Castle aims to critically evaluate policy and devise evidence-based solutions for USAID after he graduates.
Headshot of Grant Castle
Grant Castle

Grant Castle, MPP Class of 2024, said his whole life changed in a park in Munich, Germany. He was there on a high school exchange program, and it was the height of the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe. An elderly woman approached him, held up a tattered photo, and asked if he had seen her daughter.

"Growing up in Fairport, NY—a town of about 4,000 people—I had never had an experience like that before," Castle said. "I continued to encounter Syrian refugees throughout my time in Germany: some were physically hurt, and all showed signs of trauma. I was seeing real suffering and challenges around the world that I couldn’t ignore. This was my call to service,” he said.  

Driven by this experience, Castle later graduated from Georgetown University in 2021 with a bachelor’s in foreign service. During his time at Georgetown, Castle pursued several internationally-focused internships, including with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration, the U.S. Department of State, and the Middle East Institute. He was also the CEO of the Georgetown International Relations Association, where he organized Model UN conferences for 5,000 students.

“Whether in Kyrgyzstan, China, Brazil, or DC, I witnessed that it didn’t matter who you were or where you came from,” Castle said. “Diplomacy was a universal language that could bridge divides and forge innovative solutions to even the thorniest problems.”

Since graduation, Castle has worked with the PeaceTech Lab, which is part of the U.S Institute of Peace, where he has largely focused on mis/dis-information and peacebuilding. His year at PeaceTech Lab changed the way he thinks about development.

“My main takeaway was that in the international development sphere, we need to be willing to try new things and to better integrate technology,” Castle said. “To solve both emerging and intractable international development challenges, it is time for new approaches and innovations that allow us to be more agile, more responsive to rapid changes, more sensitive to community needs, more locally-driven, and more impactful."

And it seems Castle is going to get that opportunity: he was awarded the Donald M. Payne International Development Fellowship, a program that provides funding for graduate programs before awardees enter the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Foreign Service.

"After receiving the Payne Fellowship, I began looking at graduate programs. I wanted to find a place where I could gain the technical ‘hard skills’ necessary to critically evaluate policy and devise evidence-based solutions—rather than just be well-informed on the issue and its context,” Castle said. "Harris was that place."

Castle plans to align his coursework to specific skills and knowledge that will prepare him for USAID. He is especially excited to learn about development from The Reverend Dr. Richard L. Pearson Professor of Global Conflict Studies James Robinson and about conflict from Ramalee E. Pearson Professor of Global Conflict Studies Christopher Blattman.

“The academic world at the University of Chicago will provide a great place to explore, learn, and innovate solutions that I can bring to USAID to help resolve long-standing public policy problems,” Castle said.