8 Ways Cornell Exceeded My Expectations as an MPA Student

8 Ways Cornell Exceeded My Expectations as an MPA Student-image

Jairo Sebastian Mena Arce, a 2018 graduate of Cornell University's MPA program, pursued a concentration in Science, Technology and Infrastructure Policy while getting an MPA. In the story below, Jairo talks in great detail about why he chose Cornell's MPA, why Cornell was a good fit for him, why an MPA is worth it, and the eight "stand out" experiences he had while at Cornell.

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What made you choose Cornell's MPA over other MPA programs you were considering?

Choosing CIPA was due to many different reasons. However, I want to share the two most important ones; one general and another more specific. In one hand, CIPA opens the doors to a great variety of courses offered by Cornell, which represents an immense gateway to knowledge. On the other hand, after having accumulated 9 years of work experience in the infrastructure sector, the Science, Technology and Infrastructure Policy (STIP) concentration offered the "mastering" of knowledge I needed to consolidate my career.

But the top three reasons I Cornell's MPA was a good fit for me are:

1. Science, Technology, and Infrastructure Policy concentration

2. Huge variety of learning options

3. Interdisciplinary and multicultural student cohort

Are there any particular “stand out” experiences at CIPA that made a lasting impact on you?

During the two years of MPA, I had limitless experiences and each of them with a different and unique impact on me. I cannot list them all, but I will highlight some of the most outstanding ones:

1. Certification IPMF, Infrastructure Policy, Management and Finance: The IPMF certification is one of the additional tools for improving students’ profiles offered by CIPA. IPMF consists of a series of courses that are beyond a simple certification; it is a team experience that introduces you to a potential and growing market.

2. Infrastructure Practicum in NYC: One of the best courses I took in my MPA. The practicum is a course that takes you to the field to analyze a real project. In my case, we analyzed the feasibility of a streetcar connection between Brooklyn and Queens (BQX) in NYC. During the project, we collected information from primary and secondary sources, we interacted with the main stakeholders of the project to reach our conclusions and recommendations.

3. Infrastructure Courses: Many courses were important for me; however I want to highlight Infrastructure Finance and Infrastructure Policy. These two courses contain the theoretical material necessary to successfully face infrastructure projects.

4. Internship: I did my internship at Democracy Lab located in Syracuse, NY. During this experience, I interacted with the main infrastructure stakeholders in Costa Rica, which helped me to learn more about the infrastructure environment as well as networking. 

5. The SMART Project: CIPA gave me the necessary support to be part of the Student Multidisciplinary Applied Research Team program or SMART, in Colombia. One of the general goals of SMART is supporting the development of emerging economies by simultaneously strengthening private strategies and public policies. My team and I worked with a farmers’ coffee federation to collaborate with them to place biofertilizer products in the market. This included a cost-benefit study related to the infrastructure necessary for production.

6. APPAM 2018 Conference: thanks to CIPA, I had the opportunity to present a paper about entrepreneurship in Costa Rica that I was writing in conjunction with the Research Institute of Economic Sciences of the University of Costa Rica (IICE). The conference was hosted by the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM) and took place in Los Angeles, California. During the conference I not only presented the paper but also, I had the opportunity to interact with a large number of students from different American Universities and learning from their projects.

7. International Capstone: the Capstone Project took me back to Colombia, where my team and I worked together with the Popayan Mayor's Office and the Universidad del Cauca to find solutions to improve the tourism in the region. This experience led me to interact with top policymakers of public management as well as with a large number of private actors, a perfect preparation for my future endeavors.

8. Professor John Foote: in general terms, the professors and administrative staff of CIPA are high-quality professionals, nevertheless, I want to highlight one in specific. Professor Foote led the Infrastructure Practicum and the IPMF, and thanks to his conviction and passion for teaching, both experiences were of the highest level. His knowledge and experience led my expectations about CIPA being exceeded. I highly recommend taking at least one class with John Foote. 

How would you describe the sense of community you find at CIPA? 

At CIPA you find students with a great diversity of cultures and backgrounds. But more than being an obstacle, it represents a unique opportunity to expand cultural borders and develop strong friendships and professional ties. The group work at CIPA results in an adaptation and learning experience. Working simultaneously with fellows of different countries and professions represents a very pleasant task that prepares students to face the same situations in similar or even more complicated conditions. 

What are your long-term career goals? How did CIPA help prepare you for these?

Talking about long-term goals is complicated because fulfilling them or not is related to many external factors not always within our control. Nevertheless, in the long term I want to collaborate with the development of infrastructure in my country, and thanks to CIPA I have the theoretical and even practical bases (infrastructure practicum) to achieve it. Later, I want to develop an entrepreneurship that gives me the opportunity to experience a project of my own from scratch. Last but not least, I want to finish my professional life as a teacher, to transfer the acquired knowledge, both academic and professional, to future generations.

As I expected at Cornell and CIPA, I found and took the courses that were easily adaptable to my needs. As an additional bonus, I want to highlight how the extracurricular academic and multicultural experiences throughout the MPA gave me a new and invaluable perspective of the world.

Is there anything else about the CIPA program you would like to share?

CIPA offers students the opportunity to challenge themselves. The wide variety of available courses and the wide variety of extracurricular activities offer unlimited possibilities during the 2 years of the MPA. When CIPA fellows have clear objectives, CIPA provides them with the necessary tools to achieve their goals.

If you have questions about attending Cornell University's Institute for Public Affairs, we encourage you to request more information today!

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