With plans to marry in June, Matthew T. Simpson ’04 and Tara Van De Mark ’03 are proving what it means to be global citizens as they work nationally and internationally to improve the lives of thousands.
As a member of the Public International Law & Policy Group (PILPG), a global pro bono firm, Simpson spent the past few years as one of two accredited legal advisers to the Darfurian delegation negotiating a peace agreement with the Government of Sudan as part of the United Nations/African Union Darfur Peace Process. Despite recently accepting a position in the New York City office of the international business law firm, Torys, LLP, Simpson will continue to work as a senior advisory council member to PILPG. He will return to campus in March as a guest speaker.
“One of the things that attracted me to Torys is that, in addition to being a preeminent international law firm, they have a strong commitment to pro bono work,” says Simpson. “The firm has a long history of giving back to the community and recognizes a law firm’s obligation to making a positive impact on society at large.”
Van De Mark is making her mark on the world, working in Washington, D.C. as a program analyst for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). She is the recipient of the prestigious Presidential Management Fellowship, a two-year program that allows advanced degree graduates to get a variety of experience in multiple agencies. Through the program she has worked as the Interim Democracy and Governance Officer at USAID and led inter-agency efforts to harmonize U.S. foreign assistance monitoring and evaluation.
Van De Mark also travelled to Baghdad, Iraq, last year, and assisted on the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, a blueprint for elevating American civilian power to better advance national interests and to be a better partner to the U.S. military.
“As I work to support and lead U.S. foreign assistance efforts, I have had the unique opportunity to see the impact of our funding and programming, and the direct effect it has on the lives of millions of people around the world,” says Van De Mark. “It has been very gratifying to return from overseas to brief senior U.S. government officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on the impact of our foreign assistance and ways to make it more effective and transparent.”
Leading efforts on aid transparency and foreign assistance, Van De Mark links her experiences with her time at William Smith. “I really see the collaborative approach that I learned at William Smith coming into play,” she says. “Gone are the days when the donor country dictated what would happen. Now, there is a higher level of communication that asks the recipient government what their needs are and how the donor government can help address those needs. Increasingly, the host government has ownership over what’s implemented, with the eventual goal being that the country will graduate from receiving aid.”
The couple initially met while working as residential advisors at the Colleges, and both credit Hobart and William Smith with providing them with the skill set that has made them successful in their respective fields.
“The academic rigor and interdisciplinary nature of HWS was integral in my professional development,” says Simpson. “The high expectations of professors like Feisal Khan and Jo Beth Mertens, especially with regard to writing, was incredibly valuable, in particular as a lawyer since 98 percent of our communications are in writing. You can’t be successful as a lawyer if you’re not skilled as a writer.”
Van De Mark agrees, noting that Professor Craig Rimmerman taught her to be clear, concise and thorough in her papers. “When you are drafting a briefing paper that will be read by Secretary Clinton, you cannot waste a moment of her time on verbose language or loose analysis,” says Van De Mark.
Both Simpson and Van De Mark earned law degrees after HWS. Simpson started off at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, where he was an associate in the International Trade and Arbitration Practice Group. He then made the move to PILPG, where, before consulting on the Darfur Peace Process, he advised the Iraqi Constitutional Review Commission on the 2007 constitutional amendments, assisted Turkish Northern Cypriots in connection with electoral disenfranchisement claims before the European Court of Human Rights and counseled the Republic of Montenegro on issues related to state secession.
Prior to her current position with the State Department, Van De Mark interned for the National Academy of Social Insurance, implemented a U.N. Development Project in rural China, worked as a Capital Markets Paralegal for McKee Nelson, LLP and as a senior research associate for Public International Law & Policy Group, where she advised the San Bushmen of Botswana and the Burmese Government in Exile.
“I don’t think law was originally something I envisioned myself doing,” says Van De Mark. “Coming out of William Smith, it was important to me to make a difference in the world. After graduation, I went to China to work on an economic development project run by the U.N. When I came back, I felt that the framework of law provided me with the most effective way to make a difference, but as a facilitator and negotiator instead of as a traditional lawyer.”
A cum laude graduate who majored in economics and critical social studies and minored in mathematics at HWS, Simpson was a member of the sailing team, president of his senior class, and a member of Chimera and Orange Key. He graduated with highest honors in economics and was inducted into Omicron Delta Epsilon, the international economics honors society. He went on to earn a law degree and a master’s of international affairs from American University in Washington, D.C.
Van De Mark, who majored in environmental studies and anthropology and minored in English, received the Professor Kenneth R. Carle Prize in Environmental Studies and the Stephanie J. Volan ’91 Memorial Award. She later studied international law and policy at Yeditepe University in Istanbul, Turkey, and went on to earn a law degree from American University.
In the photo above, Matthew T. Simpson ’04 and Tara Van De Mark ’03 are in Amman, Jordan.