“I developed knowledge and skills that have helped me better understand how my work fits in to the big picture.”
- David Cook (MPA ‘12)
David Cook, a recipient of the Robert J. Lavoie Endowed Fellowship during his studies at the Evans School, is currently a senior officer of grants and contracts management at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
What made you choose to get an MPA from the Evans School?
I had been working in Seattle’s nonprofit sector for a number of years, and had a number of friends and colleagues who were Evans School alumni. It seemed that whenever I made new professional connections, they were with Evans alumni who always had wonderful things to say about the program and the skillset developed in school. So in 2008, having returned from a year abroad working in East Africa, I decided to shift my career focus to international development. I chose the Evans School to help build the skills and relationships to fulfill my goals.
How did the fellowship that you received from the Evans School help support your pursuit of the MPA?
Simply put, I would not have attended the Evans School at all were it not for the fellowship. In 2007 I was overseas, and in 2008 I returned to work at a local nonprofit amidst the worsening recession. I applied to the Evans School, but during the ensuing months I talked myself out of enrolling. I just couldn’t imagine leaving a full-time job in that economic climate. A few months later my acceptance letter arrived with an offer for a tuition waiver via the Robert Lavoie Endowed Fellowship. The rest is history, and I am incredibly grateful! In addition, my plans changed a little during my time at Evans. I enrolled as a PCMI student, but (thankfully) I met my spouse during autumn quarter of my first year, and the Peace Corps was not an option for both of us to participate together. She and I spent Summer and Autumn Quarters in 2010 volunteering with a small NGO in India, and for me it became an Evans School independent study. My airfare was provided from the volunteer placement agency, but I would not have had the financial resources available to support this experience were it not for the fellowship I received as an incoming student.
What skills from your Evans School education, or lessons from the faculty, have been the most useful in your recent or current positions?
In broad terms, the areas of quantitative analysis, policy analysis, and program evaluation. I entered the Evans School with a background delivering education programs, but in school I developed knowledge and skills that has helped me better understand how my work fits in to the big picture (i.e., authorizing environments, policy process, and civil society on the whole). In terms of specific skills in my current role, the initial weeks of the nonprofit management course provided a comprehensive overview of the nonprofit sector, and applicable sections of the tax code. This provided a vital foundation for my current role as a grants administrator focused on compliance issues for international and domestic grantmaking. In addition, program management and evaluation skills are relevant in my daily work. Bill Gates’ annual letter in 2013 was all about the importance of measurement and evaluation, and the Gates Foundation rolled out its first evaluation policy in 2013. We are now transitioning to an “outcomes investing” approach with every single grant to each of our partners. Moving forward, our proposals will all center around the theory of change in any given project, and I feel very well-versed in this approach thanks to the Evans management core curriculum, as well as electives in program evaluation and environmental decision-making. Last but not least: budgeting.
If you completed an internship, please share any highlights or whether it helped in your job search efforts after graduation.
As a midcareer student I did not complete a formal internship. But a highlight for me was a program evaluation I supported in India during an independent study. The project enabled me to apply some of my new Evans School skills in real time. I had just completed Professor Gugerty’s course Program Evaluation in Developing Countries, and I was able to bring these skills to bear at an NGO based in New Delhi that worked to provide professional development and resources for teachers.
How has being a part of the Evans School network benefited you in your work or professional development?
There are so many Evans alumni at the Gates Foundation, so to date I have mostly connected with this group in the Evans network. It has been a great way to build relationships inside such a large organization.
What advice do you have for people who want to work in an organization or a position like yours?
First, try to develop a career goal or vision that helps you achieve a personal mission. With the end in mind, you’ll be able to select coursework and seek out individuals who can help you attain your goals. That said, you have to maintain a flexible approach toward achieving them. As a personal example, I envisioned being a graduate research assistant with EPAR en route to a career in international development. That experience didn’t happen for me, but I didn’t let it get in the way of my overall vision for where I wanted to take my life’s work. Second, keep your eyes open for unique growth opportunities. In another example of flexible thinking, I agreed to work with my advisor and a student partner to develop a case study about strategic planning at a local nonprofit organization where I had previously worked. Though I had planned a degree project (DP) related to international development, I realized that the experiences and relationships with the local organization would add value to the case study in a way that no other DP could offer. Ultimately the case study was published by Syracuse University and won a national award. This wouldn’t have been possible were I not creative in my approach to fulfilling my academic and professional goals. For more every day advice, be sure to make use of all the available resources at UW and the Evans School. Prior to my employment at the Gates Foundation, I met with the Evans School Career Services office to review my resume and conduct a mock interview. The team gave me actionable feedback, which I incorporated into my candidacy for employment.