In March 2014, as I was deciding between different graduate schools, I decided to visit Columbia for a campus tour at the Truman School of Public Affairs. As I was led through the hallway in the Middlebush building, I paused for a while at the glass doors of the Institute of Public Policy (IPP). Venus Reyes, a student ambassador accompanying me on the tour and a public policy enthusiast herself, briefly described the institute and her work at IPP. I remember thinking: how awesome it would be to work here!
Finally, I got an opportunity to work with IPP when I received a graduate research assistantship (GRA). From that day to a full two years later, I worked on a wide range of issues: developing depth of knowledge in certain areas and applying skills learnt in the Truman School. In fact, IPP is the laboratory where students practice, sharpen and refine the skills acquired in classes.
As a graduate assistant, a bulk of my time is devoted to researching issues, writing summaries of existing literature, synthesizing varied research available on the topic in a coherent manner, and sometimes breaking down complex jargon for ease of understanding. Over time, it has enhanced my ability to swiftly and strategically wade through vast amount of available research and multiple knowledge sources to extract pertinent, current and key information. It also included gathering reliable data from published sources to support the research and turning them into visually compelling graphics for reports; and preparing bibliographies. Another aspect of my assistantship is working with MS Excel to enter data obtained from surveys conducted for program evaluation and monitoring, familiarization with Qualtrics Survey software, survey design and building tracking sheets to enter survey data.
As an international student, these projects were also the perfect opportunities to learn more about issues confronting policymakers in Missouri, comparable experiences from other states and taking a deep dive into the complex world of policymaking. While researching these issues, I along with my colleagues, interviewed policy practitioners like Medicaid directors from select states, health workers at the local Family Health Centre and several others.
During my two years, some of the projects I worked on informed two reports for Women’s Foundation of Greater Kansas City; a report for the Ferguson Commission; evaluation reports for federally funded initiatives to reduce incidences of HIV transmission in the St. Louis area and substance abuse. I also received an opportunity to participate in professional development events: meeting of the Ferguson Commission on racial and economic disparity in St. Louis while working on the project, annual luncheon with Arianna Huffington, hosted by the Women’s Foundation in Kansas City and several other conferences with which IPP is associated.
As a graduate assistant, IPP offers a flexible work schedule which allows a fine balance between academic commitments and work responsibilities. IPP trains and prepares a student for the professional life ahead in ways which are essential to a successful career—whether it is the ability to produce high quality work under deadlines, collaborating with colleagues, mentorship or upholding highest work ethics. Most of all, it provides a supportive work environment where students are encouraged to actively contribute, take initiative and learn freely.