March 2018 Student Spotlight
March Student Spotlight with Andrew Sokolof, MPA ’18
For some outstanding students, aspiring to influence future policy not enough – they feel the need to take matters into their own hands in the present. MPA student, Andrew Sokolof tells us about his CUNY-wide Puerto Rico relief initiative, his recent aid trip to Mexico after last year’s earthquakes, working for the City Council, and more.
Tell us about the CUNYwide Puerto Rico relief trip you are organizing. When does it take place? How can people get involved?
The Puerto Rico relief trip I am organizing in an evolving effort. Essentially, my goal is to have this effort become the first major initiative as part of Baruch and CUNYs commitment to supporting and helping Puerto Rico rebuild. As of now, a collective of CUNY students from Baruch, Hunter, the Grad Center, Queens College and more are organizing with faculty and the administration to have students take an exploratory and relief trip to Puerto Rico while collaborating with existing aid groups on the ground to assess, bring aid and relief, well as document what life is like on the island nearly 6 months after Hurricane Maria. Our goal is to visit the island during Spring Break, if not, at the end of the current semester.
Just as our city continues to rebuild and become more resilient as a result of the devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy, just 5 years ago – CUNY students as New Yorkers, will have an opportunity to show support and solidarity with Puerto Ricans during trying times, be it in rebuilding homes, distributing aid, or documenting the effects, government response and rebuilding efforts on the ground. If any student is interested in participating or joining us, please feel free to e-mail me directly.
You recently traveled to Mexico to provide assistance after the devastating earthquakes of last fall – can you tell us about that?
My experience in Mexico and visiting the devastated towns near the epicenter of the earthquake was pretty life-changing for me. With the support of my wife’s family there, I had an opportunity to do something direct and different, especially with all the hateful, xenophobic commentary and attacks against immigrants coming from the White House and this President. This trip was also personal and important for me to show support for the Mexican/Latinx community. Two days after the earthquake, I landed in Mexico City with a suitcase full of relief items and medicine and although it was not nearly enough, I was able to provide relief to many families and children. I started my first crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe and with the help of friends and strangers, I purchased relief items like food, water, medicine, infant formula and essential hygiene items to help those who had lost everything. With this help, they were able to survive in the immediate aftermath with little to no government help.
I documented what I saw and worked with local groups and volunteers to bring aid for several days to the more isolated areas where the need for basic items and shelter is still needed today. I plan to return in 2018 to the same towns and see how they are progressing, especially in the town of Jojutla, Morelos where I witnessed the most devastation and continue coordinating with volunteers known as #Brigada55 (the 55th Brigade) who have been providing all sorts of relief and rebuilding support. They are a group of local residents and engineers, architects and professionals from throughout Mexico that have dedicated their time, funds, and lives to supporting Jojutla. They currently working on expanding their social media presence and donation page to ramp up their efforts.
Tell us about your MPA experience at the Marxe School thus far. What are you learning? What do you hope to accomplish both in your life and in service of others with your degree?
My experience working toward my MPA degree at the Marxe School has been great since I started in the Fall of 2015. I’ve learned a lot and become better equipped at examining and scrutinizing public policy as well as the intricacies of managing an organization whether it be a government agency or nonprofit. I am currently taking Fundraising & Grants Administration (PAF9152) and Leadership & Strategies (PAF9163), which have been very insightful courses thus far. The MPA program provides a well-rounded curriculum for us to understand the realm of public affairs comprehensively.
With this degree, I hope to continue being a public servant where I can apply my skill set and experiences toward helping improve the lives of New Yorkers. In the bigger picture, my goal is to work with like-minded professionals to improve the socioeconomic conditions of folks in our underserved communities, who need better policies that dedicate support and access so that they too can reach their full potential, contribute and become better represented.
You’ve worked for various officeholders at the state and city level over the last few years. What have you learned in those positions? What were some of your most substantial accomplishments?
After becoming involved in advocacy at (QCC) Queensborough Community College, with the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), a nonprofit student led advocacy group on CUNY/SUNY campuses who advocate for better public policies at the local and federal level, I came to better understand the importance of the legislative process as a vehicle for change. I had the privilege of interning in Albany and later working for the State Assembly, where I learned how to draft and research legislation, several of which became law in recent years. Locally, in my community, I oversaw the first official public artwork to local victims of the 9/11 attacks by partnering with Groundswell, an organization that works with at-risk youth and professional artists to use art as a tool for social change.
While working for the City Council, I spearheaded district projects and events which helped engage thousands of residents, connect them with services and become louder community stakeholders. Two major victories were the establishment of safety improvements and bike lanes on 111th Street at the entrance of Flushing Meadows Corona Park which has brought desperately needed changes to a dangerous street and another was the Forgiving Fines NYC program in late 2016 that was rolled out by the Department of Finance. This program provided a 3-month waiver on violation penalty fees for property-owners, individuals, and businesses with outstanding tickets and allowed folks to clear their records or liens with the City while paying off these tickets without the added fees. By engaging the community, we were able to save residents thousands of dollars in penalties and remove them from the yearly lien sale list on their properties.