The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is pleased to share A View from the Class, a SIPA stories series featuring current SIPA students, recently graduated alumni, and faculty. 

Hello, I am Desmond Lee, a first-year Master of Public Administration (MPA) candidate concentrating in International Finance and Economic Policy and specializing in Data Analytics & Quantitative Analysis.

What were you doing prior to attending SIPA?

I worked as a corporate communications associate at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, where I helped to lead communications and media efforts around the bank’s research and community outreach functions. Much of my work focused on household financial well-being, economic inequality, and the connections between financial policy and the “real economy” as it is experienced by communities across the Fed’s Second District, which includes New York state, northern New Jersey, Fairfield County in Connecticut, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Before working at the Federal Reserve, I was a strategic communications consultant at BerlinRosen, where I partnered with labor groups and advocacy organizations to advance causes around economic justice. I was also fortunate to have spent some time working and studying in the Middle East. During my undergraduate years at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, I volunteered with two NGOs based in Cairo, Egypt through the Duke Engage program. Additionally, I served as a Global Academic Fellow with New York University – Abu Dhabi, where I helped to lead recitations and classroom instruction for first-year students studying political science.

What drew you to SIPA?

SIPA felt like the perfect place to be – of all of the schools and programs I had been considering, SIPA offered the right combination of stellar faculty, rigorous academics, and a student community that valued diversity and inclusion. I am at my best when I am surrounded by people whose experiences and backgrounds differ from my own, and where I feel constantly challenged to consider the limitations of my own perspective. The SIPA community and culture seemed to embody these qualities. I was also drawn to the vast selection of elective courses and the opportunities to shape an academic path that best suited my career goals.

Why did you choose the International Finance and Economic Policy concentration and the Data Analytics and Quantitative Analysis specialization?

My interest in the financial world was sparked by the 2008 global financial crisis. I was in high school at the time. I did not have any family or personal connections to the banking industry, but I was fascinated by the complexity of the issues, and the interconnected web of institutions and processes that formed the backbone of our financial system. As the costs of the crisis became clearer over time, I began to think more and more about ways our financial system could better serve the needs of vulnerable and marginalized communities.

With this in mind, I was particularly drawn to the International Finance and Economic Policy program’s unique mix of courses in economics, capital markets, and corporate finance. I also wanted to position myself as someone who could leverage data to draw insights and tackle policy challenges, and I felt the Data Analytics and Quantitative Analysis specialization would help me to strengthen those key skills.

How would you describe your first semester at SIPA?

It has been intense – but in the best way possible. All of my courses have been excellent, and I already feel like I have learned so much – both in terms of subjects that I studied as an undergraduate (e.g., economics and policy analysis), as well as new topics (e.g., accounting).

I have also really enjoyed getting to know my fellow classmates. Like many people who chose to start graduate school during the pandemic, I was a little anxious about adjusting to the largely remote environment and connecting with my peers virtually. I have been thoroughly impressed by how motivated the entire SIPA community has been at finding innovative ways to build a strong sense of community.  I have attended some very interesting events, such as the “Central Banking in the COVID-19 Era” series, and joined student clubs, such as the SIPA Finance Society. In some ways, I feel this difficult moment in history has fostered a unique bond between students, and has only deepened our commitment to serving the many communities around the world that are suffering right now.

Is there a particular SIPA experience that stands out?

There are so many, but if I had to choose, I would say I have been struck by how fantastic my professors and first semester courses have been. My professors for International Capital Markets and Quantitative Analysis, Professors Richard Robb and Alan Yang, respectively, have this great ability to transform complex subject matter into tools that make you feel much more empowered to understand the world as a future policymaker. I have also really enjoyed my Politics of Policymaking course, taught by Professor Tamar Mitts, as her choice of topics always leads to great conversations and debates in class. My economics and accounting professors, Professors Emanuele Gerratana and Norman Bartczak, each have a passion and enthusiasm for their fields that is infectious and really helps to bring energy to our mostly-virtual classroom.