Jane Yang '11

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Name: Jane Yang
Job: Princeton in Africa Fellow (Programs & Grants) at the International Rescue Committee
Current City: Nairobi, Kenya
School: Princeton - Class of 2011
Major: Chemical & Biological Engineering
Social Media:


At Princeton

I came into Princeton thinking that I would graduate and become a professional chemical engineer. Maybe I would go into research to determine what exactly makes water such an unusual substance. Or maybe I would join Ben & Jerry's and spend my days taste-testing new flavors and trying to achieve the elusive but highly-desirable glass phase ice cream. I certainly did not, however, have any aspirations to work abroad; nor did I really have an idea of what was going on in the world.

And then, Engineers Without Borders happened. I joined EWB because I was looking for a way to apply what I was learning in my engineering classes in a practical way. By chance, the project meetings that I could make were for the newly-formed Ghana team. Three years and one implementation trip to Ghana later, my career aspirations had taken a new direction. Come senior year, I was looking for opportunities in international development, preferably with a focus on water or energy infrastructure. At the career fair, however, there was a dearth of engineering firms with development arms represented. Sending resumes out into the Internet abyss proved fruitless. Giving in to my risk-adverse nature, I started looking at other options. Upon my sister's advice, I checked out Deloitte's U.S. Federal Government Consulting Practice. Deloitte had just opened a division focusing on clean energy. It wasn't necessarily international development, but at least it was related to one of my interests and relevant to my academic studies. 

A month or so later, I signed a contract with Deloitte and happily learned at a welcome dinner that in addition to a clean energy unit, they were also launching an Emerging Markets program focusing on working with USAID. Serendipity? Yet while I found this news was intriguing and exciting, I still couldn't shake the feeling that my now-chosen path wasn't quite the right fit - at least, not at the time. 

Since freshman year, I had known about Princeton in Africa, a fellowship program that gave recent college graduates that critical foot-in-the-door opportunity through one-year entry-level positions in Africa, mostly with organizations working in development and humanitarian aid. Before accepting Deloitte's offer, I had confided in their recruiter that I was also applying to PiAf and asked whether or not Deloitte ever allowed new hires to defer for a year. "We haven't before, except for Teach for America and the Rhodes," he replied to my chagrin. But then: "Let us know how your application goes - we'll see what we can do." A few months later, I learned that I was lucky enough to be chosen as Princeton in Africa fellow; even luckier, Deloitte proved their commitment to helping their employees find their professional passion with a heartfelt congratulations and amended offer letter with a summer 2012 start date. 

After School

Two weeks after graduation, I stepped onto a plane bound for Nairobi, Kenya. Since then, I have been working with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) as programs and grants support. My position has given me a birds eye view of the IRC's activities in Kenya, enabling me to learn about everything from health care service delivery to how to design an integrated livelihoods initiative. At the same time, working within the humanitarian sphere has presented a near constant philosophical challenge as I've come to grapple with questions of aid effectiveness, sustainable project design, and expat living. And though my current job is a far cry from engineering, it has been an invaluable and incredibly formative experience. From this past year, I have a better sense of where I would like to be in two, five, ten years both professionally and personally. 

In July 2012, I will be moving from one capital city to another and transitioning from NGO world to the private sector. As an analyst with Deloitte Federal Consulting in Washington DC, I hope to continue my unconventional career trajectory towards becoming a humanitarian engineer


Realize that great opportunities rarely seem perfect at first glance. Even in a position that may not at the time seem like what you want to do, there is always a chance to do something that both interests you and can be a lasting positive contribution to the organization. The trick is to figure out what it is and then find a way to do it. You'll be surprised by how quickly your job starts to fit better.


Feel free to get in touch at jane.juen.yang[at]gmail[dot]com!

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