were eager to make me feel like a part of the community. Furthermore, the experience I gained conducting work in the field allowed me to get a much stronger understanding of the challenges associated with rural development in the Latin American context. Many of the materials that were assumed to be common ended up being very difficult to find forcing me to take busses to various parts of the department in search of the necessary good. The experience of traveling around the farms of the Andes will stay with me forever and consequently, along with Libano native and MIIS student Jaime Canon Gonzalez we have launched Team Colombia a project involving MIIS students and faculty focusing on environment and development issues in the area. I hope that the work that I did over the summer along with Jaime’s lifelong experience can help establish a friendship between MIIS and the community for many years to come! 

Sites DOT MIISThe Middlebury Institute site network.