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.

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