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Archive for January, 2010

My first week this Spring semester was notable only insofar as I noticed, by Wednesday, that I had only seen or run into one other student I knew.  Where have all the policy students gone, I wondered?  Graduated, further along in their programs and PDR’ing (that’s Professional Decision Report, our final project here), or who knows where.  Sitting outside waiting for class there are not too many familiar faces, reinforcing the reality I have known all along, that many other colleagues and friends will have graduated before I do.

I had a happy surprise when I arrived at my Social Marketing and Media Advocacy class to look over and see Laura! It wasn’t a given that as Nonprofit Management and Urban Policy students, respectively, this would ever happen.  That class will include a project for a client, and on hearing that formulation, I became a little nauseated, recalling the insanity of our Policy Lab a year ago (was it only 1 year? it feels much longer!) and its grueling schedule.  (I remember one day I forgot where I put my lunch, which was sitting, reheated, in the microwave waiting for me.  Good times.) Rest assured to you folks just embarking on this odyssey, it will be taxing, hopefully not too frustrating, and you will feel very accomplished at its end.  Then you’ll have to talk to yourself in a soothing voice henceforth when “group work” is mentioned, reminding yourself that Lab’s pace is not the same as in other courses.  You’ll be fine.  This was my psychological task this week.

There are other, more systemic changes, underway at the New School right now too. Ironically, I could not attend a meeting which might have helped clarify some of these since I was in class, but there will be some sort of reorganization of Milano and the New School’s Graduate Program in International Affairs (GPIA).  Details are forthcoming, including those relating to any changes that will kick in next year as I complete my program.  So far, there are some immediately noticeable cultural evolutions: more students from GPIA in my classes this term (several are in my Quantitative Methods course), and schoolwide emails addressed, on occasion, to “the Milano/GPIA community”.  It’s hard to frame an appropriate reaction when little information is at hand, but I’m human, so I have some concerns, certainly.  Upon more reflection, (this part is personal, so please do not hold this against Laura, Tushar, or Eulalia, dear readers) they center on the possibility of not claiming a space/division/location whose primary purpose and function is the creative, principled pursuit of progressive social change.  There are so many values both stated and implied at Milano, largely responsible for my decision to come here as opposed to pursue policy studies at any number of other graduate programs lacking such a philosophical commitment.

I’m not clear as to how dramatic or structural any reorganization of Milano/GPIA is to be, but I hope whatever we become remains committed to the progressive pursuit of social justice.  While these can be values individually held by  students elsewhere at the New School, there truly is something important in having an academic division whose structure and population share such goals-as does Milano.  I know my friends in GPIA are also concerned with making the world a better place, and have these values in mind, so my concerns are more structural than personal.  (You can take the theorist to policy school, but you can’t….well, you get the idea by now I hope.)

In any case, I’m sure we’ll all be hearing more about this as the term progresses, and I am curious to see what happens.

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First off, welcome to our newest blogger, Eulalia! We’re happy to have a new voice join the team!

This week marks the beginning of my (and Tushar’s!) LAST semester here at Milano. Kind of hard to believe! And the first week has already been packed full! My classes this semester are 1) Design & Development of Nonprofit Ventures, 2) Media Advocacy & Social Marketing ad 3) Advanced Seminar for Nonprofit Management. Early on in the week I was battling a nasty cold which is never a good way to start the semester. By mid-week, outside of class I had already reconnected with some girlfriends over dinner and wine, worked with some classmates from the Community Development Practicum from last semester on a presentation for Thursday, worked multiple shifts at the Print Output Center at the 13th St. lab and printed off multiple reading assignments. Pretty busy for the first week- and that was only half of it!

Thursday morning, the Fall 2009 Chase team (Community Development Practicum class) was honored to present our New Orleans project from last fall to the Board of Governors of Milano, along with Dean Servon and President Kerrey at their quarterly meeting. Roy Abir, Kevin Ly and myself presented a revised and shortened version of what the competition judges saw, but it was exciting nonetheless. Erin Kenny and Valerie Zekas were on hand to help answer audience questions. Everyone did a great job, and it was fun to work with the team again. Later on in the day, Milano students, New School students, a few faculty and staff gathered to share memories of a lost classmate, who passed away shockingly before over Winter Break.  With happy and celebratory times juxtaposed with sad events, it was a confusing day.

So with today finally being Friday, I find myself working again at the lab, using slow times to do my readings for class. Later tonight, Milano students and friends will gather for a happy hour to reconnect and swap tales of the first week and ideas for the next 4 months. And maybe someone, besides Tushar, can tell me exactly how many days we have until graduation…

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At the end of August (2008) I was gearing up for our EOY (end of year) individual appeal, and had drafted a letter which referenced the recession. Our ED who received his letters in economics, and according to him was the youngest tenured professor at Wharton at one point, summarily told me there wasn’t a recession. While technically Bernake/Paulson/ or whomever had not declared a recession I decided it was a point worth arguing. My ED argued that there are certain parameters that must be in place for a recession to be called and mentioning the ‘R’ word was tantamount to screaming the ‘sky is falling’, and I argued that while I didn’t possess a PhD I knew enough about economics and more importantly understood hood economics to warrant using the “R” word. I explained to him the hood tenet of black folks as the first to suffer from a recession and the last to recover from one, and coupled this with the anecdotal information coming from our own nonprofit. Typically summer was a slow time of the year for us, but we had seen a steady stream of people looking for work and more importantly folks with jobs coming in looking for a better (or second) job. Also, many participants noted that it was difficult to purchase the basic necessities … particularly staples such as milk, paper goods, and meat. During lunchtime it was not odd to hear participants speaking about running up larger tabs at the local bodega (where many poor New Yorkers do a hefty portion of their food shopping) and ‘cutting back’. For the hood, cutting back takes the form of buying a gallon of milk one quart at a time (eventhough this results in a higher gallon cost for families)….or by replacing the staple of chicken with the less expensive substitutes of ox tails and pork parts.

Despite everything I knew I couldn’t convince my ED we were in the right to use the ‘R’ word and that our funders would appreciate the forethought by us of calling a ‘duck’ – a duck. While I am a big proponent of finding professional mentors who you can count on for learning the concrete tasks of your profession I found myself just lacking the background knowledge to articulate my insights, and for me this was the beginning of the realization it was time to go back to school. By the time the holidays rolled around I used vacation time to visit Columbia and NYU to look at program options and to get a sense of the application process. Through acquaintances I had secured inauguration tickets for me and my mom, and while the cold weather kept my mom from heading to DC with me, I decided to do a post-inauguration brunch in Philly with her. By this time there was no doubt we were in a recession and at brunch I decided to share with my mom my desire to go back to school. After almost ten years of giving my mom reasons for not going to grad school, I found myself articulating why this was the time to go. My mom’s main concern was the cost prohibitive factor of returning to school. My youngest sister is still trying to get her undergrad degree and my mom was clear that she wouldn’t be able to help me financially as she was still committed to helping my sister. She also felt that I should be happy that I still had a job and that if I was serious about school I should wait until the recession ‘blew’ over before returning. I had hoped to leave the brunch bolstered by my mom ready to commit to applying to school, but instead I left riddled with anxiety at the thought this perhaps wasn’t the smartest choice to make.

While reticent about the country’s future, my future and more importantly about returning to school I moved forward with applying to school. I prepped for the GRE/GMAT, and took the GRE, visited classes, read blogs by current students and alumni, talked with friends who did various programs, collected immunization/transcripts/recommendation records …. basically I started the process that would dominate 2009 for me. As I visited the various admissions offices I learned that many other folks were applying to school (thanks in part to the recession) but many schools would not be increasing the number of accepts – thus making it ‘harder’ to get into school. I initially had hoped for a fall admit, but ended up waitlisted at one institution and denied by my fail safe. I was ready to chalk it up as maybe my mom was right (it isn’t the right time to consider returning to school), but instead I decided to double up. I increased the number of institutions I applied to and decided to push for a January admit. The strategy paid off …. and I found myself with a few choices for January. I think I have made the best choice in Milano and only time will tell. Overall I am looking forward to being challenged by my classmates and reading material. I am looking forward to challenging myself to embrace the new and lastly to be a bit more proactive than I was as an undergrad. With classes starting tomorrow I am still unsure what to expect (other than more complex math and reading things I don’t like) and I find myself as equally ambivalent as I was starting out the process….on some level I believe this ambivalence will be the only certainty about the next two years.

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I grew up in Philadelphia, 92 miles away from New York City, but in the long (very long) shadow of the city. While many of my peers spoke ‘early and often’ about moving to New York, I always assumed I would move to the nation’s capital – DC. After majoring in political science during my undergrad years I had my DC opportunity. I found myself working as a researcher for the Democratic National Committee during the 2000 presidential cycle and the subsequent recount, and had some surreal moments during my tenure at the DNC such as White House dinners, debate prep, and the constant fear that today would be the day I would go to work and find out I was going to Florida – like right now – due to the recount. After the 2000 election and recount, I along with many of my fellow DNC researchers decided to move forth in the world. A few went on to do research for cable news networks (a burgeoning FoxNews and a transitioning CNN), others went off to law school, and I decided to join the campaign trail again. After turning down an opportunity to work on the 2001 Israeli snap election, due to what I thought would be a ‘crazy’ environment, I ended up working on the ‘crazy’ 2001 mayoral election in New York City.  September 11th was New York’s primary day, and like many in the city and the country by the end of the day the things I thought I knew I no longer felt certain about them.

For me politics was a way to bring about systemic change. I believed by working to elect individuals who could introduce legislation and use the bully pulpit of the office to effect policy shifts, would ensure the things I cared about (such as social security, Medicare, funding for higher education, et al.) would survive and thrive. But after September 11th I realized there were many nonprofit organizations that were carrying out and building the systems for those policies to be effective that were losing funding due to the priority shift towards national security. I began working as a fundraiser and saw how ineffectual leadership within an organization drove away programmatic talent and was unable to draw new talent. With the 2008 financial crisis I realized it was time to step up to the plate and so I applied to Milano for nonprofit management.

Growing up in a city of 1.5M and living in a city of 8.2M, I often find myself defining (and re-defining) what I mean by community and how I valuate the community I’ve defined. Politics taught me the art of crossing community boundaries. The nonprofit world taught me to give edges to the boundaries crossed as well as to see the spaces created by crossing those boundaries. It is the community of Milano that ultimately drove me to accept admission to the program.

— Eulalia

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First of all, we have all been horrified at the devastation following the earthquake in Haiti.  This is one of those occasions where there do not seem to be appropriate words, and so on behalf of our blogging team I would just extend our sympathies, thoughts, and well wishes to the people of Haiti, their families and friends elsewhere, and the many people on the ground or en route with aid of all kinds as we speak.  It’s one of those times when discussing how to make a difference feels insufficient; many of us would no doubt want to actually DO something to help.

To this end, of course the requisite links to help in the best way most of us can just now, which is an even nominal donation to a reputable aid organization: http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/01/13/haiti-disaster-relief-how-to-contribute/

On the local front, I’ll have more to say regarding the start of spring semester when it actually gets going, which for continuing students isn’t for another week or so–and I intend on using every possible nanosecond pursuing NON-Milano related business.

Finally, but importantly, we welcome a new member to our blogging team, Eulalia Brooks, who will be introducing herself shortly.  She is beginning her program this term, which means that you all have the benefit of an enthusiastic newcomer’s perspective–as will we.  It is already striking to hear the difference in tone from someone about to begin graduate school and realize that regardless of when or how or what I might think about it, I have clearly learned and experienced a lot so far at Milano.  What a difference a couple of years make!

So welcome again, Eulalia, and we’ll be back posting regularly in the last week of January.

-Kristen

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