The Washington Program Opened the Door to her Future

Mahdis Nicokar of the Washington Program poses on graduation day

Mahdis Nicokar

International Relations and Political Science ‘18

Moving from Iran to the US and traveling back and forth between the two countries exposed Mahdis Nicokar first-hand to the challenges of under developed countries that lead to international immigration. “Growing up I spent a lot of time in embassies and met many people with different backgrounds trying to move... I saw a lot of refugees seeking a new chance at life. I would like to use the growth opportunities I was given to help people [in that situation] make a better life for themselves in their own nations, without having to immigrate.” 

The Washington Program was a natural fit to pursue her goal of working in international development. She participated in the last quarter of her senior year with the intention of laying the groundwork to transition into the DC world.“I could run with all of the opportunities I was given to start building the career that I wanted,because I intended on staying afterwards. The UC Washington Center gave me a safety net and a support network so I didn’t have to start from scratch.”

In Spring ‘18 she interned with Prosperity Now, a think tank dedicated to developing financial security in the US by providing their research to nonprofits, other think tanks, and advocates in order to empower low-and-moderate income families.She worked on projects that foster racial equity and developed her quantitative research skills. “In Davis I had only done reading-based research–barely data analysis. I had never looked at the Census website. At my internship I learned how to properly analyze data and charts–it was my first time doing that kind of analysis.”

While working at Prosperity Now, Mahdis received word that she had been accepted for an internship with the Peace Corps, so she stayed in Washington for the summer. “That was my dream internship –it was perfect.” As the only intern in her unit she says,

“I got to grow extremely. It wasn’t an internship where someone was holding my hand –I was given responsibilities and tasks,and I ran with them. I really loved how much responsibility they gave me,and that they trusted me with these different projects.” 

The Peace Corps internship gave her critical access to the world of international development.

I had never been inside these circles before. For someone who lives in California, making those connections was a huge deal.The circle for international development is very small, and many of them have worked in the Peace Corps. That introduction opened up so many doors for me.

The next door to open was a Peace Corps volunteer position working on education and youth development in the country of Georgia. She leaves in April 2019.

Her dream is to one day start her own NGO. “Something I’ve noticed missing from the NGO / development world is focused support for divorced women –giving them the opportunities and skills they need to get into the workforce. Many NGOs focus on the younger generations, and even girls’ education specifically; but relatively speaking there is little focus on women who have already been dependent on others all their lives. In many developing countries, women who go through divorce and have children often can’t find their place in the society, so they have no idea what to do. I would like to create programs that solely focus on these individuals.” 

For example, in Georgia, a lot of boys drop out of school, find a job, and never complete their education. Girls finish school but get married afterwards. So although a young woman might receive an education, she has no idea how to create financial support for herself. Along with the curriculum, Peace Corps volunteers work with their counterparts and the students to increase the confidence and motivation in the students.

While she waits for her Peace Corps assignment to begin, Mahdis volunteered at the International Rescue Committee with the Economic Empowerment program. Of that experience she said, “I’m in awe that I get to do this. I love the work, but there is a voice inside of me constantly reminding me that immigration isn’t the only option. There are millions of people unable to move who deserve the resources to build their communities and nations. That is why I have chosen this field, to help people create a better world for themselves.”