September 2021 Student Spotlight
Our September student spotlight is with Phumelele Khumalo, an international student who is currently enrolled in the Master of International Affairs (MIA) program. We discuss her transition to the Marxe School, the MIA, and her internship for the United Nations Goodwill Ambassador to Africa.
Tell us about your experience as an international student. How has Baruch College and the Marxe School helped your transition?
My experience with Baruch College has been an exciting journey. Applying from a foreign country had its fair share of challenges. One staff member who profoundly impacted my transition experience was Zin Mar Thur, a Graduate Admissions and Requirement Coordinator. During the application process, I learned that Zin was also an international student and understood why she resonated with many of my challenges, from moving to New York City, student life, and Grad school expectations. Working with her on the application process showed me a lot about the culture of Baruch College, which prides itself on knowledge transference and excellence. She helped with looking at the Professors as more than educators but key stakeholders who have their pulse on the International Affairs Community, which has tremendous networking benefits. By applying myself in this way, I was fortunate enough to be nominated for a simulation competition for the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) in January 2021. It was an honor and privilege to represent the institution amongst other peer learners. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the competition was virtual. However, it still made a significant impact as I imagined what working within a multilateral organization would look like from working with teammates from different schools, countries, and ethnicities. Our group did not win, but I gained an experience of a lifetime! Other aspects that have helped with the transition process are the development webinars offered by the Marxe Careers division and the scholarship opportunities where I recently became a recipient of the LCU Housing grant.
Lastly, distance learning has made an enormous difference in transitioning into the Marxe Graduate school. Typically graduate students are part-time and only have a presence on campus for classes in the evening. Attending classes online hasn’t all been doom and gloom as it allowed me to get to know other students conveniently after-class in contrast to traditional in-person classes where people are time-pressed to network.
What is it like interning for the United Nations Goodwill Ambassador to Africa? What are some notable projects you’ve worked on in this role?
The internship was swift-paced, and engaging. Although it lasted only a few months and was placed on hold due to COVID-19, I learned a lot in the space of three months. I worked under the New Future Foundation and reported to the Queen Mother of Harlem, Dr. Delois Blakely. She is the Founder of the organization and the Community Mayor of Harlem. I look up to her a great deal as a leader and advocate for the continent of Africa. During the internship, I felt I was doing my small part to change the world and advocate for women’s empowerment and systemic gender inequality experienced worldwide. This firm resolve is also why I changed my career trajectory from media and communications to international affairs, as this is a global issue.
During the New Future Foundation internship, Interns did not work on a specific project from start to finish. However, they attended U.N meetings predominately to learn the systems of multilateral organizations. I was administrative support for the operations team and shortly carved a media role within the department. Our team attended numerous events hosted by the U.N Women due to its alignment to civil society. I enjoyed reporting on the thematic programs aligned to the U.N Women’s calendar in our biweekly office meetings.
One flagship project I thoroughly enjoyed attending the planning of was the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), a principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to promoting gender equality and women empowerment. This unit was getting ready to commemorate the 25th year celebration of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a landmark agreement of the “realization of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.” This commemoration was also the theme of the 2020 U.N General Assembly, so it was a treat to sit in during the deliberations. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the big global event was placed on hold. The declaration was only open to a few U.N officials, which devastated the civil society community greatly. The foundation was particularly disappointed because Queen Mother Dr. Delois Blakely was part of the delegation who attended the conference where the resolution was taken in 1995 and other women rights activists globally. Hearing first hand from the leaders of the U.N what this declaration means to the advancement of women’s rights created a lasting impression of how much work we still need to do in bridging the gap of gender inequality globally.
What do you like about the MIA program thus far? What are some classes or lessons you’ve been taught that have been particularly pertinent to your career goals?
Firstly, our Associate Director of Academic Advising, Maureen Samedy, is the best-kept secret to planning the MIA program enrollment as she is highly efficient in her role. There is a certain dynamism about this program that I thoroughly enjoy. The syllabus for most of our courses is well balanced and offers a great deal of diversity. The material we learn about is not limited to historical literature but extended to the current ever-changing policy discourse of the international affairs space. The lectures keep things exciting and relevant! Extra material, like movies and documentaries, assists with the learning process. The blackboard peer discussions are a forum to engage students directly on their opinions and an excellent platform for accessing learning material at your leisure.
The support structure resources like the writing centers, quantitative tutorials, and media publications subscriptions are some of the favorite things about this program because there is always a platform one can turn to for help. As an international student, learning that Baruch offered these facilities was a game-changer as they are not available in most developing countries like my own. Another resource of the MIA program is the senior student camaraderie. There might be a formal mentorship program available where junior students are assigned a mentor, but I believe all students at Baruch are essentially mentors. Many students have given me advice on assignments or courses to select or not. It is the Baruch way to help one another. One student said to me, “it takes a village,” which speaks volumes to me, being from Africa. Most of these sessions take place on the MIA Whats App group and have played a tremendous role in my second-semester student experience.
The program is a melting pot of different cultures and nationalities from all over the world due to the nature of New York City. It gives students international exposure because the virtual classrooms have a minimum of five nationalities at any given point in time, where insights from all over the world are dissected and embraced constructively.
I plan to work within the foreign policy space in the future or the international non-profit sector, as negotiating in the classroom with fellow students and understanding nuances has taught me a few lessons on diplomacy. Also, working with students who advocate for global issues has given been a unique experience of what working for a multilateral organization could entail. In addition, whether it was learning about a Cyber Security webinar endorsed by Professor Carla Robins or learning about research anthropology insights of the Mangolian people from Professor Alison Hahn, it has been a fruitful learning experience. This program has surpassed my expectations, and I look forward to the future.