#ElliottProud: Hilary H. Taft

#ElliottProud: Hilary H. Taft

Hilary Taft smiles, wearing a white blazer. She is outside with foliage in the background. Hilary Taft, M.A. International Development Studies, 2020, #ElliottProud

Hilary Hambrick Taft is USAID’s Technical Specialist for Youth Issues in the Inclusive Development Hub. Hilary began her career in rural Guatemala as an educator at a community development center where she launched two social enterprises which still generate funds for the center’s scholarship program. Upon return to the US, Hilary worked with the Nashville, Tennessee Mayor’s office to start the city’s first summer youth employment program. Prior to joining USAID, she worked at Ashoka on the Global Partnerships Team supporting social entrepreneurs and country office business development. Hilary has an M.A. in International Development Studies from GWU’s Elliott School of International Affairs and B.A. in International Business from Belmont University. 

When did you realize you wanted an international career?

I realized that my career trajectory needed to change on a study abroad trip my freshman year to study organic coffee farming in Guatemala. Seeing the reality of poverty in the rural areas and lack of opportunities for many of the children there motivated me to change my major from Music Business to International Business as soon as I got back from the trip.

Describe your current position and what are your favorite aspects of the job?

I’m a technical specialist for youth issues at USAID. My favorite part of my job is getting to work with young people from across all regions and technical sectors. I’m also very fortunate to work with some of the smartest folks in the U.S. Government. Our mission each day is to solve the most pressing development problems in partnership with the next generation of world leaders. 

What are the current trends driving the future of your career field and what advice would you provide an Elliott School graduate student that is interested in your field of work?

The most important thing in youth development right now, in my opinion, is funding youth-led organizations. Working with young leaders to shift the power of development towards local solutions, and with groups who have been historically absent at the table – LGBTQI+ youth, indigenous youth, and youth with disabilities. My advice to grad students interested in youth development would be to find and partner with a youth-led organization through an internship, capstone study, or volunteering. The hands-on experience of working internationally can reinforce everything that is learned in the classroom.

How does your current position compare to what you thought you would be doing when you first started your degree at the Elliott School?

My current position at USAID is exactly what I had hoped for when starting at the Elliott School. DC is a competitive place, so sometimes it’s easy to get discouraged if you don’t get the dream job on the first try. For me, I worked full-time at a coffee shop and non-profit while studying full-time at the Elliott School. My encouragement to current students would be to keep working hard and applying to lots of opportunities, eventually you will land what you’re looking for.

What do you most value about your experience at the Elliott School?

The people – both the professors and my peers made me a better person over my two years at the Elliott School. I’m grateful for all the coffee meet-ups and office hours that folks spent guiding me through the graduate school experience. There are plenty of Master’s Degree programs out there, but the special thing about the International Development Studies program is that you are surrounded by like-minded travelers who want to make a difference in the world. There’s always something to be learned from their personal stories, beyond the academic alone.

What TV show or movie have you most enjoyed in the last year?

Only Murders in the Building! Loved seeing the intergenerational comedy combined with a lot of mystery.

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The #ElliottProud profile series is managed by the Elliott School Office of Graduate Admissions and highlights graduate program alumni to answer common questions posed by prospective, incoming, and current students. For more information on this series or to submit questions, e-mail the Office of Graduate Admissions at esiagrad@gwu.edu.

The views expressed by students profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs.