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Here Are All of My Favorite Cornell MPA Experiences — Jiaying's Thoughts

Posted by Jiaying Li on 6/26/19 7:52 AM

Jiaying Li graduated from CIPA in May of 2018 with a concentration in Economic and Financial Policy. She is employed as a Business Analyst for A.T. Kearney, a global management consulting firm, and is based in Shanghai, China. 

She was kind enough to speak the Cornell MPA team and gave a detailed list of all of her favorite things about getting an MPA degree at Cornell University. Here's what this empathetic, intelligent, and forward-thinking MPA graduate had to say about her personal experience.

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What made you choose CIPA over other programs you were considering?

Flexibility. CIPA gave me a lot freedom to discover what I’m good at and what I’m passionate about. It also allowed me to create a tailored curriculum that fit my interests and needs. 

What are your long-term career goals?

Someday I would like to create my own NGO/social enterprise in the education field. I studied philosophy and worked for an educational NGO in China before I came to CIPA, and I know what areas I need to improve upon in order to run an organization one day:

1) Figure out my own approach. I want to work for the private sector for a variety of reasons — to boost my capacity and aggregate resources for an NGO. CIPA gave me a chance to talk to professors in a range of departments including Policy Analysis and Management, Industrial and Labor Relations, and the SC Johnson College of Business. CIPA’s networking events also allowed me to talk to people in consulting firms, the education sector, and international organizations. All of these interactions helped me realize that I had a lot to learn from the private sector in terms of management skills and efficient working style, which would be of benefit to me when I ran my own NGO down the road.

2) Better understanding of society. Courses I took at CIPA helped me understand the rationale of current society behind NGOs, as well as the private and public sectors. For example, Microeconomics and Public Finance were two courses that illustrated how the market works and what kind of taxation would be considered as efficient. The international NGO cases that we studied with Professor Uphoff helped me understand why those NGOs exist and how they interact with corporations and governments to solve problems.

3) Better communication skills. CIPA courses included a lot of group project opportunities. One’s communication skill are put to the test during group meetings when team members need to establish a timeline, figure out next steps, and divide work. It requires listening to others carefully and expressing yourself precisely in a limited amount of time.

What would you say are the top three reasons that CIPA was a good fit for you?

1) Flexibility. In consultation with my advisor, I was able to select the courses that fit my needs the best in terms of short-term and long-term goals.

2) Hands-on experience. I took Sustainable Global Enterprise from Cornell’s MBA program, where we conducted a consulting project for a real world client. This experience was necessary for me to decide if consulting was a career I wanted to pursue. The experience was also essential to list on my résumé, once I decided to look for employment in the consulting field.

3) International exposure. It is amazing that, through CIPA, I now have friends from all around the world. It has been both fascinating and educational to talk with these peers about the issues in their countries, such as drugs in South America, female rights in South Asia, and the humanitarian movement in the Middle East. 

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

  • CIPA Professor Norman Uphoff. Once when we were discussing agriculture development in rural China, he told me, “Some farmers are much smarter than me, and if they were born in my family, they would probably have made a greater impact than I have.” Through that talk, I realized that each of our families, our educational backgrounds, the people that surround us, and the events we experience — all randomly happen in our lives and shape who we are. This is crucial for running an NGO because only when you can truly understand the needs from the perspective of those you’re working with can the project be effective. The people who may need our help are not inferior to us; they just may not have been as fortunate as us.
  • Pakistan trek. This is an experience that I will never forget. I probably would have never visited Pakistan in my life if CIPA’s Pakistani students hadn’t arranged this trip over spring break. We met and spoke with the prime minister, the chief of the army, the founder of the best national university and business leaders. I was quite impressed by the passion that each of these individuals displayed towards their country and their people. The two most important lessons I learned were: 1) do not judge a country’s policy without understanding its situation and history; and 2) passion is not something found only in young people: True passion does not fade despite the years.

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

CIPA has a close community because most of us share similar values. CIPA people are warm-hearted, and care deeply about others and society in general. The first year was a little bit hard for me because I have not taken economic and quantitative courses before. My course mates helped me a lot when I was struggling with the workload. Later, my CIPA friends offered me a lot of emotional support when I was job hunting and had three interviews a week.

In terms of the future, it is exciting that if I travel to any part of the world, I will meet up with a friend there. Most importantly, I know that when I struggle or get confused, there will be someone I’ve met at CIPA who I can talk to.

Is there anything else about the CIPA program, about the opportunities here, or about your particular experience that you would like to share?

CIPA has given me greater exposure to a larger world. I used to focus only on NGOs. Now I understand that there are different ways you can go about solving a social problem--through public policy, through the work of an NGO or government office, or through the work of a for-profit company. The most important thing is to find a vehicle to pursue your work that allows you to do what you are good at and that intrigues you at the same time. I’m glad I have had the chance to better understand myself during the past two years at CIPA.

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