March 2022 Alumni Spotlight
Marxe alumnus and Special Assistant to CM Rita Joseph & Infrastructure Policy Advisor at the New York City Council, Joel Desouve tells us all about his MPA experience; his research with Professor Pathak which studies budgets voted and executed for more than 20 years for Senegal, Uganda, Rwanda, and 30 other countries; and his various fellowships, internships, and more.
What was your MPA experience like at the Marxe School?
My MPA experience at the Marxe School has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life. It involved several aspects. It starts with accessing valuable resources, receiving assistance from diligent academic and career advisors, getting exceptional financial support, and participating in numerous career and networking events. I had the privilege of connecting with some of the city’s brightest graduate students, making lasting friends, collaborating with some of the most compassionate professors I know. Additionally, I had meaningful conversations about race social & economic justice with most of my professors. I did constructive group projects focused on improving several social issues with my classmates and more. All of that made my MPA experience valuable and unforgettable.
Meanwhile, taking online classes, navigating my MPA in the middle of a pandemic, maintaining a healthy and active life within my community, and staying in touch with family members and friends back home in Haiti made my experience very challenging.
(A note regarding Haiti, for the past four years, my country’s economic, social, and political situation has been in complete chaos. Each time I think about my family, friends, and compatriots’ unsafe and unstable way of living, it hurts my heart. And it often took me away from my academic responsibilities. We want change! Maintaining my social and community life and working to financially sustain myself while remaining an honor student help me understand how resilient, creative, and strong I am. I am grateful for the Marxe School team as a whole!)
To put everything into context, I came to the United States in December 2015. By September 2016, I had already lived independently. I started providing everything for myself and some of my relatives back home in Haiti. A year later, in Spring 2017, I started my bachelor’s at Baruch and graduated in August 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in Public Affairs and Social Communication with mention: Cum Laude. (Special thank you to Ms. Dionne Brown and Sandra Kupprat for empowering me and pushing me to use my full potential to achieve everything I have done so far). I am thankful for my former professors, former Senator Thomas Duane and Nigel sizer, Chief Global Alliances Officer at Rainforest Alliance. They advised and recommended me for the MPA program. I started my MPA the same year after completing my bachelor’s degree. I did my Master of Public Administration with Policy Analysis & Evaluation at the Marxe School. And I will forever be grateful for the experience and more!
During my MPA experience, one of the most significant issues I faced was housing instability. It was related to financial and non-financial reasons. By the time I completed my two-year MPA program, I had moved to three different apartments. It is like being a nomad! Access to safe housing is a human right. In New York City, too many people face housing instability every year and sleep in shelters every night. We need more affordable housing for people to live decently. I know firsthand and research on the role of having a safe space to live has in one academic and career success! Another issue I faced was health care. Access to good quality and affordable health care system is a human right. I was admitted into the ER of Brooklyn Health Center twice in my two-year program. I had one surgery (a cancer prevention intervention). Gratefully, my health care insurance covered all the costs. No one should avoid going to a hospital or seeing a doctor because one cannot afford the medical bills!
Despite all these obstacles mentioned above, the resources and support I received from my career and academic advisors, compassionate professors, and classmates made the experience worth doing! My career and education advisors always have that willingness to review my resume, do interview preps, discuss my course plan with me, and more. Most of my professors went above and beyond to provide constructive feedback to help me succeed in my courses. My professors did not shy away from telling me how much they appreciate the perspectives I brought to the table during our class conversations. Some challenged my views on specific issues and helped me see the broader picture. Thinking critically and seeing the bigger picture are what my MPA is about. I am grateful for the high quality of education that the Marxe School provided me with during my MPA. I am confident that it will propel me to where I want to be in life.
Can you tell us about your Research Assistantship with Professor Rahul Pathak and your research?
My Assistantship with Professor Rahul Pathak has been an excellent opportunity for me to remain in the academic world and do research while working on the ground providing direct services to my Council Member’s constituents. To begin, it is worth explaining how I got the job. It all started when the Professor was looking for a student with French (and other languages such as Spanish/Portuguese less critical) to gather data and analyze budget documents related to 30+ African countries. Wooserk, now a Ph.D. candidate and a former Marxe School student I connected with during an Alumni event in DC, recommended me to the professor. The professor knew me. I took his Public Finance and Budgeting class in the Spring 2020 session when Covid-19 first started in the United States. (I got an A for the course). The professor contacted me, asked me to send him my resume, and interviewed me via phone; the rest is history. We have been working together since March 2021.
The professor and I created an extensive and accurate dataset for Senegal from 2000 to 2020 with more than 15 budget categories and subcategories. A comprehensive dataset like this seems extremely difficult to find. A few International Organizations have a similar dataset, but the information can be inaccurate. They only have data for 5 to 10 years maximum (referring to the official documents we got from Senegal’s Ministry of Budget and Finance). Our dataset provides numbers on budgets voted and executed for more than 20 years for Senegal, Uganda, Rwanda, and 30 other countries (some are in completion). We have done some analyses, and now we are on our way to reviewing the document and publishing the results. The studies are done on the accuracy and transparency of the Senegal Government to forecast and execute its budgets. And see the improvement over the years regarding reform implemented.
What internship did you take part in and what did you learn?
I did two internships, one fellowship and ambassadorship, and a year-long assistantship during my MPA program at the Marxe School. The amount of knowledge and experience I have gained is unfolding day after day, and I can’t be prouder enough of myself. It seems like I have received a “Crash Course” on navigating the social, political, economic, and financial New York City life. If you can make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere. Considering the dearth of resources I have had in my six years, the accomplishments are worth applauding; and my Baruch College education has a lot to do with that too. I am grateful that I got my bachelor’s degree and MPA at Baruch College in five years with honors! In around three years, I networked and participated in numerous political activities that I could never imagine doing five years before when I started at Baruch! I was working at a coffee shop in Williamsburg at that time. I am grateful for the support and encouragement I received from my Manager Jonathan and my colleagues. It takes a village!
My first internship in government started with Mr. Jumaane D. Williams, the Public Advocate of New York City. I interned with Mr. Williams’ office in Fall 2018. As a New York City Council Member, he represented the 45th Council District. That experience exposed me to the world of Public Affairs and Policy. My first assignment was to represent Mr. Williams at a meeting at the Brooklyn Borough Hall with Mr. Eric Adams, the current Mayor of the City of New York, several other elected officials (Senators and Assembly Members), representatives of community groups, and some elected officials’ staffers. A team was doing a presentation on congestion pricing for NYC. It was a big assignment; the Chief of Staff trusted my ability, and I delivered. I am grateful until this day to him and Mr. Williams for having so much trust in me! Then after I became a star in City Hall, all the City Council Members knew me.
During the New York City Council internship, I went to more than 20 hearings, budget briefings, and training. I was involved in so many activities that some elected officials thought I was a staffer. It is the norm for Mr. Williams and his Chief of Staff to engage their interns in many meetings and training. The more they see you willing to get involved, they will put you in positions to do so except, of course, for meetings and information that we were not authorized to access at a specific time. (I would encourage everyone interested in Public Affairs/Policy and Public Administration to apply and get an internship at his office! The process can be tedious, but it is well worth your time and sacrifices). I was so involved and comfortable that Professor Tom Duane told me I had an ‘A’ before submitting my final presentation paper.
My second internship with Public Advocate Williams was from Fall 2020 to Spring 2021. I was his Public Policy Intern – Advocate Infrastructure and Environmental Justice. That internship taught me almost everything I know now about Infrastructure and Environmental Justice. We collaborated and discussed implementing the public policies to address climate violence, air pollution, clean water, green energy, green spaces, promoting the Green New Deal, protected bike lanes, transportation justice, and more. I learned and connected with numerous community groups and community organizers. Some of them are among the biggest names in sustainability and climate justice. That experience provided me with enormous exposure and opened my eyes to several environmental issues and gave me essential public policies tools to improve them!
Despite not having the critical knowledge about Infrastructure and Environmental Justice -I&EJ at that time, Baruch College’s valuable expertise in public affairs and policy helped me grasp a massive amount of information faster than one can imagine. I participated in meetings and workshops and interacted with community groups as if my interest had always been in I&EJ. My preferred areas were social and economic justice and criminal justice (I wrote several papers on recidivism and re-entry). During the first two weeks of my internship at the OPA, I went from not knowing what environmental justice was to becoming an essential element in helping my department get several policies implemented. Shout out to my supervisor, the Deputy Advocate of Infrastructure and Environmental Justice, for including me in everything he was doing and making sure that anything I had to say was clearly and loudly heard and taken into consideration.
Besides my internships with Mr. Williams, I interned with the New York State Assembly Mathylde Frontus and fellowship with the University Student Senate (CUNY USS). They were two great experiences. They showed a different side of government and how to go about policy analysis and implementation at a different level. I was and will always be an Ambassador for CUNY Black Male Initiative. They are doing an incredible job with their BMI students in providing them with resources from internships, fellowships, community, and networking events to succeed in all aspects of their lives. They need more funding to continue doing their excellent work—finally, my Assistantship with Professor Rahul Pathak. You cannot ask for a better collaborator than Mr. Pathak! All these internships combined with the theoretical knowledge I acquired at the Marxe School had helped me create a solid background and led me to my next steps, including my current job with Council Member Rita Joseph’s office.
I had always wanted to work within my community, primarily my Haitians, Caribbean, and low and moderate income people. I have dreamed about doing that since 2018. I had refused several opportunities that came my way to focus my energy on getting a job in Brooklyn within this specific demographic. Community Development is one of the main areas I want to build my career around. I am making someone that I will be even more proud of in 5 to 10 years from now! I understood that it is always ingenious to learn new technologies in a more advanced country and go back to the point of origin to apply them. I aim to do that!
What do you do as Special Assistant & Infrastructure Policy Advisor at the Office of NYC Councilmember Rita Joseph?
I should start by saying that I am very proud that I am one of Council Member Rita Joseph’s team members. She is a brilliant and highly talented person. I first met her days after she won the Democratic Primary. I did not know much about her, but as soon as she won the Primary, I learned who she is and understood her values and the policies she wants to implement in Council District 40 and New York City at large. And unexpectedly, a friend linked us up. I collaborated with her during her second campaign period for the general election. I expressed my willingness to work with her at the New York City Council office during the process. I submitted my resume, went through a three-step interview process, and got the job. I am her Special Assistant and Infrastructure Policy Advisor. As she likes to say, I created the position. I focused on projects and aspects that would improve the constituents’ quality of life in CD40. I take my job seriously and always see what I am doing as a vital part of a more extensive system. What we do makes New York City the most fantastic city on earth!
In my position, I handle several projects. I manage the Participatory Budgeting – PB process. PB is a process in which an NYC Council Member asks the community to decide what to do with at least $1 million which projects (expenses or capital) to fund. It is done in a very democratic manner. I handle matters related to Transit – MTA, Streets (DOT), Projects in Parks (DPR), and Sanitation (DSNY). Also, I provide direct services to constituents in issues related to Immigration, Housing, Social Benefits, and Health.
Additionally, I assist Council Member Joseph directly and represent the office in Community Board meetings, meetings with the 67th Precinct, Council Clergy, and other events she and her Chief of Staff want me to attend on her behalf (e.g., a bank branch grand opening). My job mainly focuses on community services and development, which completes my background! If you look at my resume, you will see someone who has some form of experience at all three levels of the legislative branch of the government of the United States. With several years of experience working with both the nonprofit and the private sectors. I always believe that one needs to understand the entire system to create meaningful change.
So far, referring to the feedback we received from the constituents, I am doing a good job. Though, it’s only a percentage of our natural capacity. We are just getting started! I am already proud of everything we have accomplished so far as a team.
In my job, I try to maintain high-level consistency and responsiveness. I take feedback positively and work on everything that requires improvements. Every day, I think about the best way to know to produce the best outcomes for the constituents promptly. I do my best to collaborate positively and be friendly with my colleagues. I want to be known as someone reliable and supportive. I want my colleagues to count on me and reach out to me whenever they need assistance in their projects. I do the same. I ask for help or feedback whenever there is a need for it. I like to cooperate and discuss job-related activities with my colleagues. Council Member Joseph has an awe-inspiring team of stars. I want to call us the all-star team! I am proud of their achievements. I am so looking forward to seeing the amazing transformation that we make happen in CD40, Brooklyn, and New York City as a whole. I am sure that everyone will feel the vibes!
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
I want to say that I am glad to be a Marxe School – Baruch College alum. It is a blessing to have the opportunity to learn from several caring and well-experienced professors; connect and befriend numerous outstanding students. I know that my education from the Marxe School has been an essential factor in helping me have that flexibility to choose who I want to work with based on the values and community I want to serve. The School helped me make several of my goals happen smoother than expected; the name opened doors quicker than expected! I know I have worked very hard, but without resources from the Marxe School, I am not sure that I would be this far this fast!