New Student Series Part 7: Ximena Mata

For Part 7 of our series, meet Ximena Mata Zenteno. Ximena is a driven young woman, who’s currently working at the Permanent Mission of Mexico to the United Nations, and has learned how to use sports as “a tool for development and peace,” she says. She hopes to instill a love of sports and develop strong sports-related policies in her community in Puebla, Mexico after graduating from SIPA.

Full Name: Ximena Mata Zenteno
Program:  Master of Public Administration
Concentration: Economic and Political Development
Specialization: International Organization & UN Studies
Anticipated Graduation Year: 2017
Hometown: Puebla, Mexico

Undergraduate university, major and graduation year:
Universidad de las Americas Puebla UDLAP. Puebla, Mexico. BA in International Law 2013

What’s your professional background?
I started practicing Taekwondo at the age of 5. As a young woman from a developing country, Taekwondo empowered me to stand out in an unequal society through a discipline once considered for men. Sports conferred me the honor of representing my country in international competitions, and allowed me to study Law with a full scholarship offered by the University. At the age of 21, in the middle of my undergraduate studies, I was appointed Director General of the Municipal Sports Institute of Puebla; it was a 1.6 million people city when the Major entrusted me such responsibility. As a public official, I saw first-hand how sports transformed other people’s lives too. Thanks to the programs my team and I developed in Puebla, we influenced more than half of the city’s population. Moreover, I lead organization of the World Taekwondo Championships for the first time in Mexico. After completing my Law studies and my tenure at the Sports Institute, I joined the Permanent Mission of Mexico to the United Nations. At the UN, I have increased my understanding of sport as a tool for development and peace, and I have learned more about the world conflicts by covering the works of the Security Council.

Did you apply to SIPA to change careers or to gain experience in a career path you already have experience in?
I applied to SIPA to strengthen my professional experience in Public Administration, to better understand the problems that the developing world faces in matters of human development, and to acquire a powerful toolkit to promote effective solutions. 

What was your reaction when you found out you were accepted to SIPA?
I cried. When I received the “Your Decision is Ready” email, my heartbeat started to accelerate.  I immediately called my boyfriend through FaceTime, he was my strongest supporter in the process, and we both waited for the link to show the final decision. When I saw the virtual confetti and read the “congratulations” word, I started to cry and that is when we both knew I was admitted. I called my parents and my siblings to share the joy, and even when the crying made it difficult to speak, they were as excited as I was with the news.

Why did you say “yes” to SIPA?
I said yes to SIPA because SIPA said yes to me. I have always dreamed of studying at such a wonderful university, and I am glad that Columbia gave me the chance of being part of its community.

What do you most look forward to as a graduate student at SIPA?
I believe that SIPA is the place where I can strengthen my economic and quantitative skills, enhance my policy-analysis capabilities and acquire an education based in real-world problems and solutions. In addition to the academic aspects, I look forward to meeting extraordinary people, committed to make a positive difference in the world.

Do you have any apprehensions about starting graduate school?
No. I am thrilled to begin with this experience!

Photo courtesy of Ximena Mata Zenteno.
Photo courtesy of Ximena Mata Zenteno.

What are your goals after SIPA?
I want to go back to Mexico, where I plan to design and implement sports policies focused on three areas: 1) Crime Prevention, by involving children and youth in organized sports rather than in organized crime; 2) Health Improvement, by helping people introduce sports in their lifestyles; and 3) Educational Level Increase, by encouraging athletes to pursue higher educational standards, without compromising their sports goals.

If you could change one small thing about your community, country or the world, what would it be?
When I was in the Taekwondo National Team, I dreamed of representing my country at the Olympic Games. Sadly, I had to choose between the National Team and University (UDLAP) because it was not possible to pursue both at the same time. I aimed for a high-quality education and therefore chose University, compromising my Olympic dream. I wish that future athletes would not have to choose between these two paths anymore. Instead, they ought to be encouraged to pair their sports goals with their professional careers to attain a balanced development. This is the cause I am fighting for.

Tell us something interesting about yourself:
I still practice taekwondo! I want to keep training and participating in competitions as long as my body allows it. I also love writing. When I was 20, I wrote an autobiography that was published a year later. In 2014, I traveled around the world in 80 days (yes, as Jules Verne’s book), visiting 20 countries and 40 cities, and it was one of the greatest experiences in my life!

If you’d like to participate in the series, please email us at sipa_new@columbia.edu to share your personal admissions story, what your summer vacation will entail/did entail, or anything else you think your peers would enjoy reading about! You may submit a blog post of your choosing, or submit the New Student Survey with pre-populated questions to get you started. And don’t forget to submit a photo or two to help us visualize your story!

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