Inside the Biden Administration: GW Alumni in International Policy

Alumni like Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley and Carol Spahn are revolutionizing a field with worldwide impact.

August 2, 2021

Carol Spahn

Peace Corps Acting Director Carol Spahn, M.A. '00. (Peace Corps)

Inside the Administration is a series featuring GW alumni serving across the federal government in President Joe Biden’s administration.

Carol Spahn, M.A. ’00, volunteered with the Peace Corps in Romania in the mid-1990s, working as a small business adviser in the fraught economic climate following the fall of Communism. She returned to the United States eager to learn more about the global framework in which she’d served. To that end, she earned a master’s degree in international development from the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs in 2000.

Two decades later, she’s the acting director of the Peace Corps—one of many alumni bringing the international policy expertise they honed at GW to federal service careers in President Joe Biden’s administration.

“My time at GW helped provide context to what I experienced as a volunteer,” Ms. Spahn said. “Coupled with the intercultural competence I had gained during my time of service, it set the stage for an international development career that has spanned many continents and programmatic areas.”

As the acting director, she works to advance the Peace Corps’ ambitious mission—building world peace and friendship—through individual relationships and hard work. And she’s been able to see how the service she was part of has changed the face of world leadership.

“I often hear from senior officials in governments overseas who were impacted by a Peace Corps volunteer early in their lives, which is also very rewarding,” she said.

Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley
Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley.

Monumental Alumna Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, B.A. ’80, also leveraged her GW experience to lead a transformative initiative in the field of international relations. A 30-year diplomat and the longest-serving U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Malta, she’s now the first chief diversity and inclusion officer at the Department of State, where she and her team work to make the United States’ foreign policy corps more demographically representative.

“We are trying to become an organization less risk-adverse when it comes to speaking up for inclusion and valuing what diversity can do for the health of our organization,” she said.

Ms. Abercrombie-Winstanley believes that diverse experiences provide an enormous benefit to the demanding, competitive and high-stakes field of foreign policy. She learned that lesson at GW, putting together study groups.

“The same skills that we used to set up study groups are useful here: supporting each other, leaving no one behind and everyone increasing their understanding of the subject and their expertise as a result,” she said. “We all brought different strengths to the group: note taking, analysis, team building, recall and more. All different but all valuable for the group’s success.”

Other GW alumni serving under Mr. Biden in the field of international policy include:

Department of State

  • Suzanne “Suzy” A. George, J.D. ’94, chief of staff
  • Jonathan Moore, M.A. ’90, principal deputy assistant secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
  • Carol Perez, M.H.S.A.  ’80, undersecretary of state for management
  • Megan Schildgen, M.A. ’07, acting deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Doha, Qatar
  • Shelby Smith-Wilson, M.A. ’99, chief of staff, Office of the Deputy Secretary of State for Management & Resources
  • Matthew Steinhelfer, B.A. ’07, acting principal deputy assistant secretary, Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations

U.S. Agency for International Development

  • Elizabeth Leibowitz, M.P.H. ’19, senior adviser for policy and engagement, USAID COVID-19 Task Force
  • Rebecca Wexler, B.A. ’06, senior adviser, Office of the Administrator

Millennium Challenge Corporation

  • Cameron Alford, J.D. ’01, vice president, general counsel and corporate security
  • Aysha House, M.A. ’02, vice president, congressional and public affairs

U.S. International Development Financial Corporation        

  • Tina Donbeck, M.A. ’03, chief information officer
  • Alexander Francés, M.A. ’16, special assistant to the chief executive officer
  • David Marchick, J.D. ’96, chief operating officer

Office of the United States Trade Representative

  • Sam Michel, B.A. ’14, director of speechwriting