This blog was written by the current Field II representatives at SPIA—Meghana Mungikar and Talia Gerstle.
Both of us worked in the development sector before joining SPIA’s MPA program but in vastly different settings. Meghana worked in program and policy evaluation in her home country of India, with nonprofits and local governments. Talia worked with NGOs on migrant integration in Madrid and in a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesvos. When we applied to the program, we were excited to interact with students who had different backgrounds working in development and gain the tools necessary to be more thoughtful and effective practitioners.
Over the last three semesters, we have taken classes focused on the comparative political economy of development, debt crises, econometrics, negotiation, and international migration, among others. Our classes have given us a foundation in core skills that are fundamental to working as effective development practitioners, while also allowing us to explore thematic interests that deepen our existing interests and allow us to explore new areas.
In addition to our courses, SPIA helped us secure engaging summer internships, even in the midst of a pandemic. Talia worked for the International Organization for Migration, supporting the regional coordination office of the Venezuelan migrant and refugee crisis on a variety of projects. Meghana worked for the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics with research projects pertaining to public health and social inequality.
We believe that one of the greatest advantages of studying international development at SPIA is that only about 25 percent of the program is focused on this field, so most of our classes are small and allow for deep and engaging discussions. The depth of experience among our classmates makes conversations, both in and out of the classroom, incredibly engaging, as we are challenged to think about complex development issues from new perspectives.
As representatives, we have been working to get more classes taught by practitioners in the development sector, since many of the tools and knowledge in this sector come from practical experience. We have worked to cultivate a strong community within our field, bringing together first year, second year, and mid-career students to share their experiences. Lastly, we’ve begun ethics in development conversations, bringing in professionals to lead guided discussions about challenging issues that aren’t always addressed directly in the program, such as racism in development.
Though we don’t know where we’ll be headed when we graduate next spring, we both feel incredibly grateful to have learned from brilliant professors, studied alongside such committed and passionate peers, and gained practical experiences that have grounded our education.