Heller Profiles

The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University

skip to content

Michelle Dworkin

USA • Program Officer, USAID

MA-SID '07

The Impact of Heller Alumni around the World: Afghanistan

Michelle Dworkin engages in projects to improve living conditions for people around the world.

Working in Afghanistan was eye-opening in more ways than one for Michelle Dworkin, a native of upstate New York. For a year she was a USAID program officer for the organization's western regional platform, part of the U.S. Consulate in Herat. Since the consulate building was not yet completed at the time, Dworkin lived and worked at Camp Stone, a U.S. military base south of Herat City. Initially, Dworkin was skeptical of the military's role in development, but during her year in Afghanistan she experienced strong cooperation between USAID and military counterparts in advancing shared goals for development in Afghanistan.

Some of Dworkin's accomplishments include enabling local civil society organizations -- including female-run groups -- to secure small grants from the U.S. government to implement educational, income-generating, training and environmental projects. For example, Dworkin helped a local group passionate about educating Afghans on the importance of environmental preservation win a grant to plant 4,000 trees on the Herat University campus. She also helped consolidate information about USAID's programs and expenditures in western Afghanistan to better communicate such information and improve coordination with military counterparts and other donors.

"To this day, I remain grateful for all of the lessons I learned while at Heller," Dworkin says, "and they continue to guide me in my work and help me focus on the importance of sustainability in development. 
I recall the three Es of sustainable development -- economic development, equity and environmental conservation -- that Professor Howard impressed upon us in my very first 'Planning and Implementation' course. Even though I don't focus specifically on environmental projects, my courses with Professor Olson, as well as the lessons learned in the 'Natural Resources Management and Conflict' course I took with Professor Klein, continue to resonate with my work." Dworkin also refers to lessons learned from Professors Ready and Short.

Before coming to Heller, Dworkin realized that she didn't want to analyze foreign policy. Instead, she says, "I wanted to be actively engaged in doing things to improve the world we live in and living conditions for people around the world. In looking for graduate programs that addressed my interests in this respect, I found the M.A. (SID) program to be a perfect match for my career goals and social values."

As Dworkin transitions to a USAID post in Guatemala, where she'll be stationed for the next four years, she carries with her the knowledge that she is stronger than she once thought. When the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Herat came under attack, Dworkin was acting as the senior development officer for USAID in western Afghanistan and, as such, was responsible for accounting for personnel and monitoring the security situation. "I was surprised at my ability to stay calm and provide direction in the face of a major security incident," she says. 

Knowledge Advancing Social Justice

Copyright 2017 • Brandeis University • All rights are reserved