September 2022 Student Spotlight
In this month’s Student Spotlight we speak with MPA candidate, Sandra Raafat. She tells us about her Marxe Dean’s Fellowship experience, her previous roles at the Marxe School, her interest in law and public policy, and much more.
You were the only recipient of the highly competitive Marxe Dean’s Fellowship scholarship and have been a graduate assistant to the Marxe School’s Interim Dean, Nancy Aries. Could you tell us a bit more about the experience and the various projects you’ve worked on?
I am immensely humbled and grateful to have been the recipient of the Marxe Dean’s Fellowship scholarship. Working with and for Interim Dean Nany Aries allowed me to gain tons of institutional knowledge and helped me better understand the ways in which the Marxe School continuously strives to improve its services to its staff, students, and its broader community. During this fellowship, I worked on a variety of institutional projects, ranging from resource development for new courses to working on improving our program offerings. Without disclosing too much information, I think one of the most exciting projects I worked on involved several months of gathering and analyzing data from comparable MPA programs across the country to provide for long-term program planning at Marxe. I am incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to work with Nancy Aries on projects that are so integral to the school’s mission and impact.
Could you tell us about your previous roles as the Marxe School Representative on the Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) and the Student Representative for the Committee on Academic Standing (CAS)? Any challenges you’ve faced?
Candidly, I would say the only challenge I faced as the Marxe School Representative was the confusion that comes with bureaucratic institutions. Occasionally, it was a bit difficult to know which office or center to direct students to when they had questions I couldn’t address. Aside from that, serving as a GSA student representative was a wonderful experience. I was able to get deeply involved in the Baruch community and encourage my peers to do the same through our educational, social, and networking events. Through my involvement with the GSA and the Committee on Academic Standing, I was able to learn a lot about Marxe’s operations and procedures. For example, as a student representative for the Committee on Academic Standing, I learned so much about Marxe’s policies on grading, scholastic standing, curriculum, and more. I was able to participate in reviewing and voting on student petitions, and subsequently in reviewing proposals and recommendations to modify existing policies. I think joining the GSA and the Committee on Academic Standing is a terrific opportunity for any student looking to get more involved on campus.
You’re interested in law and public policy with a focus on anti-poverty policy and economic development. What has sparked your interest towards exploring further into these topics? Any early memory of civic engagement that perhaps has helped you shape the way you approach it today?
I grew up in a low-income, immigrant household in one of the world’s wealthiest cities—New York City. I don’t think I was ever fully aware of this country’s staggering wealth disparity, or even my own social standing, until I started college. I ultimately think it was a mixture of my own experiences, and my disillusionment with the distribution of wealth in this country, that sparked my interest in anti-poverty policy and economic development. When I first started studying public policy as an undergraduate student, I learned quickly that our entire lives are governed and shaped by the policies around us. I have had the opportunity to work with and for non-profit organizations, political candidates, and even for-profit enterprises that all aimed to improve economic outcomes in some capacity. My professional and lived experiences have taught me that poverty and economic inequality are multifaceted and intricate issues that require complex, cross-sectoral approaches. To be clear, I do believe that we ought to meaningfully expand social safety nets, cash transfers, and tax credits. That said, I also do not think it is possible to address generational poverty without addressing its underlying causes—systemic racism, lack of affordable housing and healthcare, crime, and wage stagnation, to name a few. I think I approach these topics through a lens of how incentives between the public and private sectors can be aligned. For example, how do we use public dollars to incentivize the development of sustainable, affordable housing and ensure accountability to the community? How do we redefine the social and economic responsibilities of private corporations and private actors?
How is your Marxe experience going so far? What have you learned? What role has SPA played in your professional journey thus far?
My Marxe experience has been incredibly enriching and rewarding. The courses I’ve taken so far have challenged me to critically examine my mental models and understanding of the public domain. When I initially decided to pursue a policy analysis specialization, I assumed I would predominantly be working with empirical data and research. One of the key things I have learned so far, from nearly all my courses, is that an exclusively empirical understanding of public policy has significant limitations. When we fail to study and analyze social and political contexts, we neglect social-subjective meanings and deny the existence of multiple social realities.
This MPA program has been instrumental to my professional journey. I am consistently applying what I have studied in my classes to my workplace. The classes I’ve taken have given me a stronger sense of confidence in my soft skills, like decision-making, and more technical skills, like analyzing and presenting data. This program has provided me with the interdisciplinary skills necessary to address challenges both within and outside of my organization, and I am very excited to continue refining these skills.