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.

Happiness Doesn’t Have Just One Address

As a native Californian, Syracuse has provided me with many new experiences since I arrived in July. I was born and raised in Southern California where it is summer about 8 months out of the year.We have palm trees and cacti in our backyards, with snow caped mountains just 30 minutes away. I had never been in weather below 20 degrees before I visited Syracuse in April and I had to ask my roommates for help when buying winter gear. During this time, I have found that it can be calming to shovel snow and scrap ice off of car windows; I even enjoy it sometimes. Weather might seem like a silly concern, but it can be very difficult for some people to acclimate to when it is such a drastic change. I was concerned about the lack of sun Syracuse gets during the winter months and if it would have an effect on my attitude and behavior. Luckily, I have been surviving the snowy days and I try to enjoy the beautiful snow while I can! I love California and I hope to go back after graduation, but first I have to make it through the upcoming winter months.

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What is a Californian to do during the first snowfall? Instagram it, of course!

The weather is not the only new experience for me this year. My undergraduate university was only 15 minutes away from my house, so in order to save my family and myself some money, I decided to commute to school all four years. There were challenging times being an off campus student, but looking back at it now, I wouldn’t change a thing. With that being said, this year has been the first time in my life where I have lived on my own. Not only was it the first time being on my own, I also decided I would move across the entire country! There were multiple times leading up to my move to Syracuse, and even during the first few months here, where I seriously questioned what in the world I was thinking. I love my family; I love hanging out with them and I enjoy our weekly gatherings. I wasn’t ready to leave the pets in my family or my new baby cousins that I already loved so much. I had to constantly remind myself that I’m so fortunate to even have this opportunity to get an amazing education and to learn from some of the brightest minds in the field of Public Administration. I couldn’t let my fear of being on my own get in the way of this.

Six months into the program and I am still not 100% used to being this far from my entire family. I text my mom and dad every day, my sister has been my “best friend” on Snapchat since the day I came back from winter break, and sometimes my family will FaceTime me just so I can see my dog! I haven’t let my busy schedule and different time zone completely get in the way of communicating with my family.  Although this level of communication may seem a bit excessive, it has really helped me cope with moving so far away from home. In my experience, I have found that it is important to talk to your loved ones, but it is equally important to live in the moment and enjoy the short time we have at Maxwell and in Syracuse.

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I was so glad that my mom and sister helped me move to Syracuse!

 

I would be lying if I said this transition was easy. Fortunately, I have two wonderful roommates that have made this experience better than I could have ever imagined. Not only did they help me survive economics and statistics, they have also helped create a home for me in Syracuse. When I first moved here, I called my house “the place I’m living for a year”; I refused to call it home because quite frankly, it did not feel like home. It wasn’t the home I grew up in for 17 years, it wasn’t my room with all my memories displayed on the shelves, and it wasn’t the bed that had a special blanket laid on top for my dog. When I went back to California for winter break, I found myself calling Syracuse my “other home”. This may seem like nothing, but it sure did mean a lot to me. The last six months have taught me that “home” is what you make it. Of course my real home will always be in Highland, California, but Syracuse has given me a special kind of home. I have friends that I adore here and a house that has its quirks but still gives me a sense of comfort every day after school. That house on Broad Street is more than just the place I’m living for a year; it is the place where many memories have been made and it will be a part of one of the most significant years of my life. Whether it is in the desert of California or the tundra of New York, it is important to remember that happiness doesn’t have just one address!