Figueroa Prepares for Possibility of Graduate School at Harvard

Figueroa Prepares for Possibility of Graduate School at Harvard



Sophomore political science major Monica Figueroa Vaca recently attended the 14th Annual Public Policy and Leadership Conference (PPLC) at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Figueroa applied and was accepted to the conference, which is designed to prepare students for graduate study in public policy and international affairs. Held February 20-23, the conference also focuses on getting minorities and students involved in public policy and exposed to that field.

Figueroa wanted to attend the conference because it would be a good opportunity for her personally and academically.

"I think the biggest reason was the fact that I'm a female, I'm Hispanic, and I come from a lower income background, so all of those barriers definitely prevent students like me with similar experiences like mine to ever reach those kind of positions," Figueroa said.

The application process for the conference was rigorous. Figueroa compared it to applying to college. It included an essay asking the applicants to describe their interests, background, experience, and why they were interested in public policy or public service. It also included a resume, letter of recommendation, and a transcript as well as a certain GPA requirement. Figueroa was one of 45 students selected out of 500 applicants throughout the nation.

During the conference, Figueroa experienced a variety of workshops, panels, and discussions centered on public policies and careers and opportunities in the field. She participated in a mock class to experience what a graduate class at Harvard would be like. Other workshops included essay writing and personal narratives. The conference participants learned how to tell their story and explain what makes them unique. They also had a resume workshop where they were able to work with the Graduate School Career Service Director of Harvard.

One important requirement about public policy that Figueroa learned was quantitative skills are important to know. Being good at statistics and economics are a necessary skill in this field.

For a career, Figueroa hopes to be a liaison between policies and education. She is passionate about education and hopes to have direct contact with both students and policy makers to make sure everyone's being heard.

"There are certain policy ideas that seem great, but once you actually put them into work, they don't turn out that way at all. So I would kind of like to work in between," Figueroa said.

Many of the activities at the conference included interacting with current graduate students and making connections. Conference attendees were required to bring a business card with them. Every person she came across, including the Dean of Students at Harvard, offered her their information, encouraging her to contact them for help in the future. Figueroa identified specifically with one of the graduate students, Juana Hernandez.

"She's a Latina, and the way she carried herself was so classy and graceful, and she always had a smile on. She was just really helpful," Figueroa said. "For me, having someone of my ethnicity and background and seeing how far she's made it, it was pretty inspiring."

Figueroa received information from the perspectives of current students, alumni, and professors of Harvard. While she says it was all overwhelming for her, it also made her realize that graduate school at Harvard is possible.

"It was just a lot of information... about the process of graduate school, which for me was really overwhelming, of course, since I'm barely in college, and I'm the first one to kind of even think of graduate school being possible at Harvard," Figueroa said. "At first it was really hard to accept in my head, but I guess it's really possible."

Overall, Figueroa had a very positive experience, and she will be able to carry the lessons from the conference with her into her future.

"I think the best thing is that I now have some mentors or people to look up to and just a lot of great friends that I know I can always turn to for any kind of help," Figueroa said. "And just so many doors and resources open. It really broadened my mind to the possibility of what I can do."