Supportive professors help Henry Harrison discover new career path

by University Communications,

As commencement approaches, our graduates reflect on their Willamette experience and share their plans for the future. This is the third of our five-part series.

Henry Harrison ’13 came to Willamette University four years ago from Nevada City, Calif., as a small-town, two-sport athlete who had never left the U.S. and was interested in learning about business finance.

He’s graduating this spring with study experiences in Washington, D.C., and Santiago, Chile, under his belt; plans to join a research trip to India; and a goal of volunteering for the Peace Corps before starting a career in international development.

Economics was the common thread he followed throughout, although he’s finishing at a very different point on the discipline’s spectrum from where he began.

Much of it is due to two courses he took his junior year: The Economics of Developing Countries, taught by Raechelle Mascarenhas; and Politics in the Developing World, led by Megan Ybarra.

“I started that year still interested in finance, but once I was in those classes and started learning about underdevelopment, different ideas took hold,” Harrison says.

International development encompasses a wide array of issues related to improving human conditions worldwide — including foreign aid, health care, education, human rights and the environment.

“What I had enjoyed about finance was the complexity of the markets,” Harrison says. “But I found that the ideas involved in development involved even more factors and were more complex.”

Harrison’s new passion flourished during the semester, Mascarenhas says — she recalls that he “engaged deeply with the course material” and “always had insightful thoughts to share with the class.”

“Since then, he has read extensively on the problems that plague developing countries and has on many occasions come in to talk about these issues with me,” she says.

Learning from the Experts

It’s a common theme for Harrison, that of immersing himself fully in subjects that interest him, whether it’s by reading books or engaging in discussions with others who are close to the topic.

One such conversation — one that he’ll never forget — happened in Washington, D.C., the summer after his junior year. He was participating in The Fund for American Studies’ Institute on Business and Government Affairs, which had him taking courses at Georgetown University while interning for the Business Industry Political Action Committee.

While listening to a speaker from the World Bank, Harrison raised his hand and asked a complicated question about the organization’s stance on privatization.

The speaker didn’t know how to answer, so she did one better. She connected Harrison with one of the lead economists in the World Bank’s international trade department, and the two had lunch.

“It was really fulfilling because I was able to have a conversation with him almost as an equal,” Harrison says, “and it was because of everything I’d been reading about and studying in college.”

First Trip Abroad

When he returned to Willamette in the fall, Harrison interned at Associated Oregon Industries, a business lobbying firm across the street from the Oregon State Capitol. The firm was so impressed with his work that they hired him on full-time at the end of his internship.

Harrison appreciated the additional government-related experience, but he wanted to continue exploring international affairs.

He applied for another Fund for American Studies program, one that took him to Chile for two weeks this past January. Alongside students from various Latin American countries, Harrison studied free market enterprise and Chile’s economic model.

He also observed interesting ways that Chile’s privatization of its education system had impacted social mobility and educational achievement — a concept that he developed into his senior thesis.

Impact of Professors

Harrison knew that he needed even more experience abroad to pursue work in international development. Ybarra, who had become one of his mentors, suggested he consider the Peace Corps.

He’s currently in the application process, but hopes to be accepted to serve in Latin America.

“Part of why I want to do the Peace Corps — and why I’m so interested in development in general — is because our country has so many opportunities that others don’t have,” he says. “I have been afforded so many privileges with my life here, and it doesn’t seem right in the long run for me to just sit back and benefit from them.”

Harrison also will head to India this summer with Mascarenhas and another student to observe development projects first-hand. The trip is sponsored by a grant from Willamette’s Center for Asian Studies.

Mascarenhas knew Harrison was the right choice for the project, given his eagerness to expand his world view.

“Henry embodies what is ideal in a Willamette student: he is student athlete, he has a strong commitment to academics and he has actively sought to develop his education beyond Willamette,” she says.

The small-town athlete never imagined his Willamette experience would take him so far. Harrison says he couldn’t have accomplished what he did without the support of his professors.

“They are so knowledgeable about their subjects and life in general, and I get to talk with them anytime I want and get their advice,” he says. “They have helped me so much along the way, and that’s probably the most valuable thing I’ll take from here.”