April 2015 Faculty Spotlight
April Faculty Spotlight with Adjunct Lecturer, Marco DeSena
What happens when you start on what seems to be a prescribed career path and it veers in ways you couldn’t anticipate? Many are thrown by this ebb and flow, but Marco DeSena embraces it – and now he teaches various classes at the School, including Public Affairs in New York, and Policy and Politics. We chat about his journey, his approach to teaching, and his advice to aspiring professionals.
You started here as an undergraduate in the BSPA program, the continued on to a Masters, went into politics and finally, teaching. Can you tell me about this progression?
I don’t ?know if I would call it progression per se. It didn’t follow a logical process, and there wasn’t always growth. The one thing I was good at was trying different things. I was lucky enough to land a placement in the NYC Urban Fellows program upon graduating from the School of Public Affairs as an undergraduate. I went on to grad school from there out of a desire to study global politics at the London School of Economics. There’s little connection between working for the Department of Education in NYC and then studying comparative politics abroad. And then, afterward, getting into politics and political campaigns was more of a calling than a job, and one in which I was always involved on the periphery. Teaching, however, had absolutely no rhyme or reason to it, it just came up. It was Jennifer Harrington at the School of Public Affairs who first thought it would be a good experience and who talked me into trying a class, and Jerry Mitchell was supportive and encouraged me. One class turned into two which turned into three and, well, you get the picture! None of these steps were planned very well, but all were fun, exciting, and different at the time and each one greatly interested me for its own reasons. That’s why I wouldn’t necessarily call it “progress”. Definitely a journey, though.
So would you recommend a non-linear career pathway such as yours to aspiring professionals or a more focused approach? Certainly there must be benefits and pitfalls to each.
No, I absolutely would not recommend a non-linear path. Not because it hasn’t worked out for me, but because it just wasn’t something I actively chose, but rather something that happened to me. I advise all students and graduates to see what works for them. Certainly there are advantages and disadvantages in both approaches (a more direct, linear approach or the less structured journey, like mine). And I think–like most things in life–the answer lies somewhere in between. In any job search, I think you have to set parameters. Not rigid ones, but you should have a rough goal, a measure of what “success” looks like to you. But you should also be open to new and different experiences. Personally if I had to go back and do it all again, I’d think more about my “career” as a pathway with an objective, rather than as a collection of positive experiences. I’d give way more thought to grad school, rather than think it’s “just something one must do” (no, one does not have to!). The point is, one size rarely fits all. Honestly, being more thoughtful–more deliberate–all around would be my mission. I think everyone, at the beginning or middle of their careers, would benefit from drafting up some type of Career Plan, whether that take the form of a list of broad objectives or a more detailed agenda, with real, concrete steps to an actual job.
Can you tell us about the courses you’ve taught?
I have only taught a handful of courses here, but they’re courses and content I really love, and all have very, very great applicability to the real world. So, while I don’t know if I can say one course is “essential” or not, I do believe that one of the hallmarks of the School of Public Affairs is that we prepare our students in a number of ways for a wide variety of jobs in government, non-profits, and even in private industry. I aim to have a rather high level of applicability in my courses. So, I would hope that every course I teach has some “essential” qualities in them, some skills or lessons that students take away that works for them when they head out into internships or careers in the real world. Whether it’s researching, communication, knowledge of how government agencies interact or how political campaigns are actually run, I try to have this question of “How can students use this material in the real world?” in the back of my mind.