December 2016 Alumni Spotlight
December Alumni Spotlight with J.C. Soto, MPA ’15
Multiple areas of concentration can be a taxing prospect, but it was a must for alumni, J.C. Soto, helping him bridge the gap between two related disciplines in service of his professional aspirations. J.C. discusses his two areas of study, micro and macro challenges in the workplace, and his thoughts after walking away from his first encounter with MSPIA.
What brought you to the Marxe School of Public and International Affairs (MSPIA)?
After graduating with my Bachelors I knew obtaining a Masters was the next logical step. I knew I wanted a degree that would give me practical experience and help me develop my professional skill sets in the field of youth development. My mentor, Jason Nicolau who is also an MSPIA alum, suggested I look into their MPA program. He highlighted the affordability of the program, the faculty’s hands-on approach to learning, and most importantly the professional development opportunities I would receive as a graduate student. I decided to give his suggestion a shot and sat in on an information session. After the info session I walked away thinking, “I have to apply, I’ll regret it if I don’t!”
You concentrated on both Nonprofit Management and Higher Education Administration. Why did you choose these areas of focus? Have you found any parallels between them as you’ve progressed in your career?
I chose these areas of focus because my whole professional career has revolved around supporting students as they begin their postsecondary pathways; from the college application process to their academic persistence and success while they’re in college. With many nonprofit organizations doing great work in both college access and success, it is to my advantage that I understand how nonprofits work. It would allow me to make better decisions both programmatically and financially and develop new innovative ways of guiding my students through their paths. By the same token, institutions of higher education search for prospective students that will not only thrive on their campuses, but will bring the largest return of investment. If I am able to articulate the goals and perspectives of the institutions then I can inform my students on a deeper level. In the end, I believed that concentrating in both fields created a bridge where I could transfer knowledge and experience to achieve great success in my career.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face as Associate Director of Pre-Collegiate Programs at Barnard College? How do the knowledge and skills gained during your time at MSPIA enable you to face them?
In any new role, you’ll face challenges on a micro and macro scale. When I began at Barnard, I came into a department that was well established. Thus, how could I add my own piece of creativity without making my colleagues feel as though I’m overhauling their work? When managing personnel you want to make sure you’re able to support and develop their skill sets, but being aware that you’re learning as well. These are some of the micro challenges I face as I continue to grow in my position as Associate Director. A challenge I face on a macro scale is convincing the students, faculty, and administration who do not know our department why a 7th-12th grade program on a college campus is just as important as any other program offered at Barnard.
One of the many lessons I learned at MSPIA was being able to show how everything connects to a greater purpose. As a department we demonstrate that we’re more than just a 7th-12th grade program, we’re connected throughout the entire institution. We are able to provide leadership development to Barnard students through teaching assistant opportunities. Faculty members provide mentorship for our students through internship and research opportunities. Finally, our administration are able to get a sneak preview of students who have a desire to continue their studies at Barnard. What better way to know the potential return of investment of a student than a dedicated pre-collegiate who creates amazing projects and captivates their community while exalting the Barnard name?