On My First Year Of Grad School

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Jessica Lindquist, M.A., Public Affairs ’18

Last July I left my cushy job as an executive assistant at a financial technology company in Mid-Market to try something scary and exciting: graduate school.  I had been accepted into the Master of Public Affairs program at the University of San Francisco.  At my core, I knew it was time to take some risks and pursue the public policy career I had always dreamed about.

The first week of orientation was a whirlwind and admittedly I had a few moments of doubt, which I later realized is a classic stage of starting grad school. I found myself in a classroom of strangers feeling anxious about what the fall semester would bring. Yet, after a few weeks into the program, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I had adjusted to back to student life.

My favorite class of the semester was Applied American Politics taught by Professor Brian Weiner. Our small seminar provided us the space to have intense discussions, applying classic political literature to current events. The 2016 presidential campaign was a subject that we covered substantially in class and Professor Weiner wanted to afford us the opportunity to campaign in Nevada, the closest swing state to California. With a lot of time and coordination on his part, Professor Weiner was able to secure enough funding for anyone in the class who wanted to make the trip to Reno.

On an October afternoon I boarded a Greyhound bus with five of my classmates to persuade Nevadans to vote for the Hillary Clinton. Over the course of the weekend we door knocked in wet weather and unabashedly phone banked strangers. Many of the voters we spoke to were still undecided and it was insightful to talk through some of their concerns about the two candidates. Aside from the incredible campaign experience, the trip also turned my five classmates into five close friends. We spent time talking politics late into the night, swapped stories from the past, and discussed our dreams for the future. The bonds I made during the trip became even stronger when we were back in class.

A few weeks later on election night I watched in horror as Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania turned red. I woke up November 9th puffy eyed and feeling absolutely distraught. My only solace was knowing that later in the day I would go to class and be able to commiserate with my fellow classmates, who I knew were equally devastated about the election results. Together we tried to process the fact that Donald Trump would become the forty-fifth president of our country. In the days and weeks that followed, my closest support group became my academic community .  

Winter break provided an opportunity to reset and reflect. I had time to think about the direction I wanted to take my graduate career. Over the last semester I noticed I kept being drawn to policy topics that were related to how our financial system negatively impacted the lives of low-income consumers. I had a revelation that I wanted to focus on consumer financial protection policy.  I finally had clarity about my policy interests, which gave me direction and purpose.

A few days before spring semester, I traveled to D.C. to attend the Women’s March. The day after the inauguration, I joined hundreds of thousands of people to protest the hateful and discriminatory values of the Trump Administration. The energy in the city was electric and as I marched alongside a few of my friends I began to feel resilient.  I saw so many different walks of life join together in solidarity for a common cause.  At the risk of sounding trite, it was one of most beautiful experiences I have had in my life and it made me feel recommitted to use my voice to stand up for justice and equality.

Spring semester felt different in several ways. I had more confidence as a student and I knew what level of effort was required to get the most out of my classes. The coursework was incredibly demanding and I spent even more time studying. However, each of my professors was incredibly supportive and made themselves available whenever I reached out to them with questions or guidance.

Urban Public Finance was a class that I looked forward to every single week. Ed Harrington was the San Francisco Controller for twenty years and he has an impressive level of knowledge about the inner workings of City Hall. He brought in many guest speakers from the City that spoke to our class on a range of topics including local budgets, economic development and municipal debt. Not only were the speakers experts in their field, they had an obvious deep commitment to public service.  After discussing career prospects with Ed, I became very interested in working at City Hall in the future.

By the middle of the semester my cohort began looking for internships.  Having a full coursework load, working part time, and trying to secure an internship placement all at the same time was daunting. However, my program made sure I felt supported throughout the entire process. Kevin Hickey, one of our faculty members, used his expansive network to connect me to my top choices. Our program manager, Kresten Froistad-Martin, provided coaching on how to navigate the interviews and assess what placements would be best suited for me. References from faculty like Ed Harrington and Professor Weiner helped me secure my top two choices for my summer internship: the Office of Financial Empowerment at City Hall and the California Reinvestment Coalition. The internship search highlighted to me the connections this program offers its students.

The last week of finals, I found myself in the same room as orientation with the group of strangers that over the course of year had become dear friends.  As each of my classmates presented on a research question that they had spent weeks preparing for our Research Methods final, I was struck by how much we each had evolved as students of public policy. My cohort has a diverse set of policy interests, and I’m grateful that I’m able to learn from them about issues that are outside of my focus. Their passion for social change and commitment to challenge the status quo has motivated me to work harder so that I can become a compassionate policymaker.  

People say graduate school is not what you expect, but it is everything you need. This insight has been true thus far in my own experience. In the pursuit of my graduate degree, I’ve deepened my knowledge of public policy, become more open to perspectives that differ from my own and feel a renewed sense of purpose.  I’m incredibly grateful for the strong support of the McCarthy Center, my graduate program, the dedicated faculty and my inspiring cohort. I’m looking forward to what the next year brings.

 

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Public Service is Local and Global

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Sonia Hurtado Ureno, Sociology and Latin American Studies ’17

2017 Leo T. McCarthy Award for Public Service Award Winner

 

My identities as a low income, first generation Latina have heavily shaped my experiences navigating the K-12 and higher education system. Through my involvement with the Leo T. McCarthy Center, I came to better understand my story in relation to larger systems of oppression. I have come to see myself as both a global and local activist scholar and someone who is committed to community engagement.

In my second year, I participated in the Privett Global Scholars Program, a year-long program that involves community-based sustainable development projects abroad. I collaborated with Bolivian community members to create and lead workshops on protection rights for children  with the grassroots organization, Aldeas Infantiles SOS. For my final research paper, I conducted a case study on Bolivia’s educational system and examined whether a western-based educational system could appropriately honor the epistemologies of the indigenous people in Bolivia. Writing my final paper was a transformational experience for me as a writer and scholar. I discovered that I could use my knowledge and skills to better understand systems of oppression and to bring awareness to the experiences of the marginalized domestically and abroad. Furthermore, I learned to recognize community assets and use those as a foundation to continue to make an impact.

Most recently, I have had the honor of being an Advocate for Community Engagement (ACE). As an ACE, I work with a team of eleven to support an array of local non-profits, USF faculty, and students in service learning courses. I work directly with Mission Graduates, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increase college access and success to students in the Mission District. There, I have collaborated with the staff to support twenty-five first-generation students with their college applications. These opportunities have contributed to my own growth as an educator. I’ve learned that education is not just about merit, but also about helping others develop their voices and their own definitions of success.

 

I plan to remain engaged in public service and committed to social justice after graduation by continuing to support first-generation college students and people of color in any space that I may find myself in. I will continue to collaborate with and challenge others in my workspace to address institutional inequalities and create resources for marginalized communities.

My Path to the 2017 Leo T. McCarthy Public Service Award

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Nicole Vasquez, Kinesiology ’17

2017 Leo T. McCarthy Public Service Award Winner

The Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good has been a formative part of my college experience here at USF! I am very grateful that I learned of the center my sophomore year of college. Since then, I have had the opportunity to participate in the Privett Global Scholar program, where I traveled to India and worked with an organization which focused on integrating people with disabilities into the school system. I also have served as an Advocate for Community Engagement, where I have been working with the incredible community partner, Family House. In each of these experiences, I have had the chance to be in community with folks from different walks of life. I have also had a chance to think critically about community-engaged work, and see that it often times is not a linear process. Post-graduation, I will be attending Creighton University as part of the Doctorate in Occupational Therapy program. I hope to carry on what I have learned through participation in the McCarthy Center programs in order to be a caring and compassionate occupational therapist. Thank you so much to the McCarthy Center for the wonderful work that you all do each day!

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Check out more of Nicole’s posts:

What About An Internship Abroad?

Future Advocate For Community Engagement

Meet Our 2017 McCarthy Fellows

In this summer program, McCarthy Fellows spend 12 weeks in full time internships at Sacramento institutions that contribute to the California policy-making process. Student engage in everything from conducting legislative research to responding to constituent concerns to drafting policy memos. Concurrently, they participate in a California Politics course focused on exposing and analyzing the structures and systems that frame our state’s policy making processes and helping students make meaning of their first-hand experience. Students live, work, and learn in the state capital, while taking advantage of powerful learning opportunities within the context of their internships, their academic course, and the co-curricular offerings that abound in their thriving host city.

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Abigail Fay, Politics ’18 

Abby has spent the past year as a legislative intern in the office of Supervisor and Board President London Breed. Her time there has helped her develop a passion for community development and constituent relations, as well as for the unique culture of California politics. During her time in Sacramento, she hopes to further hone her policy analyst skills and knowledge of the California legislative process to enable her to accurately represent, and advocate for the people of San Francisco.

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Arely Escoto Pineda, Political Science ’18

As a first generation college student, Arely plans to use this fellowship as a new experience to gain a greater sense of independence. She hopes to use and expand the leadership and communication skills that she has learned from working for the local government in the City of Santa Ana. Arely will use this opportunity to gain a new perspective on the inner workings of the state capital.

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Chiweta Uzoka, Politics ’18

Chiweta is looking forward to gaining more knowledge about policy-making and developing stronger communication skills in a office in which serving the public good is a priority.

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Crystal Vega, Critical Diversity Studies and Urban Studies ’18

Crystal hopes to bridge her existing knowledge of San Francisco nonprofits with her experience working in the state capitol. She is most interested in learning how to integrate intersectionality and community building into local politics.

Hallie Balch, Communication Studies, Media Studies & Political Science ’18

Hallie will be joining the McCarthy Fellows Program in Sacramento this summer to pursue a greater depth of knowledge of legislation. She plans to use this time to hone in her research skills and is excited to have the opportunity to work with her peers with similar passions and to learn from the immersive experience. Similarly, she will use her writing and analytical skills and use this program to aid her in becoming a legislative analyst.

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Kayla Derby, Sociology ’18

Kayla is excited to be working and learning in Sacramento this summer. She plans to use her writing skills and Spanish fluency to help impact public policy surrounding immigration. Kayla hopes to apply the skills she obtains over the summer in her dream career of immigration social work.

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Kelli Hughes, International Studies ’17

Kelli is looking forward to a future in public service promoting international trade and investment. While in Sacramento, Kelli hopes to use her research and analytical skills in supporting California reach its economic development goals.

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Mathew Maulino, Computer Science ’19

Matthew is excited to be a part of the 2017 McCarthy Fellows Cohort. Matthew will be working to further develop his leadership qualities, build his communication skills among a team, and foster his passion for service to his community. He is looking forward to taking full advantage of the unique opportunity the McCarthy Fellows Program offers, so that he can learn from this new experience and one day fulfill USF’s motto to “change the world from here.”

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Rachel Chin, Communication Studies ’18 

Rachel is hopes to gain the skills to help her in her career as an environmental lawyer in the future. During her time in Sacramento, she plans to learn more about her career path and bring these skills back to San Francisco.

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Maddelyn Bryan, International Studies ’18

Maddelyn is excited to build upon her skills for interpersonal engagement and research through an internship in Sacramento. She expects to gain an in-depth understanding of the California legislative process while developing field-experience relevant to a career in public service. After completing the program, she hopes to have new insight into how she can apply her skills to help resolve issues on multiple levels of society.

USF in D.C. is Unlike Anything Else!

 

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Gabbi McDaniel

I left Washington, D.C. more than four months ago. Whenever anybody asks me about my experience, my first response continues to be, “it was the best experience I’ve had at USF.” Then I gush for five more minutes about the opportunities I had, the individuals I met, and the impact this program had on my academic and professional career. Over these past four years, I’ve been able to join multiple organizations on campus, volunteer throughout the city at non-profits doing incredible work, and even spend a semester studying abroad in Quito, Ecuador. I’m beyond grateful for all of those experiences, but the USF in D.C. program is unlike anything else.

When I was accepted into the USF in D.C. program, I was ecstatic. I knew that I’d have the opportunity to live in D.C. during the first presidential election I could vote in, gain hands-on experience with a full-time internship, and synthesize my academic background with real-world applications. However, I never anticipated just how well USF in D.C. would prepare me for my future professional endeavors and instill in me a passion for the intersections between sexual and reproductive rights, policy advocacy, and international development.

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During the fall semester, I interned at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). UNFPA is the lead UN agency addressing sexual and reproductive health, maternal health, gender-based violence, and child marriage in the context of international development and humanitarian settings. As the sole intern in the office, I had direct access to UNFPA DC’s Director and our Advocacy & Communications Specialist on a daily basis. Together, our team of three, consistently worked to advance UNFPA’s mission within the context of the US government. I had the opportunity to advocate with my colleagues before the Department of State and Congressional members; attend countless conferences with other NGOs and government institutions focused on these issues; and represent UNFPA at advocacy and strategy meetings. Every single day I was exposed to the complexities of advocacy and the fight for improving access to sexual and reproductive health care around the world. Throughout the semester, I was awe-inspired by the intelligent and determined women I worked alongside who used their privilege to fight for social justice.

Now, I’m finishing up my final semester at USF and yearning to get back to Washington, D.C. to continue this vital work. I’ve been able to use the knowledge I gained in D.C. in my Human Rights Advocacy course and my Gender, Development, and Globalization class. Sexual and reproductive health and rights are inextricably linked with economic justice, racial justice, human rights, and national security. As graduation draws nearer, I’m seeking opportunities within human rights advocacy, communications, and policy analysis, with a particular focus on sexual and reproductive health. The USF in DC program provided me with a foundation to pursue these career opportunities and I cannot thank the McCarthy Center, Betty L. Blakley Scholarship, the Newmark Fellowship,  USF in D.C. professors, and my UNFPA colleagues enough for my experience.

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OpEd: Should feminine hygiene products be subject to sales tax?

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Bianca Rosen, MA Public Affairs ’17

In 40 states and the District of Columbia, women pay for having their periods. Literally. The sales tax in these states does not exempt feminine hygiene products as a necessity of life. Instead, these products are taxed like other luxury or non-essential items. In California, the sales tax exempts candy and Viagra, while taxing tampons, menstrual sponges, and pads. Women pay an extra price for their biological make up, as menstruation products are deemed by lawmakers as unnecessary to the, “…sustenance of life”. Across these 40 states, the sales tax on feminine hygiene products ranges from 2.9 to 7.5 percent according to the Tax Foundation. In California alone, the taxation of feminine hygiene products generates an estimated $20 million with a 7.5 percent sales tax. The Guide to Local Government Finance in California explains that medicine and groceries are included in the state sales tax exemption. In this instance, medicine is defined as, “any substance or preparation intended for use by external or internal application to the human body in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease and which is commonly recognized as a substance or preparation intended for that use”. In other words, menstruation is not considered a medical or health matter, and therefore feminine hygiene products are not a necessity of life.

Of the ten states that do not tax feminine hygiene products, five do not have a statewide sales tax and the other five including Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, have exempted these products from taxation. Across the country, in states like Utah, Michigan, Virginia, Wisconsin and California, there has been a push by activists and lawmakers to exempt feminine hygiene products from the sales tax. Specifically looking at California, the effort for a tax exemption was thwarted in September of 2016 when Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a “No Tax on Tampon Bill” put forth by Representative Cristina Garcia.

According to NPR, some lawmakers argue that, “presenting the issue as an instance of sexism may ignore the nuances and inconsistencies of state tax codes,” citing that an exemption for all women would require a nationwide exemption. Others, like Governor Jerry Brown, worry about the budget implications of such an exemption. When he vetoed the “no tampon tax” bill in 2016, he stated that a combined diaper and tampon tax exemption, “would reduce revenues by about $300 million through 2017-18.” Economist Nicole Kaeding from the Tax Foundation argues that “product-specific” tax exemptions raise the tax rates of other products. Furthermore, it can incite a mad dash by, other interest groups, to get more specific items exempt, creating chaos in state tax codes. If the stability of state tax codes rely on taxing women’s menstruation and preventing our “special interest” in controlling our period, we have a serious problem.

 

Taxing women for a bodily function that they cannot control is a gendered and discriminatory policy. Such a tax on feminine hygiene products also disproportionately affects low income women and girls. When living from paycheck to paycheck, the $7 to $10 dollars a month for tampons or pads, can really add up. On that same note, what do young girls in these low income families do when they get their period and don’t have access to these products? Most likely, they stay home, as some have told California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia. This is not only about women’s health and well being, but equal access to to these products for all women.

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As discussed in our course, Urban Public Finance, a large part of taxation is encouraging and discouraging certain behaviors. We tax tobacco consumption in order to discourage this behavior as well as to force smokers to pay for the damage this habit costs the healthcare system and the environment. This suggests that as a state, we do not value smoking. We think it does damage that needs to be paid for by those who cause it. In California, Viagra is tax exempt, as an Los Angeles Times editorial puts it, “Viagra is…dispensed to improve quality of life.” Not only do we value men’s erections as a necessity, but we validate its importance with a tax exemption. Feminine hygiene products lack such legitimacy. At the same time that opponents argue feminine hygiene products are not a necessity of life, I cannot imagine they would be okay with menstrual fluids staining the benches of public parks. Menstruation is a part of life for women and taking care of our periods is crucial in sustaining the quality and dignity of our lives. Until lawmakers and opponents of a “no tampon tax” have a period and walk around for a day without a tampon, they have no right to make women pay for having theirs.

Activists, organizers, and lawmakers in every state should continue advocating for a “no tampon tax.” Menstruation is also not a disease, as the tax code includes as a stipulation in the definition of medicine. We need to revisit how language in the tax code can be altered to better reflect the realities of women’s every day lives. The change we need on an even larger scale is more women in elected office. When President Obama was asked why he thinks there is no exemption for feminine hygiene products, he answered, “I suspect it’s because men were making the laws.” With more women in office, their understanding of what is and is not necessary in sustaining women’s lives can help to create policies that reflect those necessities.