Maria Elena Vivas-House

Director - Payne Fellowship

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.