Maria Elena Vivas-House, Program Director
Maria Elena Vivas-House is the Director of the USAID Donald M. Payne Fellowship Program at Howard University. With extensive experience in the US and international public and nonprofit sectors, Maria Elena has a long record of addressing the under-representation of historically disadvantaged groups and providing equal access to opportunities for all. She led two of the nation's premier programs for minority students in higher education, including: the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities National Internship Program (HNIP) and the Institute for International Public Policy (IIPP) at the United Negro College Fund Special Programs Corp.
Maria Elena has also dedicated many years to international development, most recently at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service, where she collaborated with USAID in the areas of education and economic growth, and with the USAID Mission in Jordan in human and institutional capacity building. In Nicaragua, she coordinated the Hurricane Mitch reconstruction project for USDA and as a Nicaraguan government official, managed activities related to the national foreign debt and bilateral and multilateral aid. She has additionally led nonprofit organizations and programs in the areas of legal aid and labor rights.
Maria Elena holds a bachelor's degree magna cum laude in International Relations from Boston University and a master's degree in Foreign Service from Georgetown University. She is passionate about art and nature and volunteers for several organizations, including as a docent at the National Gallery of Art. She is a founding board member of the Friends of the Theodore Roosevelt Island, Inc.
Cynthia Valentine, Program Manager:
Cynthia Valentine currently serves as the Program Manager for the Donald M Payne International Development Fellowship program. Previously, Ms. Valentine was the Program Coordinator, for the Charles B Rangel International Affairs program. There she was responsible for managing public outreach, logistical needs, and compliance for all program activities. Ms. Valentine graduated Phi Beta Kapa from Howard University with a degree in Political Science, concentrating in International Relations. Cynthia has been heavily involved in community and economic development. During her time at Precise Consult, a firm specializing in economic research and capacity building for World Bank and USAID-funded projects, she researched and analyzed historical market trends in various export sectors, gaining insight into industry trends in Ethiopia. She also served as an intern at the United States Embassy in Niger in their Public Diplomacy and Consular sections. There she gained critical insight into the implementation of U.S. foreign policy and public diplomacy. Ms. Valentine has traveled extensively throughout Europe, Africa and Asia. She currently resides in Washington D.C. with her husband Todd and two daughters, Avery and Brooklyn.
Darryl Stephens, Payne Program Financial Manager :
Darryl Stephens joined the Bunche International Affairs Center at Howard University in February 2016 as the Finance Manager for both the Payne and Rangel Fellowships. Prior to his current role he served as a procurement consultant for the consulting firm A.T. Kearney. Darryl is an alumni of Howard University's M.B.A. program and has a B.B.A. in Marketing from Georgia State University. While pursuing his this MBA he served as a graduate assistant with the Small Business Development Center located on Howard's campus. Prior to pursuing an M.B.A., Darryl co-owned and operated an apparel company in the Greater Atlanta area that focused on youth sports.
Danielle Gantt Hudgins, Payne Program Graduate Assistant:
Danielle Gantt-Hudgins works as the graduate assistant and is a proud member of the Payne Fellowship Program team. She is a PhD student in the African Studies Department and a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellow. When she is not supporting the development of the Payne Program, Danielle interns in the African and Middle Eastern Division of the Library of Congress. Her lifelong love of learning and experiences studying abroad in South Africa and Trinidad & Tobago inspired her to move to Washington D.C., where she desires to work in foreign service and help improve U.S.-Africa relations. Danielle believes that increasing diversity in the foreign service is a major part of that goal, hence her enthusiasm to promote the Payne Program vision.