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.

Trump: What can we learn from his election?

It has been a month since the election and many of us are trying to be more understandable of Trump’s supporters. Most of all, we must begin to consider what this means for public servants and what should change in order to fulfill the claims of voters.

One thing is clear, most of us in Maxwell did not support him because of his bigotry. Moreover, some anti-Trump voters compared him with Hitler, on how he said some of the same things than Trump in campaign: He promised to make Germany (America) great again, he proposed mass deportations, he said Jews (Muslims) should wear special ID’s, he blamed Jews (Mexicans) for country’s problems.

Beyond this, there are many reasons why Trump was elected, considering the perceptions of the average voter. First, people want a change, they are not satisfied with the current political system. Therefore, as a political outsider Trump seems more inclined to tell the truth. That is how he is going to investigate Hilary for the 33,000 erased mails, showing why things were nor working as people wanted.

For the average voter, USA is the first world power and should show it. There is the perception that Trump takes what he wants and does not kowtow to foreign weaklings. That he will bring back jobs from China, Japan, and Europe, that selfish multinationals took away from US citizens. Moreover, they want security, and they think that Trump will be tougher with ISIS, and for that he will ally with Putin to crush it faster and better.

Moreover, as a business savvy they think that he will ensure that the country do not continue to pile up debt. While Obama, whose justice beliefs dictate his actions that are geared toward wealth redistribution, Trump is more about wealth creation and personal drive to accumulation. So, he doesn’t buy into the victim mentality: where you’re only entitled to make someone of yourself if you’re a victim with a hard-luck story.


Going back to reality, we can say that some of these issues are illusory, or at least uncertain, but surprisingly others are not. So, I will try to see the bright side of the road, instead of complaining, since time machines are not ready yet. Is not just that Unites States may not be ready for a woman president, is that the Clintons currently represent the geopolitical status quo, and most people is tired of this.

Sadly, anyone knows what Trump really represents, but he shows himself as opposed to globalization, denouncing that it is killing the middle class. He also said that he will take out United States from the NAFTA and the TPP, because for him is a deadly blow for the national manufacturing industry. To the point that in the last 15 years more than 60,000 factories had to close, losing 5 million jobs.

He is showing himself as a true nationalist, but this is not necessarily good, at the point that we can find some resemblances from Hugo Chavez on him if we look closely enough, with obvious differences of course. In this same line, Trump said that he will ban foreign lobbyists fundraising for US elections. Some may even say that he is against the one-world government that Denis Healey, a Bilderberg club (whose members are the 100+ most powerful individuals in the world) founder, described as a single community in 2001. Trump also criticized George Soros in more than one opportunity, who is believed to support Clinton’s campaign with more than $10 million, and before this by her foundation. In addition, he said that he will rise the taxes for hedge funds managers with the restoration of the Glass-Steagall law.

Regardless of how good this could be, Trump (at least based on what he said) is more focused in the economic wealth of his own voters, and this is something that some local social movements understood well. I can imagine what a low middle-class worker could think if they see illegal immigrants taking their jobs away by working for less than minimum salary, it is just not fair.

I am not defending Trump, for now I do not even believe him, I am just saying that some things he said make sense. He represents less politicking and more action, a fresh approach that can be summarized with his phrase: “get things done.” While Trump is designating CEO’s and Generals as officials, Wall street shows its historical maximum because of the optimism that woke up the proposed domestic economic stimulus and the reduction of corporative taxes and regulations: on the first week of December Dow Jones rose 65,19 points.

As I said before, most of us in Maxwell are not happy with the results, but what we should do now is try to focus in what can be done. And above all, try to figure out what can be learned from what happened.

Along with the big picture dynamics, as public servants we should try to get closer to people, to understand what they really need, and what they think about government. Before someone comes and takes advantage of their frustration with more promises than they could handle. We cannot forget that people is not only rational but emotional

Moreover, it is also important to realize that we should not aim only for civic ideals, but for specific solutions for what is really happening. It is a two-way street in which we should not only try to give citizens what the need, but interact with them to figure out together why do they have that needs, or why do they want something else. Showing them what the government can do, why, and what the government should expect from them, rephrasing Obama and Kennedy.

This is how we could aim for and effective government without losing our values, that are the only thing that can guarantee, along with hard work, a sustainable development. It is about trying to bring the best of us, instead of the worst, to get the improvements that we want.