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Archive for September, 2010

doggy paddle

The beginning of this semester has been incredibly crazy- like someone threw me in the middle of the ocean and I don’t know how to swim.  I ended up changing classes the first week, when I sat through one session of Quantitative Methods and was insulted with how easy it was.  This from the person who was pretty nervous about taking it in the first place.  Instead, I’m now taking Human Rights & Media, which so far has been great.  My biggest problem with human rights-related courses at GPIA so far has been that they’ve just re-hashed everything I learned in undergrad.  Great if you’ve never learned about human rights before, but for someone like me that made that a focus in undergrad, it got old.  Quick.  This class, however, puts an entirely new spin on it, with critical engagement with human rights texts.

I think my favorite class so far is Producing Short Form Documentaries.  I’m still working on my proposal for it, but it’s really exciting to be able to do something completely new- the only ‘video camera’ I’ve ever used is the setting on my generic digital camera.  So, not the best quality videos.  This is definitely going to be some good knowledge to add to my mental inventory of skills.

Apart from class, I’ve been working a full part-time job, plus starting an internship, plus running the USS website and serving as secretary.  Talk about crazy.  The first two weeks were insane- I had to keep rearranging my work schedule based on classes, schedule meetings for the senate, and set up my new internship.  Plus, I had to prepare for and present at the IFP conference 2 weeks ago, covering 2 months of research in 3 minutes.  Every week I keep praying that everything will settle down.  Hopefully now that we’re a month in, I can finally get regular!

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This academic year, I am trying to Get The Most Out of Milano.  Or, Milano/GPIA.  GPIA/Milano?  A name would be great.  (I’m pretty sure some people are “on” that, but seriously, I’m seeing both versions as well as some other interesting formulations and I think we’ve dwelled in suspense long enough.)

As I was about to say, I have courses I find interesting and thought-provoking (check), a fellowship whose exact components I’m still awaiting word on but will be challenging and provide great professional development (check), a quite fulfilling student employment job wherein I can help people and use those trusty administrative skills for income (check), and….I won’t go on.   The kinds of stimulating people, readings, conversations, activities, and opportunities I’m engaging with this year will hopefully not only position me well for post-graduate employment, but also be just plain wonderful ways to spend my time in the present sense (check).

Amidst all of this anticipated activity, though, there was one other matter which I have found challenging to incorporate during my time at Milano so far, and that is participating in something which reminded me exactly why I am doing this.  Simply put, you really do need to dip your toe into something absolutely inspiring from time to time to remind you of why you are doing what you are.  If you are privileged enough to go to graduate school (and yes, though we have our daily financial struggles, we are privileged and certainly will be moreso in each of our futures), figuring out how to get the most out of your education in a personal sense is important, too.

Over the summer, all of us students (and, it seems, alumni) received an invitation to apply to volunteer at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting.  At the time I was still unsure about many things in my schedule, but I always loved catching up on this Meeting’s past sessions via webcast, and I welcomed the chance to get a peek behind the curtain, as it were, of an event of this stature.

So, this coming week I’ll be deploying those administrative skills some more, but with the opportunity to watch some powerful players in international development, climate change, and human rights work come up with tangible, actionable plans to help our world.  Rather than just sit in a room and talk (not that many of us, former President Clinton publicly included, don’t quite enjoy such a thing) these meetings are supposed to yield concrete policies and solutions to intractable–and critical–problems facing us all.  I know this is going to be a very tiring week, but I’m so excited to watch this unfold in person, and perhaps even hatch a plan which results in participating directly myself someday.

If you are a student of international affairs and global politics, this is an exciting, incredibly BIG week in New York.  We have CGI, the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, and it is also Climate Week.  If so inclined, I bet you could have quite the schedule going on yourself.

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ever the idealist

What a week!

Between a Monday off and trying to finalize other arrangements, I was so thrilled to enjoy this weekend a bit, tackle my interesting-yet-time-consuming reading for classes, and remind myself that the most important piece of this semester for me will be taking advantage of every opportunity I can as it is my last year at Milano.

Honestly, now that I have my work commitments set up for this year, I have such a load off of my shoulders that I can finally completely focus on my program and grappling with the issues which brought me here in the first place.  Questions like “how can we effectively intervene in impoverished neighborhoods?” or “how do we realistically forward sustainable change from within an economic system not constructed to account for all of the variables we need it to?”  By “realistically”, I confess that one issue I struggle with as an evolving professional has to do with figuring out how to achieve the idealistic goals I have for our world while operating within the constraints of that  world.  Point blank: capitalism is acknowledged to be problematic, but we’re still dealing in a free market.  How can I do so from certain standpoints?

Making connections to issues and problems which I studied during my previous graduate work is important to me–not because it sounds impressive to say, but because social change and changing the world generally are important aspects of my life, and have been for a long time.   It is sometimes fascinating to see how a more economically-minded and policy-driven mode of analysis can arrive at similar conclusions or specifically addresses so many problems that I previously considered using a different framework.  In one of our readings for the Poverty and U.S. Social Policy course, we have a great many statistics and evaluative measures for policies at our disposal, but the fundamental issue, that of cross-cutting or intersectional social categories and systems of oppression, is the same.

I’ll write more about my other courses as the semester proceeds.  Since I spent much of today reading some provocative, sad, frustrating, and compelling material for that particular class, tonight I’m preoccupied thinking about what resilient people can do with their lives to find connection and assert their humanity despite tremendous challenges to doing so.

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Hola! L’shanah tovah to my Jewish friends near and far.  With Labor Day today and Rosh Hashanah on Wednesday, we have one more slightly truncated odd short week before we really head into fall.  For my part, I’m really excited about my courses this term.  I am taking Public Finance (at long last) which is the last required course for my Urban Policy program before the master’s project I’ll be doing this spring.  One of my elective courses is about Poverty and U.S. Social Policy, which will nicely complement previous reading and work on poverty and social justice.  We’ll be incorporating work in the field examining various aspects of poverty as a problem, and my particular work group will be looking at food assistance programs in New York.  Finally, I’m taking the Sustainability Perspectives and Practice course.  Beginning a term reading Aldo Leopold and Bill McKibben makes me VERY happy, and overall the scope of this course material will deal with everything from environmental ethics to ecofeminism to environmental policy.  Beyond the intellectual rewards, I’m hoping this course helps me to figure out more specifically which issue area I may choose to focus on with my master’s project.

If you’re a current Milano/GPIA student (or alum, or member of our community in any capacity, really) I’m sure you’ve heard about our upcoming annual volunteer day.  I plan to participate again this year, and look forward to seeing plenty of people take a day together to put our value of Making a Difference into practice.  See this site to sign up!

Second plug: we are excited to introduce our newest bloggers to you very soon, but if you’re interested in contributing, please feel free to get in touch anytime.

Welcome back, y’all.  Here’s to a fabulous academic year!

(Um, if anyone can afford to drink a really GOOD gin martini for me to celebrate, I’d appreciate it.  I’m splurging for a great cocktail later this month but until then books kind of take budgetary precedence.  Behold my financial prudence and prowess! Ha!)

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The new school year is a upon us. The orientation manuals have been dusted off, financial aid has allowed our OCD to show through, rosters have been adjusted with additions and deletions, and we are ready to…just do it. This semester I’m taking my first official policy class (policy analysis) and OCM class (foundations of organizational change), both classes are stretching me both organizationally and intellectually.

I think my policy analysis course will challenge me to think more mainstream. As it stands I often find myself looking at issues from the non-dominate position. If  the majority is arguing for stronger public education choices then I feel compelled to argue for decentralized choices such as charter schools. However, if I am with those who are keen on charter school options, then I oscillate to the need for a strong centralized public school system. It’s not that I’m unsure of my position on the issue, but rather that I believe by taking the contrarian position it will allow the conversation to move closer to a policy prescriptive. The problem with this approach is that I have become jaded and there is less policy in the discussions. Hopefully, by the end of the class I will be able to regain a sense of appreciation for the ‘popular’ policy choices and will be able to add some semblance of balance to my policy diet.

One week down and we’ll see how it goes…..

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