As graduation day approached, Aissata Traore ’13 “frantically” applied for so many summer internships that she’d nearly forgotten about the application she’d sent to the U.S. State Department.
“One day, I’m in my dorm room taking a nap, and I get a phone call that’s clearly not from America,” she recalled. “They said, ‘We want you to interview for a job in Rwanda.’ ”
Traore, who graduated magna cum laude with degrees in international relations and women’s and gender studies, figures it took about four months for her to earn the necessary security clearance to take the internship in the Central African country of Rwanda.
She had to explain every stamp in her passport, not an easy task for a world traveler who was born in Moscow while her mother served in the U.S. Navy. She also had to account for every telephone call she’d placed to a foreign country. Since both her parents were born in the West African country of Mali and she still has many family members there, it was a lengthy process.
But it was worth it for Traore, who had considered a career abroad since before entering college. Whenever she’d visit family in Mali, she’d volunteer with nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) there − she even wrapped up high school in Stafford County a semester early so she and her best friend could spend a few months working at a Mali orphanage.
“People say, ‘What do you do with a degree in women’s and gender studies?’ You go halfway around the world and change people’s lives.” – Professor Allyson Poska on Aissata Traore
At UMW, she was captain and president of UMW’s Mock Trial Team. She also interned for Spotsylvania Circuit Court Chief Judge David H. Beck and law firm Livesay & Myers.
The writing and public speaking skills she picked up at UMW have been invaluable, she said. Traore’s undergraduate thesis, Women’s Experiences in the American Legal Field, earned her a best presentation award from the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, where she was known as a standout student.
“Her energy and excitement and enthusiasm, it’s infectious. She’s interesting, and she’s interested in everything,” said History and American Studies Professor Allyson Poska, who encouraged Traore to apply for the State Department internship. “People say, ‘What do you do with a degree in women’s and gender studies?’ You go halfway around the world and change people’s lives.”
Traore considered attending law school but said her experience last summer in Rwanda confirmed for her that a career in the foreign service was a good fit. Though she’d been accepted into a master’s program in international development studies at George Washington University, she
deferred her start date until fall 2014 so she could remain in Rwanda, where she accepted a job as grants manager with Rwanda Ventures.
The NGO addresses two key issues − malnutrition and poverty − through its dairy operation. Its team teaches farmers how to get the most nutritious, hygienic milk from their livestock, which maximizes their earning potential. That raw milk is then sold to dairy processors, who distribute it more widely.
Though her primary job is securing funding for Rwanda Ventures, Traore said she’s learned to tackle just about any task.
“Titles don’t matter in development work,” she said. “You do everything, whatever needs to be done.”