Georgetown University offers hands-on graduate degrees that prepare students to enter into the field of global development. Photo by: Hero Images / Getty Images

While having an advanced degree is a must for professionals hoping to score coveted global development positions, job seekers aren’t necessarily best served by pursuing a master’s in development, counterintuitive though it may seem. International organizations are increasingly looking for job applicants with specific skill sets, giving job seekers with specialized degrees a competitive edge in the hiring process.

That’s why Georgetown University has developed three graduate degree programs for professionals aspiring to enter the global development landscape: Emergency and Disaster Management, Urban and Regional Planning, and Global Strategic Communications. Devex spoke to Georgetown students, alumni, and faculty members to explore how each of these degrees provides a solid foundation for transitioning into the field.

Training professionals to respond to international crises

In a world riddled with changing and unpredictable threats such as natural disasters, epidemics, acts of terrorism, and humanitarian crises, there will always be a demand for skilled professionals capable of mitigating these threats and responding quickly and effectively to disasters on the local, national, and global levels. Georgetown’s Emergency and Disaster Management (EDM) master’s programs prepare students to become effective disaster response and management professionals by providing a curriculum that is global, practical, and skills-based.

“Ten years ago, degrees like this didn’t exist, but given how fast the industry is changing, now they are more necessary,” said Tracy Reines, an EDM faculty member and the director of the American Red Cross International Response Operations Center.

“This degree helps students understand how to create better programming for the future by incorporating reflection on events that have already taken place — such as Hurricane Katrina or Ebola. Our students analyze the good and the bad, so that when they are in the field they have a better understanding of the complexity these disasters present, and are equipped with the skills to navigate that complexity,” she added.

The program includes coursework that prepares students with an in-depth understanding of international rules and regulations so they can respond legally and ethically to various disasters while under pressure in the field. And for the capstone — a culminating project drawing on the skills they learned throughout the course — each student creates, coordinates, and implements an effective emergency response to a crisis simulation, providing real-world experience grounded in application.

To make the course accessible to professionals around the world, Georgetown offers three graduate degree formats: executive master’s, on-campus master’s, and online master’s.

The executive master’s program, which lasts 12 months, is geared toward professionals with six or more years of experience. Students learn through a combination of online classes and in-person residencies in Washington, D.C.; Seattle; and London.

For students who are earlier in their careers, the on-campus master’s and online master’s programs can be completed in 2-5 years, and offer the option of attending courses online, in person, or through a combination of both.

“This field is changing very rapidly, and the expectations and demand for demonstrable efficiency, quality, and impact is also increasing rapidly — and rightly so,” said Reines. “Our degree gives students the tools they need to think on their feet, and evolve with it.”

Planning the future of urban development

“Ten years ago, degrees like this didn’t exist, but given how fast the industry is changing, now they are more necessary.”

— Tracy Reines, an EDM faculty member and the director of the American Red Cross International Response Operations Center

By 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population will be living in urban areas, according to a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. This accelerated urbanization is particularly pronounced in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, where more than 90 percent of global urban growth takes place, and where cities add 70 million new residents each year. One-third of the residents of urban centers in developing countries also live in slumlike conditions, often without access to running water or sewage treatment. That’s why finding sustainable urban planning solutions is a critical component to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, and one of the reasons why the United Nations hosted its third annual conference on housing and sustainable urban development in Quito earlier this year.  

It is also why the master’s in Urban and Regional Planning (URP) is a smart move for job seekers looking both for job security, and to make a difference. At the program’s core is a commitment to turning out skilled professionals who can effectively integrate urban design with community development: Students are trained to work closely with the people living in urban centers to create solutions that are ethical, sustainable, environmentally responsible, and efficient.

The program — which can be completed in 1.5-4 years — includes core coursework in urban research, economic development, land use, urban design, planning processes, regulations, law and ethics.

Claudia Glen, a first-year international student from Colombia, chose the URP program because of its location, hands-on approach, practical skills, and exceptional professional networking opportunities.

“One of the strengths of the program is it does a really good job of blending the theoretical and the practical,” she said. “For example, we have to take a class in the history of urban planning, from Rome to the present day, which is important to know from a research perspective. But then there are also studio classes, and for our capstone we have to solve a real problem.”

Previous capstone projects completed by URP students have included collaboration with communities, public officials, and stakeholders to address planning challenges that can be implemented to improve communities.  

Glen also values the fact that the program is based out of Washington, D.C., which is significant because of the opportunity to learn from and network with experienced urban planning practitioners from local, regional and international organizations in the area.

“Of course, you can’t find better professionals than in D.C. It’s a great place to network,” she said. “But it’s also a really exciting place to be from an urban development perspective. D.C. is in the process of going through major urban transformation. It’s amazing that a city that had so much crime and abandoned buildings is becoming revitalized — and we have the opportunity to study that, and to be a part of that.”

Training the communicators of the future

Effective communication is fundamental to the success of every type of organization in the field of global development — from large international organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank, to smaller local nongovernmental organizations. In a rapidly evolving and increasingly complex world, global communicators need to be versed in a variety of skills, including understanding the needs of different stakeholders; leveraging social media for maximum impact; communicating across cultures; and thinking strategically on both a global and regional level.

The executive master’s in Global Strategic Communications (GSC) is designed to prepare communication leaders and executives with global and strategic mindsets, enabling them to work effectively across a variety of international industries.

Like the executive master’s in Emergency and Disaster Management, the executive master’s in GSC is a 12-month program that consists of an online component with on-site residencies in London, Singapore and Washington, D.C. During the residencies, students have the opportunity to address the problems of real-world clients, and are mentored by an executive coach to help develop their leadership styles along the way.

Javier Munoz, a social media specialist at the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization, recently completed the GSC program.

“I was very impressed with the Georgetown program, because it has a very innovative structure with a very global perspective,” he said. “My peers and the instructors have a really international background — there are people who work in the U.N. system and related areas, so there was a variety of expertise. For me it was great to be part of such an impressive network of people.”

The degree also prepares students to tackle complex, global communications challenges faced by nonprofit, corporate, and government organizations by integrating case studies (for example, one residency includes a crisis communication case study) and real-world application with clients. Coursework emphasizes how globalization is changing communication strategies and equips students with the skills needed to tackle these challenges.

Munoz also appreciated the collaborative approach the program provided.

“During the residencies, we would be totally immersed with the group, with faculty members and guest speakers, and got the chance to work with real clients — such as IBM — and address real problems,” he said.

It’s also necessary: Nearly all senior-level global development jobs now require both master’s degrees and on-the-ground experience. The Georgetown programs offer a combination of both, with the bonus of international residencies that expose students to different cultural environments — and provide a vital global perspective. With a variety of programs to choose from in different specializations, and a location in Washington, D.C., the master’s programs at Georgetown offer great options for job seekers serious about pursuing careers in global development.

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