Alumni Career Spotlight: Katie Connolly

Katie Connolly
Environmental Science ‘15

Program Coordinator, Water for Africa, DAI

Katie ConnollyKatie graduated from SENR in 2015 after majoring in Environmental Science with a specialization in Water Science. In 2017, she earned a master’s degree from the the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Today, she lives in Washington D.C., and her job at an international development consulting firm allows her to travel to sub-Saharan Africa to work on projects related to water, sanitation and hygiene. During her undergraduate career, she gained international experience through Ohio State study abroad programs in Australia and Fiji and worked as a research assistant with Dr. Robyn Wilson.

Read the interview with Katie: 


A Glance at Katie’s Current Work

I am the program coordinator for the USAID-funded project Water for Africa through Leadership and Institutional Support (WALIS) under DAI, an international development consulting firm. I am based in Washington, DC, but the project operates throughout sub-Saharan Africa and focuses on high-level capacity building in the African WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) sector.

A typical day in the office involves sending lots of emails, reviewing reports, and having early morning phone calls to communicate with partners based in Africa (navigating the time difference is always a bit of a challenge!). A typical day traveling in the field involves lots of meetings with partners, attending events, and visiting the sites where the work is being implemented.

The most rewarding part of my current job is working with WALIS’s in-country partners to better understand their needs and contexts and hearing directly from them about the impacts of our work. Getting to travel internationally for work is pretty cool too!

"If you don’t know exactly what you want to do when you graduate, that’s okay. Try to find people who do things that sound cool and reach out to them. In my experience, most people are very willing to talk to and provide advice for aspiring professionals because they were once in your place."

Professional Development

What were you involved in while in school?

I did research with Dr. Wilson on climate change risk perceptions of Columbus residents. I was involved with sophomore and senior class honors societies (Romophos and Mortar Board), Students for Recycling, and Gamma Phi Beta sorority. During the summer between my sophomore and junior year I did a study abroad program through CFAES in Australia and Fiji and the next summer I did an internship with the Ohio League of Conservation Voters.

What is your advice for someone still in college who wants to do what you do? 

If you are interested in doing international development and/or in the international water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector, try to get some in-country experience, whether that be through study abroad, an internship, or something like the Peace Corps after graduation. Having language skills is also helpful. Additionally, work to develop cross-cutting technical and non-technical skills that would be useful in a number of contexts, such as statistics, GIS, communications, etc.

I’d also say that if you don’t know exactly what you want to do when you graduate, that’s okay. Try to find people who do things that sound cool and reach out to them. In my experience, most people are very willing to talk to and provide advice for aspiring professionals because they were once in your place.

What experience do you feel was most valuable in your professional development?

In college I would say the most valuable experiences were getting hands-on experience through study abroad and completing my honors research thesis with Dr. Wilson, which taught me about the scientific research process and helped develop my technical writing skills. In graduate school, the most valuable experience was the practicum I completed with an environmental NGO in Vanuatu, a small island nation near Australia.

Post-Graduation

What was your next step after graduation?

I went to grad school- I did a two-year master’s program at UNC Chapel Hill. I was in the environmental sciences and engineering program in the school of public health and earned my Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH), which is a hybrid degree of a MS and MPH. While there, I worked with The Water Institute on WASH research projects. I think having an advanced degree has made a lot more opportunities available to me. Most of the positions I’m interested in require an advanced degree of some sort.

What was most important to you in your job search?

After graduate school, I prioritized finding a job that would be a good stepping-stone to where I ultimately wanted to be, even if it was not in the WASH sector. Because WASH is a relatively small sector and international development jobs can be very competitive, I took a position as an ORISE research fellow at the U.S. EPA in D.C. working with the water technology and innovation team. I knew it would be easier to find something more directly relevant to my master’s once I was in D.C. and the fellowship was a great experience. I learned a lot and was able to leverage the experience and contacts I gained during the fellowship to get my current job. When looking for my current job, the deal breaking factor for me was that the position had to include international travel. It’s difficult to get a job in international development without international experience and I felt that the further from school I got without having that experience, the more difficult it would become to get a job that would afford me those opportunities.

 

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Post created March 2020