Far Beyond the Midwest: CLA Alum’s Degree Expands Her Worldview

Headshot of Amanda Huff wearing graduation robes
Amanda Huff at the graduation ceremony for her master’s degree from the University of Edinburgh.

Hailing from Madison, Wisconsin, Amanda Huff (BA '19) has an armful of experience under her belt, in both professional and personal capacities. She shares how receiving a strong liberal arts education at the University of Minnesota helped develop her Core Career Competencies, which she uses till this day in her everyday work and life. 

What brought you to the University of Minnesota and how did you end up studying what you did?

Tuition reciprocity between Wisconsin and Minnesota, and the glamor of the Twin Cities brought me to the University of Minnesota, where I enrolled with an undeclared major in CLA. By the middle of my freshman year, I realized my college credits from high school and my genuine interest in the French language would be a great fit for a French major.  However, I still had an interest in people, politics, and culture beyond the francophone (French-speaking) and anglophone (English-speaking) worlds.

I learned about the global studies degree through my academic advisor, and immediately found the ability to choose a region and thematic focus for the major to be a perfect fit for my interests. After spending a semester of my sophomore year abroad in France, I became very confident in my choices for a double major and worked hard to finish both degrees in three and a half years.

What do you do now? What energizes you about it?

I now live and work in the United Kingdom, having moved here in 2021 to first pursue a master’s degree in Africa and international development at the University of Edinburgh. After graduating with merit, I started working at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) as a project officer supporting dozens of ongoing development research projects. My work specifically supports the International Centre for Tax and Development (ICTD), a group at the forefront of tax policy and administration research in lower-income countries.

Working at IDS--one of the highest ranking development policy think tanks in the world–and with the team at the ICTD is extremely fulfilling and motivating. I know that my day-to-day work supporting research projects around the world has the potential to directly impact tax policy, advance sustainable development, reduce inequality, and foster inclusive growth.

What are some ways your liberal arts education provided a foundation for what you do now?

My undergraduate education at the U within CLA allowed me to build a foundation of knowledge and critical thinking that I relied on not only during the completion of my master’s degree, but also rely on nearly every day in my career. One of the key pieces of this foundation was the overall broadening of my worldview. Many of my classes challenged me to read, listen, and watch the lived experiences of people and groups around the world, both from the past and present. This gave me the opportunity to develop critical and analytical thinking skills, to try to understand life differently from my own lived experience, and increased my interest in the world far beyond the Midwest.

I also appreciate the digital literacy and oral and written communication skills that I developed over the course of my undergraduate experience. Though I came to college thinking I was a pretty strong analyst, writer, and speaker, repeatedly practicing these skills through my coursework was extremely beneficial and was a key part of my success at the master’s level. These skills  continue to benefit me now in my career as I work frequently with academic publications and communicate digitally with people around the world on a daily basis.

If you could go back to your time in college, what advice would you give to yourself at that age?

First, I would say there is absolutely nothing wrong and nothing shameful about going in undeclared! CLA is the best place to be if you don’t know what path you want to pursue at the beginning, but you do need to make an effort to learn about all of your options and take a variety of classes that interest you. Lean on your academic advisor, professors, and fellow students for ideas on what degree programs are out there and what aligns with your interests.

Second, I would say make sure you study hard right from the beginning, but balance that hard work with extracurriculars, hobbies, and just time for yourself. College is a steep learning curve for most of us, and I found it crucial to dedicate time outside of study to do things I enjoyed, both for my mental health and for making friends (shoutout to 7Days A Cappella!). It also meant that when it came time to study, I tended to be even more focused and dedicated. Remember, you are a student first but a young person second—stay committed and have fun!

Amanda believes CLA’s Core Career Competencies played a vital role in preparing her for the work that she does every single day. Learn more about how CLA prepares students for career readiness

By Anushka Raychaudhuri

This story was edited by an undergraduate student in CLA.


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