***A note from Ms. Saikia: All views expressed are my personal views and are not necessarily the views or the position of the Administration or the Government of the United States of America. Thank you.
1. You have been working in the Office of Management and Budget and we wonder, when you first applied to the PSM program, where did you imagine your degree would take you?
I pursued an MPA at The Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership because it was my understanding that in order to advocate powerfully on behalf of the public I needed to further my education.
When I applied to the PSM program, I was two years out of my undergraduate program, during which I spent some time working at a human rights advocacy firm in Cambodia. I was inspired to make this trip because by the time I had my diploma I decided that a career in the public sector or social services would best fit my values. My training in economics prepared me to approach problems analytically, but I wanted to learn how to approach problem solving through a macroscopic lens.
My MPA experience certainly added to my ability to think critically, but it also taught me how to evaluate policy ideas and articulate abstract concepts, and it provided me with ample practice to hone skills to work well on a team, which is fundamental to my job.
My decision to continue on the path of public service is work experience coupled with the value that I place in volunteership—it’s what helped me find my calling in public service in the first place—and it’s what enriches my work experiences. A few months ago I had a memorable experience when I volunteered to prepare food for a local soup kitchen. I rode in a taxi to drop off the food, but when I reached out to pay my fare, the driver wouldn’t accept my payment. He confided in me that there was a time in his life when he was homeless and he took his meals at this soup kitchen. Part of his silent thank you to the universe was not to charge me for the trip.
3. As an alumnus of the Colin Powell School, living outside of New York City, what advice would you give recent graduates about the opportunities that exist outside of the New York area?
There are several public sector opportunities, in all types of organizations, in New York City and external to the City; I think that you should use your judgment to examine the appropriate opportunities. At the e
nd of the day, a sizable part of a rich experience in any workplace, is the enthusiasm, diligence, and humility that you bring to the table.
My communication and analytical training have translated into my day-to-day work at The White House where I often need to rapidly analyze complex concepts, synthesize essential elements, and concisely communicate this information to diverse audiences, while working on a team or independently.
As for grit? I recall one semester when I held two fellowships and took five classes; I was also completing my Capstone project with The World Bank, all the while holding down the position of Policy Director of Economic Development at The Roosevelt Institute at The City College of New York. I knew it would be a busy semester, so I planned ahead as much as I could, for example I got into the habit of preparing and freezing the contents of my morning green smoothies (something I continue to do!), I scheduled workout sessions, and incrementally started to wake up earlier, until I was consistently waking up at 4am to get through the day.
There is no typical day in my job: I look forward to undertaking the daily experiences and challenges because I know that I have demonstrated an ability to remain even-keeled while sustaining high levels of effort in high-pressure situations before, therefore it can be done again.