Graduate School is Not a Destination

I used to believe that going to college was the key to getting a job. When things didn’t shake out like I hoped, I updated the belief by swapping out college with graduate school. Entering my 9th month of my Masters of Public Administration program, I realize now that my belief was wrong.

Snow covered Hall of Languages.

As a first-generation college student, going to college was a big deal. It brought immense pride to my parents, both unable to pursue higher education after obtaining their high school degrees. I knew the moment I crossed the stage to receive my college degree was the first time I was ever part of something larger-than-myself.

When I was unable to get a job prior to my college graduation, I felt like I failure. Sure, I knew the degree was mine but without a job, what was it all for? Immaturely, I refused to change my view of this input-output relationship between college and a job.

Refusing to change my belief, I submitted job application after job application once I began my MPA program. Months went by and the success of securing a job continued to escape me. The weight of rejection after rejection began to be too much for me to bear. I wasn’t happy and I knew why: this mentality was a zero-sum game.

View from Newhouse looking at the Hall of Languages.

This mentality buried all the personal and professional growth I made while pursuing higher education. It ignored the friends I made, the opportunities to challenge my assumptions about the world around me, and learn how to stand on my own two feet since graduating high school. For the first half of my time here in Syracuse, this toxic mentality blinded me from gaining pleasure in all the positive ways I’ve grown as a man.

It has taken me 22 years to realize that investments of time can be just as valuable as financial investments. By going to college and further pursuing a graduate education, I have afforded myself the opportunity to discover passions and interests. Be it books on presidential history, foreign films, or data science, all that matters to me is my enjoyment when it comes to how I spend my time. No longer is the goal to simply obtain a job; the goal is to be happy.

I want a career that incorporates data science to improve the lives of everyone, especially those in need. I want my fiancé to be able to pursue her own career goals as well. Together, no matter where her and I live, I always want to spend the holidays with our families. These statements of desire are only possible after taking the time to figure out what matters most to me. This degree is a testament to me finally realizing all of this.

Rare warm day in February.

Graduate school is not a destination; it is a place that gives you a framework to pursue whatever passions or interests you have at a professional level. Thanks to my short time here at Syracuse, I know what matters most to me.

No One is an Island

John Donne was a 17th century poet; Common is a 21st century poet. While the two were born centuries apart, their words bring clarity in a period of my life that is anything but.

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…” – John Donne, 1624, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions.

“…I’m not always the perfect man. I’m not always doing the right things. That’s who I am. I’m working to be better.” – Common, 2007, The Guardian.

View of Maxwell from Crouse-Hinds Hall.
View of Maxwell from Crouse-Hinds Hall.

The second semester of graduate school is about my maturation from being curious about data science to being committed to becoming the best urban data scientist I can be. This commitment is not a movie montage moment where I surround myself with books and independently learn how to transition from a student to being an employee. Rather, this commitment involves asking for help from others and believing in myself.

In the spirit of Donne’s writings, I am a part of both the Maxwell School and School of Information Studies. When it comes to preparing for job interviews for policy jobs, no one is better at offering solid advice than the experienced and accommodating trio of Kelli Young, Laura McArdle, and Lauren Meyer at the Maxwell Center for Career Development. But when I need to learn how to showcase my visualization skills or highlight certain software skills on my resume, Christopher Perrello at iSchool Career Services is who I go to see.

Every Friday at the Center for Policy Research, my economics classmates and I go through the weekly problem sets with Professor Peter Wilcoxen. The enthusiasm he has for economics is clear; but to me, the best part is witnessing someone take as much time as is needed to simplify a complex concept. That patience and love of subject are a regular display of what I hope to accomplish in becoming an urban data scientist.

When I’m not getting help from professionals, I’m venting my frustrations with the job hunt with my fellow MPA and iSchool classmates. The best part of sharing my ups and downs with others is that everyone else has a similar story to tell. Reserving the “They want an interview!” or the “Why haven’t they called back?” story suppresses the chance for everyone to vent their experience on this rollercoaster ride.

No matter how high or how low the rollercoaster goes, I believe in myself. Every week I am challenging myself to make a new chart, interactive graphic, or communication skill. Today it is developing an application that visualizes monthly citizen complaints against City of Cincinnati police officers; tomorrow might be something completely different. While where I’ll end up after graduation is completely unknown, at least I have a community to rely on for support through the good times and the bad times.

26 Weeks Down, 26 Weeks Up

26 weeks ago, my first day of the MPA program was on July 5, 2016; in 26 more weeks, I will graduate on June 30, 2017. The halfway mark of this graduate program seems like an ample opportunity to sit back and reflect on my time so far.

I Am a Truman Scholar

Through a combination of hard work and sheer good luck, I was awarded the 2015 Harry S. Truman Scholarship. Being a Truman Scholar has made it possible for me to embark on a career in public service thanks to the network, guidance, and support the Truman Foundation provides.

 

Inside the Maxwell School hangs a Truman Scholarship Honor Institution plaque.
Inside the Maxwell School hangs a Truman Scholarship Honor Institution plaque.

Thanks to a summer program hosted by the Truman Foundation, I met Christine Omolino – the Director of Admission and Financial Aid for Public Administration and International Affairs at the Maxwell School. Christine made me aware of the benefits of pursuing my MPA degree at Syracuse. Being able to talk with Christine made me feel comfortable committing one-year of my life to a graduate program dedicated to molding public service leaders.

2015 Truman Scholars reunion at a Truman Foundation event in New York City.
2015 Truman Scholars reunion at a Truman Foundation event in New York City.

Looking back, I am incredibly thankful for the Truman Foundation. My fellow Truman Scholars constantly amaze me and serve as a reminder that we have a responsibility to carry our lives with the same values of courage, integrity, and humility embodied by President Truman.

I am a Maxwellian

26 weeks goes by fast. I don’t remember every lecture nor do I remember every luncheon I have attended. What I remember is the friends and skills I have made over the first half of my MPA program.

Thanks to Professor Julia Carboni’s nonprofit management course, I know how to create a business plan for a nonprofit. More than any other class, the weekly exercises and the final project forced me to focus on myself as a writer, teammate, and public speaker. Through the detail-oriented feedback I received from the case memos and peer evaluations, I believe I made significant strides towards my goal to be great at all three roles.

My nonprofit management group celebrating the success of our Mobile Market business plan presentation.
My nonprofit management group celebrating the success of our “Mobile Market” business plan presentation.

Thanks to Professor John Palmer’s course, I know how the “sausage” that is the federal budget gets made. I know the difference between Medicare and Social Security Trust Funds. But more important to me is being able to communicate these issues to my friends and family.

Thanks to Professor Jesse Lecy’s course, I know that I love talking about data science with other data scientists. Thanks to online platforms like GitHub, I can share my code with the world and learn from others. Whether it is learning how to make a dashboard load faster or designing a dynamic histogram, I am amazed at the openness of the data science community.

My data-driven management group smiling after finishing our NYC Citi Bike dashboard.
My data-driven management group smiling after finishing our NYC Citi Bike dashboard.

It’s Been a Great Year

I can say the degree in six months will be a great accomplishment. Yet, the superior accomplishment is knowing my MPA degree has trained me to be a better leader and teammate. As a much needed aside, thank you, 2016. You were the year that finally delivered a Chicago Cubs’ first World Series Championship in 108 years. It was well celebrated here at the Maxwell School with President Lincoln and I.

President Lincoln bearing the Chicago Cubs hat the night they won the World Series.
President Lincoln bearing the Chicago Cubs hat the night they won the World Series.