May 2023 Student Spotlight
MPA Candidate and Graduate Research Assistant, Minji Ham discusses her research assistantship, favorite classes, and her role at the U.S. branch of the Governor’s Association of Korea.
Tell us about your role at the Korean consulate? What did you do, and what was the atmosphere there?
I worked at the Korean consulate for six years. To be more specific, my position was at the U.S. branch of the Governors Association of Korea (GAOK), which is part of the consulate. GAOK has six overseas branches to promote and strengthen diplomacy at the local level. As an administrative specialist, my primary role was to help build new partnerships and maintain existing networks between the local governments of Korea and the United States. Also, I provided opportunities for Korean provinces and cities to benchmark policy best practices by planning research trips and seminars and introducing policy trends. I believe fundamental societal changes start with local-level programs, and it was rewarding to assist cities in resolving common issues by connecting them internationally.
Working at the consulate was an excellent opportunity to build expertise through hands-on experience. Since the consuls’ deployment period is usually limited to two to three years, I could take charge of major projects, especially during the transition period. The atmosphere at the consulate was very collaborative. Although each department has distinctively different functions in the consulate, many programs and events require employees to work together across departments, such as organizing events for high-profile government officials and operating a polling station. I’m grateful for the hard-working and friendly colleagues who made challenging tasks manageable.
How has your time at the Marxe School shaped your career?
My time at the Marxe School has been inspiring and transformative. I graduated with a B.S. in life sciences, which is not related to my career field. While I gained valuable experience and knowledge from working in the field, I wanted a more academic understanding of government policies, communications, and partnership building. So I started pursuing the MPA program, and every course added interesting insights into my work. From communications to policy analysis, the program has helped me understand the tasks in-depth and improve the outcome. My experience had both administrative and research aspects, so I initially planned on doing a double concentration for public management and policy analysis and evaluation tracks. But, I became more focused on policy and program analysis as I took more courses at the Marxe School, especially on immigration and mental health programs. Marxe school has an excellent curriculum and classes and great faculty members who guide you through them. It helped me find what I’m passionate about, and now I am on the next chapter of my career path.
What are you working on in your research assistantship with professor Neil Hernandez?
I assist Professor Hernandez with his research project on the U.S. asylum system. I research online databases, keep track of recent events and changes in the U.S. asylum system, and review literature related to the research topic. Also, I had an opportunity to co-present an online class with Professor Hernandez on asylum processing and storytelling tools for the participants of the BAOBAB project, operated by the Africa Cultural Alliance of North America (ACANA). This semester, my role will focus more on project data analysis, and I’m excited to work on the new aspect of the project. The research assistantship is a unique chance for graduate students to participate in a research project. I applied for the assistantship because I wanted to learn more about immigration and the asylum system in the U.S. and understand qualitative research better with real experience. Professor Hernandez has been a very supportive supervisor and colleague, and I have gained such valuable experience since I joined his project. I recommend applying for a research assistantship to any graduate student, especially if a project matches your interest and career focus.
Are there any classes that have been particularly exciting or interesting?
I found Professor Jerry Mitchell and Professor Neil Hernandez’s classes very interesting. I took Introduction to Public Affairs with Professor Mitchell in my first semester. Professor Mitchell’s lectures provide an excellent introduction to essential aspects of public policy. Also, he has a great book selection for the class, and book report assignments made me rethink the importance of values related to public policy. After taking the introduction class, I took Policy Analysis with Professor Mitchell. Through the course, I learned how to apply the ethnographic methodology to policy analysis, which changed how I approach policy research and analysis.
In my first semester, I also took Professor Hernandez’s Public and Nonprofit Management 1. Professor Hernandez always provided helpful feedback to his students and guided them in achieving the course objectives. Also, his class included a project where students could apply what they learned from the lectures to a case study, which significantly amplified the learning experience. Professor Hernandez’s class may be challenging, but it undoubtedly improves you as a professional at the end of the semester. I’m taking Public and Nonprofit Management 2 this semester with Professor Hernandez, and I look forward to the experiential learning in the course.