My Journey to an MPA: Why I Chose Cornell

My Journey to an MPA: Why I Chose Cornell-image

Sarah Brown is a first-year CIPA student.  An organic farmer from Washington State, she spent last year in a small village in Hungary as a Fulbright Fellow, studying rural social innovation. She has come to CIPA hoping to build her tool-kit, which will allow her to be more effective in pushing a positive agenda for social change. Sarah has brought her two elementary-aged children with her to Ithaca and is single-parenting these two years while her husband stays behind to work in Washington.

I haven’t taken the straight and narrow road from high school to grad school. Sure, I was in leadership positions and running non-profits starting at about 15, but when I got to a great private liberal arts college I decided that I was seeking more hands-on experience than time in the classroom. I left college to do physical and community work. I worked on wilderness trail crews and then started my own organic farm.  Now I tell anyone who asks that I am the poster child for getting your bachelor’s degree soon after high school because after running my farm, engaging with even more non-profits and having kids I started taking a class a quarter (so I could pay as I went) and took 10 more years (!!!) to graduate-summa cum laude!

After I graduated (at long last) it was time to fulfill another dream: I wanted to receive a Fulbright Fellowship and see how people live and thrive in rural areas in a completely different part of the world. Because I have such an intense passion for community development I designed and was awarded a Fulbright research position to examine rural social innovation in Hungary. My family and I rented out the farm (and had to leave our wonderful dog for the year) and took an enormous leap from being homesteaders to world-travelers.

As soon as I left home I knew I was thirsty for more than just one year of exposure to a breadth and depth of new ideas and resources, and grad school seemed like an obvious great step to solidify my public administration and non-profit skills -and learn about the skills I didn’t even know I was missing. I looked at MPA programs all over the world and realized that I didn’t want a cookie cutter MPA; I wanted more of a design-your-own-adventure MPA with a strong set of core courses and faculty and the ability to mold my coursework out of classes that will present perspectives and skills I can use to round-out my existing knowledge. Of course, having a family meant my Excel spreadsheet for grad school also included things like the quality of local public schools, access to hiking and Nordic skiing, established resources on-campus for people like me with kids, public transit and easy walking, and lots of good food. I figured this selection process was a good time to be really picky.

Needless to say, Cornell and Ithaca topped the list, especially combined with the incredibly responsive staff and faculty at CIPA. Only a month and a half into grad school and my family and I have settled into a good routine—though my husband is living in Washington State for these two years and we miss him. I think being a single parent going through grad school helps me stay incredibly focused on my end goal (graduating with a great job), that and staying focused on what’s for dinner on any given night. 

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