Leah Breen ‘15
Current Job: Coordinator at Pathfinder International
What has your career been since graduating from Colby?
I graduated from Colby in May 2015. In October 2015, after spending the summer as a research assistant for Professor Lindsay Mayka, I started working at Pathfinder International, a global sexual and reproductive health organization with headquarters in Boston. I’m currently serving as a coordinator for Pathfinder’s team of technical advisors. Our technical advisors provide guidance and expertise in a range of technical areas (e.g., abortion, HIV, contraception) to strengthen the implementation of Pathfinder’s projects in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. So far, I’ve traveled for Pathfinder to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to write a project report for a donor and to Kenya to write a USAID/PEPFAR grant proposal.
How did being a Global Studies major give you advantages for after you graduated?
Global Studies’ interdisciplinary program allowed me to concentrate on topics that align with my international development interests and develop relevant skills for the field. My work in sexual and reproductive health is extremely interdisciplinary and constantly draws from anthropology and political science practices (I double majored in government and minored in anthropology). An understanding of economics (e.g., supply side barriers to the availability of contraceptives in Pakistan) and history (e.g., how colonialism influences current political instability in the DRC) are also crucial in my work. And of course, language is essential—I often use French to work with our Francophone teams. Additionally, courses with government and anthropology professors Lindsay Mayka, Laura Seay, Elsa Fan, and Karin Friederic, among many others, taught me valuable skills in analyzing approaches to development and governance and in qualitative research.
Where did you study abroad, and how did that experience impact you?
I completed my freshman fall in Dijon through the Colby program. Jon Weiss was a wonderful professor and mentor, and I loved my time in France. It also advanced my French skills, which are crucial for my career. I am extremely thankful for the summer/JanPlan internships that I completed in Kashmir, India, Liberia, and Guatemala with the support of Colby internship funding. Those experiences gave me an inside look at the operations of local and international NGOs in the field, exposure to project management and implementation, and valuable cross-cultural communication skills. If I hadn’t interned in Liberia during the Ebola crisis, I’m not sure that I would have entered global health. Experiencing Ebola first-hand was life-changing—and I never would have had that opportunity without Colby’s support (huge thanks to Professor Laura Seay for preparing me to work in Liberia and enabling me to write an article for The Washington Post on my observations of Liberia’s Ebola crisis).
How did Colby in general help guide you in your career?
Colby provided me with invaluable experiences, knowledge, and relationships. In addition to gaining real-world work experience abroad through internship opportunities, I worked as a research assistant for both Professor Laura Seay and Professor Lindsay Mayka. They allowed me to closely observe and participate in their research and projects. More than that, they are two examples of the many Colby professors who deeply care about civic engagement and their students’ growth and wellbeing. At Colby, I was also thrilled to find student leadership opportunities and intellectual communities—for me, that was primarily through the Oak Institute for the Study of International Human Rights and its student committee. While I might not have known it at the time, my experience leading the Oak Institute’s student committee provided me with project coordination skills that enabled me to successfully approach relevant assignments in my work today. I also loved every minute of my engagement with the Oak Institute and other campus groups that foster student participation—more on that in the next question.
What advice would you give to Global Studies majors at Colby about their experience in college and their future careers?
You already know that you should take courses that challenge and interest you, go after internship opportunities, develop relationships with professors, and take on campus leadership roles. Beyond that, I’d recommend that students attend as many of the Oak, Goldfarb, Pugh, and Center for the Arts and Humanities events as possible. That may sound mundane, and you may think that you don’t have time for 7pm lectures, but it is so worthwhile. We have such amazing speakers and community discussions at Colby, and I learned so much by listening and engaging in discussion during those events. Pugh events’ focus on social issues in the U.S and globally allowed me to re-think race and prepared me to be a progressive, engaged citizen. I don’t think I would understand intersectional feminism—a concept that I have a duty to grasp living in Trump’s America and as a global sexual and reproductive health professional—if it weren’t for Pugh’s programming. Goldfarb’s events on politics prepared me to engage in political discourses and understand how policies and political frameworks shape states’ stability and citizens’ wellbeing. Oak events exposed me to the lived experiences of human rights practitioners and taught me the complexities of justice. The Center for the Arts and Humanities deepened my appreciation for creative expression and taught me how to apply it. Thinking back on my Colby experience, I’m most grateful for the conversations that I was part of—I know they shaped how I perceive our world and engage with it as an individual and global citizen.
Are there any websites, links or other tools you would recommend to Global Studies majors for career planning?
Definitely keep your LinkedIn page updated. A Pathfinder recruiter found me on LinkedIn, so I’m relieved that I had invested some time in developing it (you don’t need a premium account, just an updated resume). For careers in international development, Devex is a good resource. Those interested in international development should subscribe to the WhyDev newsletter for some funny, important thought-pieces. For jobs in sexual and reproductive health, the Maternal Health Task Force’s blog frequently publishes job openings at some of the best global health organizations. Also, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions about Pathfinder or a career global sexual and reproductive health—I’ll try to be helpful as a wide-eyed young professional can be.