August 2023 Alumni Spotlight
Alumna Monique Watson discusses her first-generation upbringing, her Marxe MPA experience, her involvement in nonprofits and more in this month’s alumni spotlight.
Tell us about your journey as a first-generation former foster youth to carving your career path with a Marxe MPA.
Growing up in low-income neighborhoods between Brooklyn and the Bronx throughout my childhood and teenage years, the one thing that was always reinforced to me was the value of an education. My mom had dropped out of high school during her teen years and later went on to get her GED. Due to her own personal setbacks and struggles, she turned to drugs and alcohol and my brother and I ended up being removed from her care as infants. I was raised by my older cousins/godparents while my older brother went to live with our grandmother. No one in my immediate family has ever attended college. However, my godparents always encouraged me to think big about my future and made me feel as though I could achieve anything that I put my mind to.
When it eventually came time for me to apply to college I felt extremely overwhelmed because there were so many options available and steps to complete and it was difficult to manage the process on my own. However, I did my research, worked closely with my foster care agency and school counseling office and was able to secure scholarships and other financial supports to make the transition easier. During my time in undergrad I was able to intern in the U.S. Department of State, study abroad in Spain and volunteer for community based organizations that made it clear for me that nonprofits and mission based organizations would be the best fit for me.
After completing my undergraduate degree, I initially worked in administrative support and disability services. However, after obtaining my MPA, I successfully transitioned into program management. More recently, I have secured a role within my organization as a business strategist in training through a fellowship program we house. Completing my MPA at Baruch was instrumental in enabling me to seize these later opportunities. It equipped me with the essential skills and knowledge required for career advancement. Before pursuing my master’s degree, I spent five years in a the same role within my current organization. While I occasionally undertook smaller projects that pushed my boundaries, I lacked the confidence to pursue higher-level positions. The MPA program pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to confront intimidating concepts like microeconomics and financial analysis. Ultimately, it revealed my capacity to transition from a support role to becoming an organizational leader.
What did you think of your MPA classes, professors, and peers at the Marxe School?
I had an amazing experience during my program and studies. I was surrounded by students and professors who really cared about your progress throughout the program and were often willing to meet outside of scheduled classes to assist with questions and concerns that came up. While attending Baruch I was also able to be a part of the Black History Month Planning Committee, attend events hosted by the Marxe School and participate in the MPA Club and Graduate Student Assembly. Since completing my program in 2021 I still keep in contact with a couple of my peers through social media and text. Making connections with others who share common values, goals and interests has been really special.
What do you do as a Fellow in the Strategy Leadership Program at The College Board?
As a Fellow I am a part of a 2-year program designed to build a diverse leadership pipeline at the College Board and provide individuals with career opportunities that utilize their problem-solving and strategy skills. Part of my work is focused on learning and development including but not limited to participating in case study discussions, shadowing/mentorship, informational interviews, and training modules. The other part of my work is focused on conducting research and analysis, problem solving, and drafting memos and proposals as part of assigned projects. I work closely with other members of the Strategy Team and senior leaders across the organization to advance organizational priorities.
What got you interested in nonprofits and mission-based organizations? How do these function better with diverse voices that represent the communities they serve?
What got me interested in nonprofits and mission-based organizations, and specifically education nonprofits, was my first-hand experience going to college and seeing how transformational it was in my own life. While I understand that college is not ideal for some students, I do believe that we should be doing what we can as a society to remove barriers for students who do see it was something they want to pursue. This is where I believe diverse voices and experiences play a role. In order to best serve communities, you need to have an understanding of who it is you are trying to help. For example, in the world of education, access and equity we hear a lot of talk about disadvantaged and minority communities, but when you look at the executive leadership of some of the most premier organizations trying to support these populations there are few individuals from a modest background or who are racially diverse. That’s why I am excited about programs like the Strategy Leadership Program at College Board. It was intentionally designed to equip diverse individuals with the skills needed to have a seat at the decision-making table.
You participated in the Executives on Campus program at Baruch College. Can you talk a bit about that?
During the past school year, I had the opportunity to serve as an EOC mentor at Baruch. I worked closely with a graduating senior, assisting her in identifying and pursuing her goals for life after graduation. Together we were to review and revise her resume, strategize how to approach the application process for various internships and job opportunities, and were able to build a friendly and positive rapport. My main motivation for participating in the program was to continue to pay it forward. Throughout my college experience, I had others around me to encourage me and reassure me that there is no one way to get to success. That was something I constantly reiterated to my mentee. We all have a path or a journey that is unique to us and one setback doesn’t have to define your future.