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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Why Master of Public Affairs Students Go to Reno

Bianca_Master_of _Public_Affairs

Bianca Rosen
Master of Public Affairs Candidate 2017

As a first year graduate student in the Master of Public Affairs (MoPA) program at the University of San Francisco, the possible career paths one can take seems daunting, especially in a dynamic and exciting place like the Bay Area. You may have a strong idea about the direction you want to go in, but can never fully articulate where that direction will ultimately take you.

Sometimes, the only feelings of security for a young professional are glimmering moments of, “I am supposed to be here, in this program, in this city”. But, you may not exactly know why. The MoPA program has pointed me in the direction I’ve wanted to go, and told me, “here’s why”.

I was first drawn to this program because of its dedication to social justice, advocacy, and community-based solutions to public policy issues. As someone who strongly identifies as a feminist and is active in the anti-rape movement, I felt passionate about large scale change-making. I knew I wanted to ambitiously confront the intersection of all inequalities in my career, as sexual violence is a tool for all forms of oppression. Yet, I never knew how that passion would manifest into something tangible that could achieve such change.

This semester, I signed up for a grassroots advocacy and mobilization class. It is week four of the semester, and the class has already turned my abstract career goals into that tangible reality I had been seeking. As I learned about the undeniable power of communities coming together to advocate for policies or candidates that pursue “a more humane and just world”, I could see clearly that this is the avenue of change-making I’ve been looking for. To hear my spirited teacher describe the ins and outs of grassroots advocacy, and to learn about the great necessity for passionate people — leaders who create other leaders — I was truly moved. I thought to myself, “YES, yes, yes, yes, this is me. This is where my path has been directing me.”

When my teacher then asked if any of us wanted to go to Reno, Nevada to get first hand experience with electoral organizing on Hillary Clinton’s campaign, I was already out the door and ready to go.

MoPA in Reno

Reno was a whirlwind. A whirlwind of organizers telling their story as to why they were there, why they had dedicated chunks of their lives away from their friends and family to engage Nevadans and get them out to vote for Hillary Clinton. A whirlwind of people, with stories, values, and reasons, for volunteering for the campaign. A whirlwind of doors to knock on and strangers to meet. A whirlwind of canvassing packets, names, and addresses of people we were trying to encourage to caucus for Clinton. Most significantly, it was a whirlwind of people power, of humans connecting to other humans for a shared purpose.

Whether or not you’re a Clinton supporter, to knock on a stranger’s door to find that they are in fact, an avid supporter, and then have them share a deeply personal and revelatory moment in their life to illustrate why, was healing.

MoPA in Reno

It was healing because we all have stories of “why”. “Why” we support a candidate, a policy, or a movement, and those stories of “why” connect at those moments in time to create a collective, “because”.

The importance of empowering people, of building stronger communities that outlive the campaign, and ultimately building a stronger democracy, jumped off the pages of notes I had written in class and came to life in front of me.

I came back to school energized, inspired, and feeling like the dreams for my career had also been brought to life. As MoPA provided me with the opportunity to witness change-making in action, I was simultaneously nudged one step closer to understanding my career goals and how I will play a part in redefining the human experience as one that is characterized by justice.

Donations by supporters like you helped turn Bianca’s dream into reality. Donate today so more students like Bianca can participate in experiences that enrich their academic careers with us.

*The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of the Leo T. McCarthy Center or the University of San Francisco.

Why should we care about campaigns?

Applications for the Master of Public Affairs program closes March 1 – apply today!

Lauren FeuerbornLauren Feuerborn
Master of Public Affairs Candidate ’17

As a first year Master of Public Affairs candidate with a personal interest in campaigns and the fact that it is a campaign year, my electives so far have been Campaign Theory, Campaign Organization and Management, and Grassroots and Organizing — a perfect fit for me.

At our initial meeting in the Campaign Theory class taught John Brooks, we had a group discussion about our central question — do political campaigns matter? There are various opinions on whether they do or do not and to what extent those arguments might be true. The focus of that class was about how we can determine the degree to which campaigns actually do what they were designed to.

What is so fascinating about studying the technical aspects of campaigns while real campaigns are running, are the highlighted differences between theory and reality. We live in a world where we have access to so much information and yet it is almost impossible to decipher what is fact and what is fiction. Huge terms like public funding, Super PAC (political action committee), and special interest get thrown around a lot. But what do these words truly mean? There is the technical, legal definition and then there is reality. As a group we analyze the choices campaigns make, the actions and in-actions taken and results form these decisions. Lucky for us these political campaigns do not operate in a vacuum so we can evaluate them within a context of history, in relation to the media and in opposition to each other.

During the current Republican and Democrat debates, I recognize strategies I discussed in my Campaign Organization and Management class taught by Donnie Fowler. In that class we analyze why we have campaigns and why people run for office. For the first time, I found myself more aware because I knew that each move the candidates made was calculated and meant to steer the audience in a certain direction. Despite studying political science and watching countless political shows, I had a different appreciation for the political campaign.

As primary and caucus season begins, we see the electorate cast votes for candidates that may ultimately be our next president. Our class will continue to have material to work with as these elections get closer and more contested.

As a young, educated human being who wants to make a difference in this world through the avenues I have access to, I know that who I vote for can change how our political landscape changes. I also know that there are great forces driving issues that may not be in my best interest. Campaigns are the mechanism by which we elect our leaders, so if we want policies changed or different interests represented we need to pay attention.

That’s ultimately the goal of graduate school, right? Or more broadly life in general. To learn more about things that impact the world surrounding me.  Sometimes it takes a combination of factors to understand why you should pay attention. Campaigns are well organized machines that perpetuate our political system. Caring about how campaigns work allows me to contribute more to my education and actively participate in the political process.

In my Grassroots and Organizing class, taught by Nicole Derse, co-founder of 50+1 Strategies, my classmates and I have have the opportunity to participate in the Nevada caucus later this month. This is just another example of our teachers going above and beyond to provide us students the opportunity to put what we’ve been learning into real world practice, again blending theory and practicum. This will be the first time many of us are involved in caucusing. Stayed tuned for a blog post covering this experience!

A generous donation helps us to fund students like the ones in the Organizing and Grassroots class be able to attend events that develop and strengthen their education and experience as a graduate student. Donate today.