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Advancing food security and education in Laos

Marissa Kelly M.A. ’23 earns coveted fellowship with Catholic Relief Services.

The odds were daunting. Of the 3,790 applicants vying for fellowships from Catholic Relief Services in November 2022, only 12 would realize their dream.

Marissa Kelly Headshot
Marissa Kelly, M.A., International Development ’23

When she applied, Marissa Kelly ’23 was unaware of how coveted the fellowships were. What she did know is she wanted to do humanitarian work abroad, which has been the mission of Catholic Relief Services since 1943.

“One of my life philosophies is to knock on doors, make every effort, and see which doors open up to me,” Kelly says. With the Catholic Relief Services fellowship, making every effort meant persevering through a rigorous five-month selection process.

Only 76 of the applicants were invited to complete video interviews – fewer than 2%. “Then 24 of us went on to complete the language test, which we all passed,” Kelly says. “So there were 24 finalists.” Being named one of the 12 fellows was surreal, Kelly says. “I felt honored and, of course, I’m excited.”

Clark Career Services and the Clark alumni network were a big part of Kelly’s success in getting her fellowship. “Sharon Hanna, director of IDCE Career Development, was directly responsible for making me aware of the fellowship and helped guide me every step of the way,” Kelly says.

“Speaking with a Clark alum who did the fellowship provided me with valuable insights. It was also very helpful to talk with Professor Denise Humphreys Bebbington, who for several years worked at Catholic Relief Services.”

Doing work in line with her values

Before coming to Clark to pursue her master’s degree in International Development, Kelly was a Peace Corps volunteer in Costa Rica. “I heard about Clark when I applied for a Coverdell Fellowship,” she says. “The Coverdell Fellows program helps returned Peace Corps volunteers continue their service to underserved communities while also pursuing graduate studies at a reduced cost. Clark is one of the program’s partner universities.”

Originally from Olympia, Washington, Kelly found the application process at Clark to be a positive experience from start to finish. “I felt like Clark was a place that cared about me as a person,” she says. “Clark was willing to invest time in me. They were willing to have numerous conversations with me and answer my many questions. Right off the bat, I felt that Clark was a supportive community.”

As a fellow with Catholic Relief Services, Kelly will focus on food security and education in Laos. She credits Clark with preparing her for the work ahead.

“Clark cares about developing professionals who are going to do good things in the world. My professors nurtured my commitment to justice, to having difficult, honest conversations, and to taking action. They all had real experience ‘doing development’ and shared their best practices with me. And in addition to being experts in their field, they are great people who care about you,” Kelly says.

Kelly is hopeful that her fellowship with Catholic Relief Services leads to a long and rewarding career with the organization. “I can see myself growing professionally and personally,” she says. “It’s important to me to do work that is in line with my values, and I believe I have that opportunity with Catholic Relief Services.”

A similar alignment of values is one of the reasons Kelly found studying at Clark so rewarding. “I think being respectful, critical, and honest is important,” she says. “And I think that’s something that Clark encourages and inspires in its students.”