Diana Duff Rutherford '88

Communication and International Affairs Major | Program Specialist, IRIS Center
rutherford diana

Sometime in 1985 I was looking for a major. I had so many interests and no subject area seemed sufficient -- until I found the Dual Major in International Affairs, then called the Program for International Perspectives, or PIP. I was fascinated by Dr. McCann’s vision to integrate the various subject matters of history, economics, political science and language. The international affairs program was beautiful, and combined with the classical training I received in the communication department, I was well-prepared for graduate school and a “thinking” career. The key is to learn to think critically. The rest falls into place with sufficient experience and self-confidence.

I have been working in international development for eight years at the IRIS Center at the University of Maryland. I had little experience in international development when I began, as I had spent several years in international relations research; so, I started as a junior program manager and learned how to manage budgets and put together conferences. I also started doing some survey research. After additional training and experience, including some field work in Uganda, Indonesia and Georgia, I now draft survey instruments, analyze data and write reports. My primary project currently is an impact assessment of innovations in financial services. The assessment is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as our team is assessing grants given by the Foundation to a number of microfinance organizations. The "grantees" are working in 16 different countries, and we are assessing projects in four of them using a mixed-method approach.

I highly recommend that undergraduates spend less time worrying about straight A’s and more time getting experience – volunteer, work, visit other countries. Spend a few days at the graduate schools you may want to attend; stay with the graduate students to see how they live; talk with the faculty about your interests, not just one faculty member, but many, and listen to how they talk about their areas of interest (do their interests and yours coincide, or is there some fundamental difference in their approach or thinking compared to yours?), and talk with the dean about his/her goals for the program. Before you invest -- and it is an investment -- determine if a school is a good match for you and your dreams.

As a result of the IA program, I learned to appreciate history and its importance, and I have a deeply ingrained perspective of the world and my place in it: a healthy respect for the multicultural world in which I live and work, a wariness of anyone with the “answer” to a complex issue or problem, and the need to keep trying to have a positive impact.