Middlebury Institute student Melissa Hewitt’s 10,000-mile journey to Malawi began with a phone call home to Mom—a call that started her down a path of alumni connections that led all the way to Southeast Africa.
The phone call home happened last fall. Hewitt’s parents had just moved into a new neighborhood in her home town of St. Paul, Minnesota, and learned that one of their neighbors was on the board of a non-profit called Compatible Technology International, whose executive director is a Middlebury Institute alumna, Alexandra Spieldoch MAIPS ’96 (seen below with Hewitt). “They were talking and discovered the MIIS connection. He gave my mom Alexandra’s information and I set up an informational interview with her when I was home during winter break.”
During the informational interview, the pair “instantly connected” around CTI’s efforts to offer innovative approaches to combating hunger and poverty in the developing world. Their conversations—which also surfaced the fact that CTI Board Chair Paul Healey MAIPS ’94 is another MIIS alumnus—soon grew into an internship opportunity at CTI this summer, which became Hewitt’s DPMI Development Practicum. As part of the internship, Hewitt traveled to Malawi to gain insights that will help CTI develop its monitoring and evaluation plan for programs there, and to capture footage for future promotional videos.
The alumni connections only grew deeper as Hewitt prepared for her trip. “Before I left, my classmate Sarah Terherst MPA ’17 connected me with Timothy Strong MBA/MAIEP ’14, another MIIS alum, who is working in Malawi for Opportunity International.” Terherst is in Zambia this summer and Hewitt had seen a Facebook post from Strong telling her that he was living in Malawi and hoped to connect with her while he was in Zambia. “I asked Sarah to introduce us, and Timothy was very willing to chat.”
That alumni connection also blossomed over the course of subsequent conversations. “A couple of days after I arrived,” says Hewitt, “I met up with Tim’s wife Jackie, who offered to let me stay with her and Tim at their home in Lilongwe for the remainder of my trip. They connected me with others working in development and humanitarian aid in the city, and we had a fun American fourth of July celebration. They were wonderful hosts!”
In addition to the information and footage she had come for, projected December 2016 Master of Public Administration graduate Hewitt returned to the US with some important lessons learned. “The biggest thing I’ve learned about networking is that it isn’t as formal or scary as it sounds. It really is just talking with the people you know, and people they know, learning about what they do, and letting them know about yourself. The most important part has been following up. People, in my experience, have been really willing to connect—the key is being willing to put yourself out there and meet and talk with people you don’t yet know.”