Katerina Parsons ’15 is a writer and specialist in international development who has spent the last nine years working both abroad and stateside for a range of organizations—from small, grassroots nonprofits to the U.S. government. Her career has brought her to places like Mexico, Guatemala, North Korea, and Ukraine. 

Currently, Parsons works with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Based in Washington D.C., she serves in the policy office of USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, where she and her team manage engagement with Congress on humanitarian aid, helping all the different parts of government “talk” to each other as they enact policy about humanitarian crises from Gaza to Ukraine to Haiti. 

In the fall of 2023, Parsons spent two months in Poland and Ukraine, on rotational assignment for USAID. Her experiences there and around the world have taught her the complexity of acting justly on a large scale, especially in places where natural disaster or military conflict deprive people of their basic needs and rights. Her belief that all people bear God’s image motivates her deep commitment to protecting and restoring human rights and dignity. 

“On a fundamental level, people deserve to live and be free of suffering and to have certain rights. And it feels like such a basic idea, but it’s also clear that actually providing that isn’t so simple.” She says protecting human rights on a large scale “requires us to interrogate policy and to remember to hold up humanity and human well-being, particularly in countries that may not have a positive relationship with the United States.” 

At Calvin, Parsons majored in writing and international development. She describes her first international development class as “life changing.” Parsons also served as the online editor for Chimes and prized the paper’s emphasis on accountability, curiosity, and storytelling. “We would write something on the front fold of Chimes and the campus would be talking about it the next day. And I think that was my first introduction to how powerful writing is, how it creates conversations,” explains Parsons, who says supporting clear communication through writing is a key aspect of her job. 

A semester abroad in Honduras led to Parsons’ first job after Calvin. As a junior, she studied under professors Kurt Ver Beek and Jo Ann Van Engen, the husband-and- wife team who founded the Association for a More Just Society (ASJ). From 2015–2019, she worked for ASJ in Honduras supporting fundraising and communication for the U.S.-based arm of the organization. She says studying, working, and living in Honduras offered her first-hand experience within communities facing significant challenges. “I’m really grateful I had that experience, because I learned not to accept simple answers or generalizations about complex issues like violence or poverty,” she says. 

She moved to D.C. in 2019 to attend grad school and work as a foreign policy advocate lobbying Congress. Her time at ASJ informed her perspective and work. “I had seen these big humanitarian challenges in Honduras, and now I could ask how the United States’ funding and policy decisions shape the issues the people I had been living with face.” 

When asked if she ever grows discouraged by the scale of human need she encounters, Parsons says, “No.” Instead, she holds two important perspectives. First, she sees “the incredible creativity, innovation, and courage people demonstrate every day. It seems defeatist to say it’s too hard to change when others don’t think so and are actively out there working for change.” 

Second, Parsons emphasizes the importance of acting justly in day-to-day life. Newly married, she and her husband, Michael Brown, an economist for the World Bank, seek meaningful opportunities to serve their local community. “Joining the board of my church or volunteering to talk with a teenager once a week or doing park cleanups—these things that feel so small in the scope of the world’s needs—matter. It’s a remedy for discouragement to remember we don’t have to start something new to create change.