The following blog entry was prepared by Sandhya Chari, an MPA student concentrating in Economic and Political Development.
When I reflect on what I’ve learned at SIPA, I find myself very appreciative of my opportunity to study under adjunct faculty. While the full time professors have been nothing short of excellent, I would never have anticipated the importance or impact of the practitioners in my academic career. Last year, I had the opportunity to take Tools for Advocacy, taught by two professors from George Soros’ foundation, OSI, and a course in Microenterprise Development taught by a professor who also works full time at Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI). This semester I also have the good fortune of taking a course in Microfinance with a professor who spends the majority of his time working at Oxfam.
For me, these courses have all provided that necessary real world touch that I wanted out of my policy education. Of course, I know the importance of economics, statistics and development theory and I enjoy those course as well, however these other classes have offered something uniquely different. They have provided opportunities for real world hands on learning, with more feedback for learning without the risks that come with the real world. Like most of my peers, I worked before coming back to SIPA, but one of the biggest reasons for my return to school was that I wanted a shift in my career. As such, a lot of what I hope to do after graduate school will be new for me. For this reason, it is great to ‘get my feet wet’ in an academic setting first.
For example, I had never before encountered a request for proposal or had the need to apply an advertising campaign to a policy issue. My classes taught by professionals currently in the field have given me the opportunity to do these things. They have presented me with work that is identical to what they deal with every day, and have allowed me to learn the basics of creating these things in an academic environment. Further, they have provided a great meeting point of academic theory and practice. The professors assign the readings that they know shape their work and then show how those readings are regularly applied in their professional environment. This makes the experience of doing the reading much more interesting as it shows direct use and application beyond classroom discussion.
In addition to these practical skills, working with practitioners has also allowed for an opportunity to meet with professionals in the fields I am interested in. Having sustained interaction in a non-professional setting with these professors has allowed me to catch a different glimpse into their work lives. It has allowed me also to seek their mentorship regarding career possibilities and to explore other areas that might be of interest to me based on their course or organization. In short, they serve as one stop resources where students are able to learn about their field of interest in setting that is academic and professional at the same time.
These classes have been invaluable to my time here at SIPA, in fact this summer I was able to directly use things I learned in my micro-enterprise course. I found my bosses referencing the authors we had read, and I found discussions at meetings focused around topics we studied in the classroom. I had never before experienced a melding of classroom and conference room in quite that way before. I’m really thankful that I have the chance here to work with faculty who are in the field I see myself working in some day.