“So you want to change the world?”

Without hesitation, the answer to that grand question above is “Yes”.

But where could I learn how to do that? 119 days and counting, every day at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs is affirmation that this is the best place to learn how to change the world for the better.

The Journey to Maxwell

A few months ago, I was a senior at the University of Illinois at Chicago and newly engaged. My fiancé and I were feeling great about our chances to live and work in Chicago; yet, that plan vanished after nothing worked out like we planned.

Thankfully, we both applied to graduate school. While we weren’t able to attend the same university, we both could graduate within one-year. Believing in one another, we agreed to live apart for one-year as we both furthered our education and career opportunities.

Much More Than a Degree

Being away from my fiancé is not easy, but being a Masters of Public Administration (MPA) student at the Maxwell School certainly keeps me busy.  Through guest speakers, interactions with my classmates, and exploring new areas of interest, I am able to learn the ethical, professional, and quantitative skills needed to foster positive change in any role I take once I graduate.

I had the opportunity to speak with Michael Nutter, the former mayor of Philadelphia, regarding his experience with using open data to increase accountability of city government. After the small group discussion, Nutter went onto deliver the 2016 Tanner Lecture Series on Ethics, Citizenship, and Public Responsibility. From his executive experiences, I learned how even mayors need all the help they can get in implementing new initiatives aimed at improving the lives of city residents.

Cristian Nuno, MPA '17, shakes hand with Michael Nutter, former mayor of Philadelphia.
Cristian Nuno, MPA ’17, shakes hand with Michael Nutter, former mayor of Philadelphia.

Professionally, I am learning from my classmates who bring with them different strengths and weaknesses. In my international economics class, I rely on my study group to help me learn material that I simply could not comprehend on my own. At the same time, I sit down with my classmates who need help with Excel and statistics. It truly is a give-and-take process.

Combining Urban Policy with Data Analytics

I am naturally inclined towards examining processes and systems because it was never enough for me to accept why things are without understanding how certain things could have changed the results. Data analytics allows me to learn from the world around me by examining relationships amongst a wide variety of processes and systems. For more on that, please check out this TED talk or this blog.

Visualization of U.S. unemployment levels by county in 2009. Example of the types of data analytics and visualization skills learned in PAI 730.
Example of the types of data analytics and visualization skills learned in PAI 730.

My current favorite class is PAI 730: Data-Driven Management. Professor Lecy does a great job of introducing us to R – a programming language – which is capable of producing wondrous data visualizations and much more. With more local governments producing open data, I knew I needed more practice with R. Thankfully, the Maxwell School and the School of Information Studies offer a joint MPA/Certificate of Advanced Study in Data Science. By using all my elective credits towards the certificate, I am able to graduate in the same one-year time-span as everyone else in the MPA program.

These are brief reasons why the Maxwell School is the right place for me to learn how to change the world.