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Student Perspective: My First Semester in Grad School

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When I think back on how I found SPPUA, I see it as fate. While putting together a list of graduate programs, I googled “urban affairs program” and SPPUA was the first school listed.

I am happy to say that I have finished my first semester of grad school at the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs (SPPUA). The journey here has been bumpy, but I am happy that I found my way to Northeastern and I am excited to see what’s in store for the future.

After graduating from the University at Albany, I knew I wanted to work professionally before going back to school for my master’s. My first job out of college was with the American Federation of State and County Municipal Employees as a political organizer for New York City. I worked on political and legislative advocacy campaigns involving social justice and worker rights. Then, I worked for the New York Public Library (NYPL) in the Office of Government and Community Affairs where I coordinated the library’s annual budget advocacy campaign and community engagement outreach. One thing I noticed about the NYPL that heavily influenced my decision to pursue a graduate degree, was the professional talent amongst the staff. Many of the managers and department directors held Master of Public Administration (MPA) degrees from varying universities and specialties. I knew that if I wanted to further my career and become a leader in public affairs, I needed to obtain my MPA.

When I think back on how I found SPPUA, I see it as fate. While putting together a list of graduate programs, I googled “urban affairs program” and SPPUA was the first school listed. I was immediately interested in the Myra Kraft Open Classroom: Imagine Boston 2030 series. Urban planning and development has always been an interest of mine, and I hoped to focus in this area during my graduate studies. I was excited to see a top MPA program actively involved in an urban planning initiative for a major city. I also liked that SPPUA offers a variety of graduate certificate programs that can be taken as a specialty to master’s degrees. I felt ecstatic the day I received an email stating I had been admitted into the MPA program.
Moving from the Bronx to Boston has been a bit of a cultural shock. One thing that I have had to learn to do in Boston is to slow down. The hustle and bustle of Boston is a few paces behind New York. I have also had to adjust to being a full-time student again after three years of working professionally. I have been fortunate to work as a staff assistant to Linda Kowalcky, professor of the practice in public policy and urban affairs, and career and internship advisor, which has allowed me to see a variety of professional opportunities in the field and gave me an idea of what to expect post-graduation.

During the fall semester, I took “Education Policy in the US,” “Contemporary Community Development,” and “Principles of Public Administration.” I truly enjoyed each of these classes and the coursework. Two current professionals in the field, Matt Denniger and Joe Krieberg, taught the “Education Policy” and “Community Development” courses. As the director of the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations, Krieberg had a keen perspective of the field. Throughout the semester several guest lecturers spoke to our class about their contributions to community development. Denniger, policy manager for the Massachusetts Department of Education, used specific education policy examples in Massachusetts as a scope for the national conversation on education. I often juxtaposed the policy questions discussed in class against New York’s education system for a better understanding.

I also enjoyed the rich cultural diversity found amongst my cohorts at SPPUA. I have met and formed friendships with both domestic and international students; for example, a group of Italian PhD students in my “Community Development” class was completing a year of study and research at Northeastern. To celebrate the end of the semester, a couple of them cooked an authentic Italian meal for me and another SPPUA student. I don’t think I can visit a chain Italian restaurant again after that meal.

This past semester, I also joined a new Northeastern graduate student group called the Graduate Students of Color Collective (GSCC). The group was formed to connect and foster fellowship amongst minority graduate students throughout the University’s many academic fields. If you are interested in joining the group, GSCC can be found in the My Student Involvement section in MyNEU.

In addition to starting a new set of classes this spring semester, I will be interning with the Massachusetts Area Planning Council, which is mainly responsible for land use planning for the 101 cities and towns of Metropolitan Boston. Over the past few years the agency has expanded its portfolio to include housing development, energy conservation, transportation, and more. I am excited to learn how the organization operates and the involved process of urban planning.

While I miss the simple things like a hot coffee and butter roll from a coffee cart and more late night options, I know moving to Boston to study at SPPUA was the best decision for my personal and professional growth. My first semester flew by and I know the next couple years will go by just as fast. I am looking forward to new experiences, friendships and the many opportunities to come.

Monique Gibbs is 2018 graduate from the Master of Public Administration Program. She was a member of the student group Graduate Students of Color Collective.

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