Maxwell DC Networking Trip

For many college students, spring break is about warm beaches and beer but in graduate school, especially in a one year program, the break is about hunting for a job. Each year, Maxwell students organize a networking trip to Washington, D.C. About half to two-thirds of the class will end up working in the region and as a result, is the largest alumni base.

The trip kicked off bright and early on a Monday morning at Maxwell’s new home in Washington, CSIS’s headquarters. Former NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe, MPA ’78, gave the keynote address. A lot of talk has gone into how difficult it is to break into the public sector these days but Mr. O’Keefe recalled how difficult folks said it was during his time at Maxwell and concluded there is never a good time to enter the public sector. It was a refreshing take on the current environment in Washington and set a positive tone for the trip.

Next, we hosted two panels back to back. The first was on working in the federal government. There were representatives from the Federal Transit Authority, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Department of Education. Representing the mid-senior levels in their career, they talked about how they progressed in their careers and gave advice on getting into the federal government. Representatives from nonprofit and NGO sector made up the second panel and represented the Atlas Service Corps, EDUCAUSE and the Pan American Health Organization. One panelist was not originally from the U.S. and suggested a few ways for international students to obtain jobs in the U.S.

Maxwell students visit the State Department
Maxwell students visit the State Department

By 11a, we concluded the panel discussion and set folks free to go to site visits. For the next two days, students visited alumni at their offices to discuss how they got there and what they do. The trip organizing committee tries to cover as many interests as possible, from state and local government, federal government, international organizations and the nonprofit and NGO sector, and students visited 27 sites including the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the World Bank, D.C. Public Schools, Brookings Institution, Chemonics and Grant Thornton LLP. Students learned about public diplomacy at the State Department and visited the press briefing room (see photo). At the Defense Department, we met with an alumnus who worked on NATO issues and discussed Ukraine. Despite all that has gone on in the past two weeks, I was touched he kept his commitment to meet with us. He said he welcomed the break from his current duties.

On Monday, the careers and alumni offices hosted one of the largest ever happy hours for alumni and current students to meet and chat over drinks and appetizers. It is a fantastic way to hear about their careers and you never know who will show up. I started talking to an alumnus who worked at HUD. While it was not an area I was particularly interested in working, he was deeply informative and after I told him my interests, he introduced me to a good friend who was working in my dream career. He even offered to help me break into the organization.

Overall, the trip was a great success and it highlighted how the Maxwell Mafia helps each other out without expecting anything in return.

Side note: If you are an incoming student, this trip was almost entirely organized by volunteer students. If you want to make a meaningful impact, join the networking committee.

The Boren Fellowship and Other Opportunities at Maxwell

Guest blogger Darci Pauser is a dual degree MPA/MAIR student and is spending her second year in Ankara, Turkey thanks to the David L. Boren Fellowship. I thought Darci’s experience is an excellent example of one of the program’s best attributes, flexibility.

By Darci Pauser, MPA/MAIR ‘14

As a prospective student of Maxwell’s PAIA Department, you will have many opportunities at your fingertips. One of these opportunities, the National Security Education Program’s (NSEP) David L. Boren Fellowship, funds up to one year of intensive critical language study in preparation for a career in the federal government. I was honored to have received this fellowship and would like to share my knowledge of the application process as well as my experience as a fellow.

at the Ministry of Development

Prior to coming to Maxwell, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in the U.S. Foreign Service. I initially applied to the MAIR program but petitioned after admission for consideration in the dual MPA/IR. I highly recommend the dual program for those seeking to add breadth to their skills and academic experience, particularly the addition of budgeting and economic analysis. These skills aided my Boren application because I had a stronger foundational knowledge of environmental economics with which to study the ramifications of multilateral environmental agreements.

The Boren Fellowship is first and foremost program for study of a critical language. Including the Arabic dialects, there are over 70 languages deemed critical by the U.S. Department of State.  However, in addition to language study, you must propose a research project which relates to national security, broadly writ. For example, although it is not often the first thing that comes to mind when discussing national security, my proposed project focused on environmental security issues—specifically, water rights between Turkey and neighboring Syria and Iraq.

With recent events in Syria as well as Turkey, engaging in fieldwork on this issue became less plausible. Moreover, interest in Turkey’s dam projects has all but come to a halt. Because of this, I ended up researching Turkey’s accession process into the EU and adoption of the Environmental Chapter. This is a case in point that you should expect your work on the ground to be at least somewhat different from your proposal. Another piece of advice I would like to give prospective students is to write as if you already have the fellowship (discussing what you will do, not what you wish to do or hope to do), but at the same time, realize that the proposal is a best-case scenario. It is your fantasy version of what you will accomplish.

at the "Crystal Terrace" overlooking a canyon
at the “Crystal Terrace” overlooking a canyon

For the Boren, make the connection of your past experiences, your future goals, the target language and national security very clear. Make a case not only for yourself, but also for your country of study. This will show the review committee that you have a grasp of how your host country affects the global stage in general and the U.S. in particular. Moreover, the Boren does not allot a certain number of fellowships for any one country. You need to be able to express to the committee why they should fund more fellows (i.e., you) in your specific country of study. Include as much detail as possible about the number of hours you will be involved in language study, where you will take any academic courses and with whom. Although a letter of sponsorship is not officially required, consider it required for all intents and purposes.

Make as many connections as you can prior to submitting your application. Be creative. You may gain valuable connections through citizens of the host country living right here in Syracuse. Research academic conferences and events you would like to attend in your country of study. Research NGOs, international organizations, non-profits and government organizations. However, keep in mind that the Boren absolutely does not allow any internships with a U.S. government organization while in the program. I almost missed this tidbit of information hidden in the FAQs of the Boren website. With that in mind, read the website in and out and attend as many of the podcasts as humanly possible.

While in Ankara, Turkey, I have attended nearly all Turkish courses offered by the TOMER language institute, interned at a Turkish think tank, published work in Turkish journals, interviewed public servants in Turkish ministries and presented research at a global conference. I look forward to visiting other international organizations relevant to my work in Paris, Brussels and The Hague in April. Although technically prohibited under the Boren, you may be able to receive permission to travel outside of the host country if your travel is directly connected to your project. I would not recommend including this in your application unless it is an integral part of your project.

The Boren extended my program of study at Maxwell by 8 months (from graduation in May 2014 to graduation in December 2014), even though my Boren and Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) programs lasted a total of 12 months. This is because I was able to complete the global internship requirement of the MAIR during the Boren. For those eager to start their exciting careers, it may be difficult to imagine that you will need to extend your graduation date. However, the Boren is an experience that you will carry with you for a lifetime. I also highly recommend applying for both the CLS and the Boren. The former is much more structured and guided than the latter, so I was able to get grounded here in Ankara logistically, interpersonally and linguistically before the Boren even began.

For those prospective students who have an interest in working for the Foreign Service, I would also recommend the Pickering and Rangel Fellowships. You must apply to these fellowships around the same time you apply to your graduate programs. Both fellowships fund your graduate studies and, in return, require you to work in the Foreign Service. Although I was not awarded either of these fellowships, I enjoyed the ability to get to know two other students at Maxwell who were awardees. They graciously shared their resources, experience and knowledge of the Foreign Service hiring process. In this way, the strength of the Maxwell community can be considered the greatest endowment of all.

at a museum with my Turkish language teacher
at a museum with my Turkish language teacher

Do you need a car in Syracuse?

After dropping off my “new” 10 year old Toyota for what will almost certainly be an expensive fix, this question came to mind. My first year at Maxwell, I rode my bike everywhere and in almost any kind of weather but this past November, I bought my first car. The views from behind the handlebars or windshield are vastly different.

On biking

Folks from less snowy climates may get the wrong impression that once snow comes, bikes must be put away for the season. As a little kid, I remember seeing my bike pushed behind the snow-blower until spring. But in college, I realized that riding my bike to downtown Albany was faster than taking the bus or at least faster than waiting for a “usually late and frequent stop” bus. While my job in Arlington lacked showers (precluding a sweaty bike commute), I did ride many an evening along the Mount Vernon Trail.  After I moved to Syracuse, biking was a natural extension of habit and I ride almost every day to Maxwell.

Syracuse is fairly compact, sort of flat and lacks the crazy traffic of more bustling metros. Living in Westcott, there are two grocery stores within a 10 minute ride, Tops and Price Rite, and Westcott itself has some decent restaurants and other amenities. Cycling to the grocery store also precludes buying food you do not need because you are limited by how much you can carry. Of course for the more sane, a Facebook post to the Maxwell group asking for a ride to the store may be easier.

Bikes on first day of spring class
Bikes on first day of spring class

Snow and ice can present a bit of an issue during the winter and if the streets are not cleared, I will make the fifteen minute walk to campus or don my cross-country skis instead. It usually only takes a day or two for the city to clear the streets (unless you live on a side street) and SU’s snow-clearing abilities are unmatched. While there are not many bike lanes in the neighborhood, there are plenty of “share the road” signs and

low speed limits and traffic, and wide streets make cycling tolerable most of the time. A bunch of us are clamoring for a bike lane on Euclid Ave would improve my commute.

On driving

One of Syracuse’s first greetings is usually a jarring jolt of a pothole or several. Next, long waits welcome you at virtually every traffic light. It is my suspicion that the city tried to use as many of them as possible to subsidize the local invention. Finally what makes Syracuse pleasant for biking, its compact size, negates much of the time savings a car provides. While Google Maps says the drive from Westcott to Armory Square downtown takes seven minutes for a mere two miles, traffic lights and looking for parking easily double that. Cycling takes about the same time. New York also has the highest gas tax in the country, its Thruway is fourth highest in the country for revenue and registering a car is expensive (especially if you just bought one due to used car sales tax). Finally, driving to campus is permit only and usually requires at least a 10 minute walk to Maxwell from distance parking lots or even shuttle bus ride. There is a parking lot next to Maxwell but as far as I can tell, it is off limits for normal people.

Of course, none of this dissuaded me from joining the car-owning masses. It has been nice to visit the formerly distance Wegmans in Dewitt or hike in Highland Park. Once area lakes warm up, I cannot wait to take my kayak for a spin. There are a lot of neat trips to everything from vineyards, apple picking, scenic railroads and Maple Sunday that owning a car opens up. I graduate at the end of June and driving opens up the acceptable places to rent wherever I end up employed. Bottom line for one year, you can probably get away without a car. For two years, that may be more difficult.

On mass transit

Yes, Syracuse has a bus system call Centro. No, it may not take you where you need to go. It was too confusing to figure out its infrequent schedules, strange routes, annoying website and $2 fare. If you live in Westcott or one of the surrounding neighborhoods, SU provides an additional bus, free of charge, to take folks to campus. Centro will not take you to the airport (figure $60-75 for a cab) and I would have qualms about its reliability to the train station. This is why mass transit at the bottom.