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I’m currently taking Legislative Process with Jeff Smith. I gotta say, I absolutely love this course. If you’re a political junkie, you’ll love this course too.

As the title suggests, we cover the legislative process process on the federal, state, and local levels.

Jeff is an engaging and dynamic professor. He’s a political scientist by training but a politico by profession, so he offers a great mix of theory and practice that you might not get with a standard political science course.

Along with that, we have a mix of dry academic political science readings along with current news articles and entertaining accounts of congressional battles.

Long story short – if you like to read Politico, watch C-SPAN, or talk about politics, this course is for you.

As I reflect on my time here at Milano, there are a few things that I think about. One is that I’m going to miss many of the people here after we go our different ways. I’ve met some brilliant, kind, passionate people here. Another thing is that the policy analysis framework is something that I anticipate will be useful far down the road.

But there’s another thought that I have, a thought that I didn’t expect to have when I came into the program. Certain policy issues and neighborhoods tend to be invisible at Milano. In other words, we just don’t see them.

I came to Milano because I have a burning desire to serve my community of Harlem in particular and urban black neighborhoods in general. I thought that at Milano, I would find a community of aspiring policy makers and scholars actively engaged in urban policy matters that directly impact urban communities of color. Sadly, this is not the case. This is not to say that Milano is completely devoid of any discussion of urban communities of color, but there is not the level of emphasis I would like to see in a program that is supposed to offer an alternative to Columbia’s SIPA and NYU’s Wagner. We only have a couple of courses that directly address issues of race, and both of them, to my knowledge, are taught by one professor – Darrick Hamilton. I think Leigh Graham’s classes may also address issues of race, but her Economic Development course wasn’t offered this semester and she’s off to another university next fall. Karen Merson has led the Making a Difference course, but my understanding is that the course is more of a general question-your-assumptions survey of oppression.

I think an urban policy program rooted in social justice should have greater emphasis on the plight and assets of urban communities of color and the potential policy options to improve the lives of people living in these communities.

Now, I should note that the Laboratory in Issue Analysis and Community Development Finance Lab has featured neighborhoods of color including Harlem, the South Bronx, and Brownsville. Political Economy of City definitely includes discussions of race and class but its only a piece. The course helps students understand how ghettoes came to be but doesn’t take the next step in examining possible policy solutions.

I think that a large reason why urban policy impacting communities of color is noticeably absent at Milano is because urban policy aimed at the improvement of communities of color is noticeably absent from government at all levels (notwithstanding Bloomberg’s Young Men’s Initiative). Ironically, we learn about neoliberalism and the devolution of government over the past 30 – 40 years, but we do not examine potential policy alternatives to compensate. Just because the Federal Government isn’t funding community action programs and community development corporations like it was in the 1960’s doesn’t mean that problems that gave rise to such programs have been solved. It seems that once the Empowerment Zones money ran out, once Boyz N the Hood became cliché, and once hip-hop became the best-selling music genre, the problems facing urban communities of color weren’t “sexy” policy issues anymore. At best, we look at pieces – urban education (charter schools vs. district schools), affordable housing, and food deserts. But what about the whole picture?

How can we send policy makers out into the world without ensuring that they have a full understanding of how urban policy has impacted urban communities of color? How can we do this and claim to be a social justice institution?  The Obama Administration was supposed to shine a new light on urban policy in America, but the President’s urban policy efforts seem to be going nowhere fast. As a heterodox and social justice-oriented institution and program, we should not be constrained by what’s hot right now. Of course there is the reality of offering programs and courses based on demand. I’m not challenging that, but what I am saying is that Milano should not just be driven by consumer demand, it should encourage students to engage issues that are overlooked in the popular policy discourse. Milano needs to have a greater emphasis on race, class, and what’s going on in communities of color across the city.

EDITED TO ADD: I also have to give a shout out to Robert Zdenek’s Community Development course. Unfortunately it’s not being offered next year. Supply and demand.

Party Over Here!

Last night I had a birthday party at Sylvia’s Also Lounge. It was great time! Lot of Milano folks came through. People had a blast. As a matter of fact most of the people there were from Milano. I thought to myself “if I’m from New York, how is it that most of my guests are people from school?” And then I realized that I’ve spent a better part of the past year and a half with Milano classmates. Most of my time is spent either at school or doing school work in some fashion. It naturally make sense that if I spend most of my time with Milano peeps, that most of my party would be Milano peeps.

Grad school is an intense period. You go hard for one, two, or three years (depending on your program and status) and then you shoot off into the job market (or go for another degree). The intensity is a form a pressure that creates bonds between you and people you might never have become friends with under different circumstances. The many hours spent doing group projects, the late night study sessions, the mutual griping over this class or that professor – these things build relationships. My Milano classmates are, in a real sense, my Milano family.

The inevitable sling shot into job market is only a few weeks away for my cohort. Some people will stay in New York (yay!), others will go off to other places (boo!). Never again will we find ourselves coalescing at the study center, or 72 Fifth Ave. (affectionately known as the Milano building). Sure there will be happy hours, unofficial reunions, random run-ins and Facebook, but the cap is about to be placed on the bottle that holds the lightning of our grad school experience.

For each of us there will be new memories, new experiences, new adventures ahead. New reasons to smile, new people to accept into each of our families, whether personal, professional, or academic.

But for now, the lightning still strikes, and I intend to enjoy its light.

The Office of Career Development and Placement is hosting an alumni panel on how to apply the financial skills you learn at Milano to your job and career, no matter where you work.

We’re about to get started. Continue Reading »

Real People

Do you ever see yourself as the fantasy graduate student? You know, the grad student who focuses intently on school, has it all together, has a job or some other activity outside of school, a robust personal life, and still finds time to volunteer for worthy causes on the side. The fantasy grad student sees obstacles as steps in the staircase to success. Each challenge raises the fantasy grad student higher and brings her/him closer to success.

The fantasy grad student indeed has a robust personal life, but only one that supports academic endeavors. Anything outside of the classroom that does not complement academic/professional achievement simply does not exist.

It’s easy to try to fit the fantasy grad student mold. I mean, isn’t that what we aspire to be? Isn’t that how we see our classmates? “Wow, they really have it all together” we say to ourselves.

But we are not fantasy grad students. None of us are.

We are real people. All of us are.

We have obstacles, pains, and even personal lives that are not always 100% conducive to academic/professional success. In fact, some of us have personal lives that are downright obstacles themselves, and every day that we make it to class, that we hand in an assignment however crappy, that we register for those next set of credits is a personal victory.

Despite outward appearances, many of us don’t have it all together. For some of us, this isn’t the first attempt at getting a grad degree. It’s the second.

Or the third.

Or more.

Yet we press on, grasping at the image of the fantasy grad student, hoping and believing that this semester will be the one when I get it right. This will be the semester that I submit my papers on time. This will be the semester that I’ll get the grades to justify my loans. This will be the semester that I don’t end up dropping a class. Or two.

For some of us, “this semester” is the one we say we’ll get through without the help from Mr. Jack Daniels or Ms. Mary Jane. “This semester” is the one where we finally don’t let problems with our boyfriend/girlfriend prevent us from focusing. “This semester” is the one where we’ll learn to sleep without having that same nightmare from whatever happened years ago. “This semester” is the one in which we’ll get it together.

But what do we do when “this semester” doesn’t work out like we hoped? What do we do when “this semester” feels a lot like last semester? And the semester before that? And the one before that?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that none of us – not one single person in any grad program in the universe – is a fantasy grad student. All of us have stories, stuff we’re going through, coming out of, or are about to go through. All of us have personal lives that can sometimes make our studies difficult. We’re real, whole, people. We’re more than the sum total of our GPA, our classes, our internships and jobs.

Whatever you may be going through now, just coming out of, or about to go through, just do your best. Never give up. Ask for help when you need it (it’s NOT a sign of weakness!), and breathe.

Recalibrate

Sooo…I decided to drop public finance and take it in the fall. I think that’s the best decision for me. The project I’m working at the Center for New York City Affairs is the creation of a community schools partnership laboratory course, based on the Community Development Finance Lab model. We’re trying to work with at least one or two schools in Harlem. I came back to grad school in New York specifically to get tools to help my community, so having the time to dedicate to this project is more important than meeting a traditional graduation time table.

I didn’t come to grad school just to increase my salary and get a traditional job in public administration. I came to grad school to make a difference in my community. That is what is important to me.

I think it’s very easy to get caught in the “get a job get a job get a job” state of mind. And the reality is that we all need to be looking for jobs, no doubt. But I already had a job. I came to school to make a difference, to pursue my dreams, to find a path to do what I find to be fulfilling and meaningful.

Thus I will not be graduating in May 2012. And that’s okay with me.

When you’re paying all of this money to get an education and accruing debt that you’ll probably be paying off for decades, it’s important to get the experience and the tools that YOU want, not what other people think you should have.

If you’re interested in the community schools partnership lab course, then stay tuned. We’re cooking it up for fall 2012.

When I came to Milano in the fall of 2010, I was 100% set on graduating in two years. Get in, get out, get on with serving urban black communities. I was also 100% set on getting the most out of my graduate experience – taking advantage of opportunities for personal and professional growth and enrichment. At the beginning of this semester though I found myself in a quandary – in my desire to graduate in two years and take full advantage of the graduate school experience I put more on my plate than is wise. I’m a TA for policy lab, I’m taking the second  half of Community Development Finance Lab, I’m taking Public Fiance and doing my PDR. And I’m taking Legislative Process for my last elective (good class). And I’m working.

Um…yeah.

That all seems very daunting, so I seriously considered pushing one or two classes to the fall. Of course, that would mean that I would graduate in January 2013 (degrees are conferred twice a year and there is only one graduation ceremony which is in May). I talked to several professors about trying to power through and graduate in the spring with my full load and I’ve been told that A) it’s not a great idea, but B) it’s doable.

“Doable” in the sense that there are students who work full-time and go to school full-time and seemingly have a high tolerance for stress. That’s 100% NOT the experience I wanted coming into grad school. In fact, I purposefully decided to go to school full-time (and took out required loan$) just so that I could really dive deep into my studies without being unnecessarily stressed.

Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men.

But what would I drop? Everything I’m doing has value academically, personally, and professionally.

After much thought and prayer (and a dose of you-need-to-graduate-and-get-a-job reality from my father), I decided to power through.

Is it the best decision? We’ll see. Although I love all the things I’m doing, I fear that I won’t be able to dedicate the necessary time and care that each item deserves.

But I have decided. I am moving forward. I can definitely use your prayers and support.

Onward to May!!