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Kate Castenson

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University of Denver

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Kate Castenson (MA ‘15) arrived at DU wanting to get involved with the study of global affairs, focusing on the many potential research opportunities on offer at the Korbel School of International Studies. Her undergraduate studies at Claremont McKenna College helped boost her passion for working across borders, but she says it was her professors at Korbel who truly inspired her to follow that path beyond her graduate studies. 

Now, she’s working at the Mercy Corps, an international organization focused on international economic development and humanitarian assistance. Castenson has found a path that allows her to make a tangible difference in lives around the world, a career shaped by her educational experiences both in the classroom and out in the field. Korbel’s affiliation with the Human Trafficking Center provided her with an opportunity to gain practical research experience in the field of her choice, but her learning experiences didn’t end at DU’s campus—she also spent a semester abroad in Geneva working with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which she credits with shaping her interest in humanitarian work and preparing her for her role at the Mercy Corps. She says the study abroad experience was invaluable to her education and career development, but it was also an eye-opening lesson in multiculturalism and finding common ground among diverse perspectives.

“During the Geneva Semester, one of my favorite memories was attending a Thanksgiving dinner hosted by several of my American friends who invited some international colleagues to a small apartment in France,” she says. “It was a multicultural, multinational evening where we shared Thanksgiving traditions and foods and discovered how much of the Thanksgiving spread it is possible to recreate in continental Europe!”

Castenson has found a path that brings together her expertise in human trafficking, human rights, civilian preparedness, and disaster aid with her practical abilities related to research and academia. She’s helping advance humanitarian programs around the world through the Mercy Corps, shaping responses to crises and helping advance a better understanding of the different ways in which society responds to both domestic and international humanitarian issues. To her, international studies is as much about working with societies around the world as it is striving to improve the lives of those in your own country, an idea Castenson says was integral to her experience at Korbel.

“Even if you come to Korbel wanting to focus on international affairs, remember that we live in an interconnected world, and it’s important to not lose sight of what’s happening in your home country,” she says. “One way I explored human rights issues within the US was through Rebecca Galemba's qualitative research methods course, where we investigated issues surrounding wage theft among the day laborer community in Denver. This course made a deep impression on me, and ever since I have been more aware of issues of human rights and economic justice in my own community.”