SIPA’s Development Practice Lab: Skills-based learning, from the classroom to the field

We’re sharing a guest post today from current student Eliza Keller, MPA-DP 2016. Below, she shares some great insight into why she decided to enroll in SIPA two years ago; and it had a lot to deal with curriculum.

Currently, students accepted at SIPA and elsewhere are deciding what the best program is for them. If you’re one of these admitted students, you’re probably asking yourself: Where can I learn the most? Where can I connect with like-minded people? Which school will advance my career?

I’ve been there. Two years ago, I was weighing my options, making endless pro-and-con lists, and studying faculty rosters. I was drawn to the practical, skills-based curriculum of SIPA’s MPA in Development Practice program, but wasn’t sure if it was right for me. After visiting on Admitted Students’ Day, though, the energy of SIPA’s campus and the openness and depth of experience of its Development Practice students won me over. SIPA was clearly full of smart, curious people doing interesting work—just the environment I was looking for.

A standout feature of the MPA-DP program is the Summer Field Placement, a three-month overseas internship tailored to students’ skills and career goals. This past summer, I traveled to Timor-Leste, where I worked as a policy fellow in the Ministry of Finance. While there, I found my SIPA education already essential.

In particular, the skills I learned in the Development Practice Lab, a core first-year course in the MPA-DP curriculum, enabled me to contribute substantively to my host organization. The Development Practice Lab, unique to SIPA, is a series of three-hour workshops carefully designed to deliver hands-on training in skills that are in high demand in the development community. From monitoring and evaluation planning to budgeting for a nationwide peacebuilding assessment and partnership building, these skills lent me important credibility—and opened up professional opportunities I would never have envisioned before SIPA.

Now, six months after returning from Timor-Leste, the last two years seem to have gone by in a flash. I’ve learned as much from my SIPA classmates as I have from the excellent faculty here, and I’ve come to understand the value of the well-rounded perspective and skill set cultivated in the MPA-DP program.

There’s no “right” decision for all prospective students, but if there’s any advice I have, it’s to think carefully about the added value that each program provides, both for your own knowledge and for your career—and, find your people. I found mine here at SIPA.

Pictured above (from left): Angela Kohama, Alexandra Americanos MIA ’16, Glenn Denning, Prime Minister of Timor-Leste Rui Maria de Araújo, Alexander Fertig, Arja Dayal, Eliza Keller.

Pictured above (from left): Angela Kohama, Alexandra Americanos MIA ’16, Glenn Denning, Prime Minister of Timor-Leste Rui Maria de Araújo, Alexander Fertig, Arja Dayal, Eliza Keller.

Feature photo courtesy of Arja Dayal, MPA-DP 2016: This is a part of the open defecation free sustainability study currently being conducted in Timor-Leste in partnership with Ministry of Health, Plan International, UNICEF and WaterAid. Factor analysis is a participatory ranking process where participants will indicate their motivation, factors or barriers in order to maintain or abandon use of latrine.