Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Living in the present

It seems that 93% of what Petra and I spend our time doing these days is planning for the future: Petra, through her studies and networking that are preparing her for her future career; myself, with my job search and recent grad school applications and soon with my own studies as well; and together continuing to try to prepare for our most treasured but hard-to-attain long-term hopes like starting a family and making a home somewhere. It's often hard to give ourselves permission to live in the moment we're in.

This past Saturday (thanks to some hard work planning ahead of time) I took some time off from my own life and helped lead a cleanup of a community garden in Brooklyn. The effort was part of Hands On New York Day, run by New York Cares (an excellent organization with whom I regularly volunteer, the NYC branch of the same org we went to New Orleans with). There were about 85 of us at the garden raking, painting picnic tables, fixing the greenhouse, and the like. As a leader there I didn't spend much time on any one task, but cruised around making sure everyone knew what they were doing, had what they needed, and that the work went smoothly and as intended.

This gave me the fun opportunity to meet just about everyone there: groups included a dozen sorority girls who were keen on tackling the dirtiest and heaviest jobs around while wildly gossiping, and a score of middle-management from an insurance actuarial firm who (reassuringly) worked methodically and with great care at all their tasks, from picking up sticks to weeding. Contrary to "community organizing" stereotypes, the vast majority of volunteers were black, not wealthy, and seemingly conservative: this has consistently been my experience at events like this. It was a delight to work with people who were such good workers and were so dedicated to helping others, and made me wish more white people, wealthy people, and liberals in this community were better at putting their whole selves where their mouths are (no offense to the exceptions to that statement).

I enjoyed a respite from responsibilities for a nice chunk of time when I decided (perhaps selfishly) that what most needed doing was keeping a lonely volunteer company: and so I found myself sitting on an upturned bucket with a truly delightful high-school freshman from New Jersey, sifting compost through some old window screens, commenting on everything from the squeamishness of men regarding worms and the glory of bowling and black and white photography to the degradation of Bella's character throughout the Twilight series. My hands smelled like life as I picked apart a soft dry twig, listening to the chickens warble and coo and the cool rain trickle from the leaves down onto the backs of my hands, the ground soft and rotting beneath my feet. My happiness in that moment, amidst the living fecundity and the bustle of selfless cooperative activity was like fertilizer to my heart, as well as a nourishing reminder of why I continue to commit myself to grassroots NGO work. And that, with herbs and chickens and the good kind of dirt, New York isn't always such a bad place to live.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Erika's future grad school: why and more specifically what

Part 3 of 3

(Recap: After being tempted by both NYU and The New School, I decided this weekend that The New School program was the one for me. My reasoning against NYU is in Part 1, below, and my reasoning for the New School is in Part 2, also below. Here I'll address the questions, why are you doing this? and what is this program you're signing up for anyways?)

So why am I going back to school again? Let me simplify things by quoting from the essay I submitted as part of my application to the school:

My work last year at the UNHCR Bangkok Refugee Center inspired me to apply to Milano. The effects of the refugee center’s poor management were immediately apparent. I observed that children defecated in alleys and peed against walls because of the lack of toilets, insect swarms in the classrooms were so pervasive that they crunched under our feet as we walked, and filthy water regularly flooded into the classrooms during the rainy season. I soon also learned that the Center’s staff vastly mismanaged the limited human and physical resources, some embezzled funds and resources, and a few even abused the children. Clearly, immediate changes were necessary, and as no one else was taking responsibility for fixing these problems, I stepped forward to lead what change I could.

With the help of great teams of volunteers that I recruited, the classroom buildings and common areas were almost entirely renovated by the time I left Thailand nine months later. However, I struggled with solving the larger problems of mismanaged resources, embezzlement, and abuse. My disempowered position at the Center (i.e. volunteer English teacher), combined with my lack of training, tools and resources limited my progress in addressing these serious issues.

Because of this experience, and because of witnessing less dramatic but pervasive experiences of management challenges in my prior non-profit work, I reached a threefold conclusion: 1) Good management of non-profit organizations serving vulnerable populations is critical to protecting the most basic needs and rights of their constituencies; 2) If I want to see good management in these organizations, I need to be able to lead as a manager myself; and 3) I need to acquire a specific set of skills and information beyond my current education and expertise in order to succeed in that management role.

The professional positions to which I aspire include management of international development and service projects like the refugee center. I want to be able to oversee many aspects of an organization: to efficiently direct the physical and human resources, to raise funds, and to increase public interest in the organization. I also see myself more broadly assessing their mission, goals, and leadership, and redirecting them as appropriate toward a more sustainable future.

I will build towards these upper-level management positions via more immediately accessible programmatic and departmental management posts. The organizations for which I will work could be small start-up NGOs (founded by myself or by another), organizations in distress (like the refugee center), or established organizations in need of a new vision. My preferred organizations will be those assisting underserved people in developing countries, as I consider it a moral imperative to serve those most in need.

I want to tackle some of the hardest management challenges in some of the most difficult areas of the Earth. To do so I need the excellent and diverse instruction, faculty, and experiential opportunities available at Milano. In addition to the delightfully warm community and shared social justice values I observed during the Dec. 9th open house, a number of practical factors draw me to your program. The multi-disciplinary nature of the available instruction is in line with what I seek: my future managerial positions will require me to be a generalist of sorts, handling finance and HR policy with equal aplomb. That Milano faculty are practitioners, and that many Milano student projects serve actual clients, will give me invaluable insight into and experience with different organizations. I also look forward to benefiting from the global coursework content, the insights gained through the international work of faculty and my fellow students, and gaining experience in a new geographic region through my capstone project.

And what is this program I’ve signed up for? First off, The New School isn't new at all, having been founded in 1919. They've kept their name to continue their commitment to innovative, cutting-edge intellectual thought, and to continue inspiring relevance in the current age. But what about my specific program? Let me quote directly from one of their handouts:

“Established in 1979, the Nonprofit Management Program at Milano The New School for Management and Urban Policy was among the first academic programs in the United States to focus on nonprofit organizations. [There are 800 grad students across all 3 of Milano’s programs (international, management, policy). Classes are kept purposefully small at 18-25 students, never larger.] The Master of Science in Nonprofit Management curriculum consists of …a 42-credit degree program, [including required courses and electives]. The course of study at Milano includes both foundational and specialized nonprofit management courses. …"

I think you’ll see how their program exactly fits the bill for me to learn the skills I seek. “The following two-year plan of study is typical for full-time students in the Nonprofit Management Program.…

Fall (First Year)
--Making a Difference: Global, Organizational, and Individual Perspectives on Social Change
--Quantitative Methods
--Theory and Practice of Nonprofit Management
--Specialization/Elective Course
Spring (First Year)
--Economics for Management & Public Policy
--Fundraising and Development
--Specialization/Elective Course
--Preparation for summer internship
Summer: Internship
Fall (Second Year)
--Financial Management in Nonprofit Organizations
--Management and Organizational Behavior
--2 Specialization/Elective Courses
Spring (Second Year)
--Advanced Seminar in Nonprofit Management
--2 Specialization/Elective Courses
--Work on final consulting project

Some examples of electives that catch my eye include: Community Development, Creating Effective Multicultural Organizations, Education and International Development, Foundations of Organizational Change, Human Resources for Managers, Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship, Leadership Perspectives and Practice, NGOs and International Development, Organizational Assessment & Diagnosis, Poverty and Social Policy, Strategic Management for a Changing World, Sustainability Perspectives and Practice.

Other classes I don’t think I’ll be taking but am glad to see offered include: Advocacy in Government Relations, Arts and Cultural Marketing, Black Social Movements, Climate Change, Corporate Social Responsibility, Racial Economic Disparities, etc.

And these are, of course, only the classes directly offered by Milano. I already have my eye on the free language courses (Spanish and Swahili, here I come!) as well as the entire Parsons curricula, especially Documentary Filmmaking! (And no, documentaries and Spanish/Swahili are not frivolous, call me if you can’t figure this out and want an explanation on how incredibly and vitally relevant they are to the work I hope to do.) I just wish that I had an extra two years into which I could fit all these wonderful classes…

I already look forward to stepping out as an alumn of this program, packed to the gills with practical knowledge and experience and contacts, ready to continue saving the world, but from a more educated and powerful vantage point, to be all the more effective in the work I do.

On being courted by schools: Considering The New School

Part 2 of 3

(To recap: I was admitted to both grad schools to which I’d applied, and attended both Admitted Students Days to decide between them. It was an enlightening comparison. NYU’s was the first day: see the preceding post for its review. I know this post is very long, but it's main audience is my family.)

Though my bias was initially for The New School, I showed up Saturday morning ready to be disappointed, keenly on the lookout for problems and concerns that would steer me away from their program.

I was humored to note that the building was on a corner some friends and I had recently visited as part of a lesbian history walking tour of Greenwich Village: on this block (separately) lived my heroes Willa Cather and Murray Hall. I tried not to read anything auspicious into this.

I stepped into a small, innovative building dominated by light natural wood and wall-to-wall windows showing the brick sidewalk and its very Village pedestrians on one side and whimsical tree-filled courtyard on the other. The space in which we initially gathered was a school-run café, with a small selection of fresh bagels, mango slices and fresh blueberries, granola, lime-aid, and organic fair trade coffee. I diligently tried to ignore the pangs of love my heart emitted because of this perfect spread.

My fellow accepted-student attendees were a small (50?) crowd of people of mixed ages, more on the young adult end but including visible representation of people through late middle age. The group was actually racially diverse, including lots of Latinos. I later learned that 22 countries were represented there: given the small total number of students, that’s a pretty high percentage! I immediately felt more relaxed here, if only because of the attire. At NYU, it was business suits and dressing to impress. At the New School most people wore jeans and t-shirts. The staff and faculty present (of which there were many) were casual, friendly, and happy looking, emitting kindness and enthusiasm. They had a hilarious logistical problem: that too many current students and alums had showed up to speak on the panel, because so many people wanted the opportunity to praise the New School and encourage us to attend.

As we introduced ourselves (which we actually had the opportunity to do here, unlike at NYU), the interests/professions of fellow students in Management program kept prodding me with glee: the first handful of people introduced themselves as engaged in women’s studies, feminist theory, gender, abortion access, education, ESL, mentorship, fine art, already running a nonprofit, film, media, prisoner services, food and nutrition i.e. feeding the poor, grassroots environmental organizing. (I stopped writing further interests down because I realized they would continue to each be exciting.) The goal of more than one other student is the same as my own: “I want to be in a high-level management position in a development organization.” After I introduced myself, the dean quipped, “Wow, you’re really in the right place.” Yes, yes, and yes! These are my people.

This was corroborated by a current student, a tiny Asian woman, who spoke late in the day: “Usually people are afraid of public speaking, but do you notice how relaxed we [current students] all are? How passionate? Even though I’m just a bitty woman and I’m holding this scary heavy phallic thing [i.e. microphone] in my hand up to my mouth, I’m not afraid to speak, not afraid at all!” And then following this delightful statement, a man sitting next to me rolled his eyes and put on a distasteful face protesting her ‘phallic’ comment and looked around for corroboration of his small-mindedness, and two other women sitting nearby gave him such immediate and strong stern looks of don’t-even-go-there feminist protectiveness, causing him to retract his expression before I could even compose my own protective face! :)

But I get ahead of myself: We started off the organized events of the day with a student-led tour of the facilities. Though the guides were just flying by the seat of their pants, leading to some humorous backtracking and a lack of necessary keys in a few instances, it was great to have unmediated time to grill current students about what life at the school was actually like, an opportunity which we all took full advantage of. The guides must have felt like they got the ninth degree, but their unflagging enthusiasm and honesty was very encouraging.

It was, of course, also great to have the opportunity to see the actual classrooms, computer labs, library, study spaces, etc. that we would be using. This tour was a nicety NYU had not bothered with, or which was perhaps not possible because the amenities there are so spread out. Most of my time at The New School will be spent in two adjoined buildings, a convenience I greatly appreciate.

As for the facilities themselves: they were small but great, actually fun. Thank you, Parsons students, for creating such innovative creative spaces. Throughout what would have otherwise been an unremarkable institutional building, there were unexpected open spaces, a plethora of light, whimsical interior design, bold colorful murals, many surprising and challenging sculptures, practical unique benches, random social/activist installations, and very efficient use of space. It felt like we’ll be studying in a modern art museum, but more relaxed. And speaking of, we apparently get free MOMA access for life. (Cue angelic choir, and slight concerns for my productivity: I know where I’ll be doing my reading!)

Throughout the building they have composting bins, actually diligent recycling bins, waterbottle refilling stations, and the like. The faculty offices are cluttered and seem well-used, giving me high hopes for being able to regularly find them there. The library is small but precise, and we will ironically have full use of all NYU facilities including their extensive libraries: NYU will even deliver requested books to The New School for us. “Their resources are our resources.” The computer labs are extensive and gorgeous, with monitors, scanners, and equipment suited to a fine arts program.

And speaking of equipment (this is the point at which my heart truly gave out any resistance and began to swoon), we get free priority use of professional-quality high-res still and video cameras, access to classes on documentary filmmaking, and all other Parsons resources. !!!! <3 <3

To top it off, we get free access to all New School language classes, no tuition needed. So the two things I was hoping to do outside of school over the next two years, namely learn how to do filmmaking and learn Spanish, are supported and encouraged in Milano’s program.

But I get ahead of myself again. (This is a good sign.) After the tour, we gathered in a space that reminded me quite a bit of the sanctuary of my childhood church (UUS:E) for the usual speechifying. The Dean won me over right off by apologizing that we’d left the breakfast spread behind in the previous room, saying: “Sorry we don’t have someone plying you with coffee and sweet rolls, but if you want that, it’s right downstairs, you can figure out how to get it yourself: now that’s empowered social change!” Especially on the heels of the NYU students of the day before, who had needed to be served, this struck quite a bell.

And then to the meat of the program: while I thought that NYU wasn’t asking the right questions in trying to make us “employable”, I think The New School responds perfectly to what has motivated me to pursue this degree, and what I hope to get out of it: “We want to honor that intrinsic value that you’ve placed on your development and what role you can place on society.” “We want to help you along on the road to make the change you want to see in the world.” “Personal development so you can better serve.” “Adding value to communities” “Implicitly social-justice values-centered work.” “What’s most important is that you are an engaged, informed, effective citizen, who knows how to effectively stand up and speak up, to actually enact change when it is needed.” “Making a difference in messy, difficult situations: in the real world.” “Setting a foundation for you to be able to learn further on your own in the unexpected and unprecedented situations in which you will find yourself.” Yes! I thought. By starting from this spot-on premise, I can build the education I seek! And, delightfully, unlike NYU starting with the expectation of selling out, “There is no reason you can’t seek personal satisfaction in all you do.”

One of the main programmatic features I was most interested in is relevant international and domestic work experience. While I knew this was part of the program, I hadn’t realized to what an extent it was available and in fact required. The students collectively do more than 200 client-based projects a year, with each student completing a consulting project for almost every class, and more over the summer. By the time I graduate, I’ll have a full resume of completed real-world consulting projects with NGOs and governmental agencies ranging from the UN and NYC councils to tiny startups in the jungles abroad.

While at NYU, independent international projects were tensely tolerated, such projects are encouraged at The New School. “A tremendous amount of students do their projects and work abroad.” And it’s not just ignorant poverty-tourist token projects. An example project cited by the Dean: “In the Amazon, managing a polluted river that stinks.” Another example project: “Organizing and building a floating barge swimming pool for Harlem.” Current student: “My pet project is slum rebuilding and mapping. I’ve helped rebuild slums on three continents already.” Another current student: “My current project is actualizing rural electrification in Brazil.”

Like NYU, the New School has an international summer program, which they call the International Field Program. It is much more rigorous than NYU’s program, lasting two months or more, and going to a much wider range of locations abroad. They require you to attend a course all semester before you go that teaches about the country and its language, as well as relevant skills you will need for succeeding in your work there such as data gathering, etc. When in the overseas locale, students participate in real projects with local partner organizations, and delve much further afield in their research and work. It sounds like a deeply rigorous and rewarding experience, and I can hardly wait.

Similarly, The New School fully supports students doing their final thesis-equivalent project on or in an international setting: “As long as there’s skype or a phone, we can make it work and support you in your work there.” This made me confident I could purse the kind of research and work that brings me to this field of study in the first place.

Of course, their curriculum reflects this support of international issues, with excellent classes across the spectrum of international NGO concerns. Milano also has excellent curricular resources on environmental issues (unlike NYU) thanks to having a parallel environmental studies and environmental management program. Throughout the New School they offer 40 courses per year on water alone. (Ma, I though you would like that.)

It turns out the folks at the New School really actually know what development work abroad is all about, in a way even most people working "in the field" don't understand: From an international student: “At the New School it doesn’t assume Western values, it doesn’t assume an outsider’s view, it focuses on community development and that you might be from that community, and engages that community. It’s not about foreigners coming in from outside and ‘developing’ someplace and then leaving. Though we teach how to do that well, too.” This kind of insight is so refreshing and exciting, and you have no idea how rare it is to have these dynamics acknowledged.

And her comment hints at the famed New School intellectual diversity in classroom discussions. Other current students commented on this: “I can push back in class, and people are open to hearing it.” And even, “I feel free even in an econ class to question the effects of capitalism… not to just accept the market system because it’s so pervasive.” You have no idea how glad I was to hear that I wouldn’t be the only one going against the grain, and that in fact I could learn from other students and faculty who share these same thoughts and values.

Students at the New School really actually seem to learn from one another. That comment in the paragraph above from the international student speaker, “Though we teach how to do that well, too” note how she says “we teach” though she is the student, not the teacher. Everyone listened to everyone else, and referred to one another’s expertises. At one point a professor directed a new student to the two students on the panel who could help her register her NGO in Canada, and twice I saw faculty turn to students for information to complete an answer to a question. Not that the faculty are passive participants in our education. They see themselves not only as teachers but “We’re your cheerleaders, your councilors, your guides.” At one point student quipped: “The faculty bedazzles me.” A member of the faculty responded, joking: “I don’t know about being bedazzling, but I know I am humbled by the students. I hope I can get recommendation letters from them in the future.” The personal respect and breadth of human resources evinced by the sum of the talented faculty and inspiring student body is very exciting.

Ok, I’m getting really tired, so I’m going to stop trying to make perfect paragraphs out of everything and just list off other key observations.

The New School teaches fundraising, philanthropy! NYU doesn’t. This is a very important thing to learn, so for this reason alone I should attend The New School.

“The freedom to chart my own course of study.” "Encouraging unorthodox courses of study. The school says “Yes”, “Why not”, “Let’s make this work,” rarely “impossible.”"

Almost everyone there works part-time while doing school. Working part-time and school full-time is best. Lots and lots of people work for the school, and everyone said the school makes it very easy to find part-time work you enjoy. Also, at NYU you can’t do a project at the place you work. At Milano you can: this just makes sense. They fully support and respect people having lives outside of school. And, every single other concern I mentioned in my write-up about NYU, like supporting female leadership and having a queer community and working with the kinds of organizations I one day hope to run? Not a concern here.

As for fun things outside of class, “There are lots of opportunities to go to events not related to poverty or genocide or other depressing things that we all get immersed in.” They offer free yoga, pilates, and zumba, plus frequent subsidized outings incl. hiking, whitewater rafting, rock climbing, etc. The leaders of the recreation department were inspiring (I’m using that word a lot, aren’t I?) in their attitude of support and getting people to try new things, and finding recreations that are a good match for people’s skills and stretching their boundaries and learning new things.

And then came the hilarious part where it turns out I’m signing on to the arch-rival school to Petra’s school. There were two current students there who had transferred from Columbia University: One had been “missing that sense of community with students and connection with faculty, and my heart of social organizing ached, and I love that The New School is a bastion of liberalism.” From the other student: “There’s a certain school, I won’t name it, it’s above 96th St and below 125th St., and its students are all really, you know… smart… We’re better than them. They know the theory, we know the practice.”

And from another student: “I wanted to look around a class and say not that these students are really smart and not have anything else to say about them, but that these students are Cool with a capital C, I’d want to work with them, hire them, passion oozes from them. If I were in a back-alley brawl, I’d want New School students on my side.”

“That school up north on this island [i.e. Columbia], they’ll be in the offices. We’ll be doing good work in the slums. Where do you want to be? Comfy, or effective?”

Petra corroborated many of their frustrations, though of course she rightly wants me to point out that Columbia is an excellent school, which it is, with impassioned, talented, practically-minded students, some of whom are willing to get their hands dirty (and of course in my opinion, of this most excellent group she is the most awesome and most potentially-effective and certainly the prettiest).

So, by the end of the day (a very reasonable 2:15 pm), I was totally and completely sold. Not only did they have all the basics I’d require (academic excellence, good facilities, classes giving me the exact skills I’ll need, opportunities to apply these skills abroad, and a network of people in the fields in which I hope to work), they have everything I’d want in any community with whom I’d spend my time: They share my values, my interests, they inspire me, and I felt at home.

Oh, yeah, and by the way? They're offering me a s*@#-ton of money. It will be quite affordable to attend. I was holding off on even thinking about this factor, because I really wanted to choose the program that's right for me regardless of cost, but really? It's like icing on top of an already delicious cake.

(P.S. Now, I know I haven't talked at length about the curriculum or faculty of either program, but that's not because I'm not considering these essential factors in my decision: it's because they're largely comparable between the two schools: both equally excellent and high-caliber and experienced. I'll talk more about just what is contained in The New School's program that I'm signing up for in a following post.)

On being courted by schools: Considering NYU

Part 1 of 3

I spent the last two days being courted. As I mentioned earlier, the two schools I applied to, NYU and The New School, both admitted me, so I had to decide which program to attend. They both have their strengths and weaknesses, and were pulling out all the stops to convince the pool of us admitted students that we should sign on the dotted line for them: this was done by hosting Admitted Students days, NYU on Friday and The New School on Saturday. By the end of the two days, because of the content of their presentations, I was absolutely sure which is the right school for me. I think you’ll see why…

In the interests of space I will upload my reflections on the second school as a separate post. I know this is more information that most of you will be interested in: the main audience for this and the following two posts is my family. Note, all quotes quoted henceforth are my best attempt at the actual words said, I was jotting things down all day.
Though my initial bias was against NYU, I showed up bright and early with a smile on my face, my sharpest clothes on, and an open mind and heart, willing to be convinced that this was the school for me.

That the day they chose to host their program was on a Friday, necessitating us all to take a day off work or miss a day of school, was a point against them right off the bat. The day’s programming also ran from 9 am to 9 pm, which is just ridiculous. This initial impression, that the program is not considerate of students’ lives outside of NYU, was corroborated throughout the day.

I entered the huge building through a marble lobby, spaceship security gates, and uniformed guard, up shining brassy elevators, was given my slick printed nametag, and entered a huge ballroom with gigantic windows offering an absolutely stunning and unprecedented view across Washington Park, through the Arch, up 5th Ave, and past the Empire State Building, made especially gorgeous and dramatic by the swirling low clouds that shrouded the tops of the buildings. Yup, I was impressed. Part of me likes sitting in the lap of luxury, and this was unequivocally that.

Sadly, no one in the room but me seemed to notice or appreciate the view. The room was populated by a subdued crowd of about 250 mostly-white young adults in business attire, suits and ties and pencil skirts and heels all on their normatively-gendered bodies. People were politely provisioning themselves from the extensive mundane spread of sticky carbs and caffeine and sitting down at their assigned, numbered tables. When I commented on the view to a few, they looked and said, “Yes, it’s raining, this weather sucks” or “Whatever, I’m from New York, this isn’t anything special.” Unpleasant and disappointing, but perhaps I’d just encountered some bad apples, or they needed their coffee. After all, it was early.

The nametags they had given us had strings that were much too long except for the largest of us, so the tags rested on our bellies or hips, below the edges of the tables at which we sat, largely negating their usefulness and leading to lots of inappropriate staring to decipher a name. So I immediately tied the string on mine shorter, making it rest much higher and be easily readable. Everyone was flummoxed by this, and no one followed suit. I began to have serious doubts about my potentially-fellow students.

My scattered notes for the next hour of presentations read: Big. Very New York. Leadership. A push towards leadership. Asking tough questions, being tough. Lots of economists, health care. Power: Power over… Power for… Power with…. Almost all students are younger than me, have less experience. Think tanks as internships. Amartya Sen is coming to speak next week. (Ok, so those last two were good. That’s the kind of thing that gives me pause to consider. But the preceding comments are rather souring.)

Student panel participants: NYU isn’t a good fit for people who lack ambition, who are timid, who can’t handle being competitive, who don’t like people, who aren’t good at listening, who don’t like working in teams, who are afraid of hard work, who are disorganized, who don’t like New York. “If you’re like that, don’t come here, please, you’ll make our team work unpleasant and frustrating.” (Rather harsh, unfriendly, and unnecessarily critical, despite the obvious virtues of listening and hard work and the like.)

A very informative and useful financial aid session yielded some interesting info in addition to the usual Stafford loans and work study: They offer $5000 funding for unpaid internships over the summer between years of study. The funding isn’t guaranteed, I’d have to apply for it, but 50 students get it every summer, and I think I’d be a strong candidate. And they have funding to help pay for international travel for school projects. And they negotiate to get our clients to help pay for our project expenses. (This is unusual compared to other programs, and a very tempting perk.)

I was offered a small merit-based scholarship, so asked about the likelihood of continued scholarships. I was told a GPA of 3.6 is necessary to maintain the grant semester by semester. This isn’t a problem for me, as 3.6 is well within my usual GPA range. However, I was saddened by their rationale behind the 3.6 cutoff: it’s the average GPA throughout the program, meaning that the faculty grades lightly. (I’d rather they have higher expectations, grade more harshly, challenge us to do better.)

Definitely my favorite temptation of the day rested in the international summer programs. The school offers 2-3 week programs at three different times during the summer in locations such as Cape Town, South Africa; Accra, Ghana; and Shanghai, China, combining intensive class study on a particular topic relevant to the location (i.e. environmental management, food security, and urban planning respectively) with organized housing, sight-seeing, and observation of a local organization’s work. I liked the particular locations (all of interest to me), I liked how well-structured the time is, and the topics were of great interest. I hesitated over the hint of poverty tourism, but understood their desire to keep us safe. But most of all, I love the intensive class format, it being my favorite way to learn: if I could do my whole degree through a series of intensive programs of a few weeks each, I’d do so. And then I learned the best thing about the international summer classes: they can be done by people attending other schools, though they’re a bit pricey. :)

Then the real turning-point in my decision-making process, during a panel with faculty from the program. One spoke on the financial challenges states face regarding pension plans. One spoke on the statistics of the racial divide in subsidized housing compared to their surrounding communities. And the last spoke with refreshing frankness on social entrepreneurship, articulating an attitude I had begun to glean held importance in the program: Their main interest is to make graduates well-prepared for the workplace. They’re most concerned with putting onto my resume what’s going to get me a job. But is “what’s going to get me a job” the right question to be asking? It was all very, very in-the-box thinking. They were very critical of the idea of social entrepreneurship, of people setting out on their own, of people working outside of traditional, pre-existing workplaces and organizational structures. They advocated for people working within well-designed organizations. “It’s not about the lone individual: it’s not about individuals at all. You have to be willing to give up control of your projects, of your dreams, to get them done.” Um, no thanks. I do not want to go to grad school to learn how to settle, how to plan from the get-go to compromise my control and my ideas. And, after talking at such length about the failures of existing structures and organizations and programs, why say I have to work within these broken systems? And who is to say that I have to come in at the bottom, give up my control and ideas? Who is to say I can’t run those organizations or start my own and maintain control? I fully understand the arguments for existing institutions and against common problems of startup social entrepreneurship, i.e. redundancies and incompetencies, but that’s just badly done/ignorant entrepreneurship, not all of it. And their whole attitude smacked hugely of anti-grassroots, anti-community organizing, and pro-institutionalism: that’s not how I want to learn or do my work. Probably not the place for me.

At this point, I started a list of questions I really wanted to get answered: Is there discussion of and support for female leadership, addressing and helping solve the challenges women working in this field encounter? Is there a queer community here, and does it include women? Do queer people, queer ideas, queer relationships get respect and support here? Do we have opportunities to work with small organizations, not just megaliths like the World Bank? (I was unable to get answers to these questions over the next 5 hours, in effect answering them for me.)

At the late-afternoon faculty mixer, the faculty all arrived quite late (30 min+) and wanted instead to meet with small groups of people in their offices instead of in the larger gathering rooms. None of the prospective students stepped forward to open the wine bottles or started eating the array food, though they were all talking of how good it looked. When I stepped forward and opened a red and white wine and started pouring for everyone, hamming up the hostess role, everyone relaxed a bit, but seriously? They needed someone to pour for them? It turned out to be very very hard to get to speak with faculty because there were so few of them and so many students, which proved the reputation of their inaccessibility. I did eventually get to speak with the delightful John Gershman, the advisor of a friend of mine who recently completed the program, with whom I definitely hope to speak again in the future, a nice end to a baffling day.

In conclusion, I came away thinking while I could do the NYU program, and could get a lot out of it, it wouldn’t be teaching the kind of business I want to do in the world, and I wouldn’t necessarily enjoy it very much.