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Get to Know Nicole Zdrojewski


Nicole Zdrojewski is a graduate assistant working with the Women and Gender in International Development (WGD) team at the Center for International Research, Education, and Development (CIRED). After earning bachelor’s degrees in Environmental Sociology and Anthropology from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree in International Development Studies from George Washington University, Zdrojewski is now pursuing a PhD in Sociology at Virginia Tech.

Tell us about yourself - what interests you?

After working for years for mostly USAID contractors (e.g. DAI, Aguirre Division of JBS International) and employers like the Stimson Center and Vysnova Partners, I came back to school to get my PhD after planning to do so for a long time. I finally had the means and a supportive partner. So after years of working in project management and applied research I started at Virginia Tech in 2019. I was Maria Elisa’s GA this spring and summer, but am moving to a Disaster Resilience and Risk Management (DRRM) Fellowship sponsored by the National Science Foundation. I’m the first graduate student from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences to be accepted into the program. My interests are in the human dimensions of sustainability and resilience in the context of climate change and environmental degradation.

What drew you to international development studies, and more specifically to gender studies?

I got into international development due to an undergrad anthropology class on sustainable grassroots development. We did field visits to places like Casa de Maryland, the World Bank, and the Bank Information Center.  We also read Michael Cernea, who introduced sociological and anthropological approaches at the World Bank. I highly recommend reading his book Putting People First: Sociological Variables in Rural Development. I also recommend reading Robert Chambers, who coined Participatory rural appraisal. I read him during my master’s and I bring up him and Edward Said in my classes at Virginia Tech.

I’ve never taken gender studies. Instead, I integrated attention to gender roles and disparities into my studies. My master’s capstone project was a lit review on women’s empowerment and a gender analysis framework for looking at women’s empowerment through microfinance. I won a Cotlow award and conducted a micro-ethnography of two types of microfinance lending in Tamil Nadu. One was individual lending and the other was self-help group based. I was also a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine in 2004-2006. I lived in Odessa and worked for an organization that supported the reintegration of women and men who had been trafficked. They had a transit shelter for trafficked women on their way home to Moldova.  

What is one international experience you’ll never forget?

One of the international experiences I’ll never forget was staying at the same hotel as Kim Jong-Un when he was in Hanoi for the summit. I was coming back after meetings and had to go through a metal detector and there were North Korean soldiers there. The hotel staff tried to joke with them and they were not having it.