Moho in the Middle East

Olivia Griffen with Camel

Olivia Griffin '13, Program Coordinator

Major: Middle Eastern Studies, Religion minor

Study Abroad: CIEE Language and Culture Amman

Internships: Iraq Desk, Economic and Assistance Affairs office, Department of State; Center for Strategic and International Studies

Employer: Middle East Bureau, US Agency for International Development

At Mount Holyoke, I knew I wanted to focus on international relations and political science. I declared an interdisciplinary major in Middle Eastern Studies and was able to study all of the aspects of the region including politics, history, religion, economics, language and culture. Through classes such as Just War & Jihad and The International Politics of Petroleum, my studies embodied my interests and provided a cross-sectoral perspective that has greatly contributed to my professional work thus far.

After graduation, I moved to Washington D.C. to pursue my career in Middle Eastern Studies. The decision to postpone graduate school and to explore my career options has definitely been the right choice for me. At the Department of State, I interned with the Iraq Desk/Economic and Assistance Affairs office. My time there included everything from educational exchange to tracking of petroleum pipeline security. As tensions rose in Iraq in the fall of 2013, I had the unique opportunity to watch through a diplomatic, economic lens.

While at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), I helped run an event and podcast-based program called Smart Women, Smart Power, which focused on female leaders in foreign policy, national security, and international business. Some of my favorite guests included Samantha Power, Farah Pandith, and Maura O’Neill. By understanding the various fields in which these women lead, I was able to provide the necessary background information and help develop the interviews for each guest.

In my current position at the US Agency for International Development (USAID), I support the Office of Technical Support in the Middle East Bureau. My office is made up of technical expert teams in democracy and governance, education, health, economic growth, and the environment. As a program coordinator for all of the teams, an interdisciplinary understanding of the Middle East is very useful.

Moving forward, I will continue in the field of Middle Eastern international relations. More than being gainfully employed, I am so lucky to be passionate about what I do.

When deciding between majors, everyone assured me, “It doesn’t matter what your major is in undergrad. Graduate school is where it really matters.” While I still haven’t decided where to focus my further schooling, I am absolutely sure I picked the right major for undergraduate studies at Mount Holyoke College.