Profile of a CIPA Fellow

Christine Barker is a second-year CIPA student, with an MPA concentration in Social Policy.  She just completed a twelve-month term as the president of the Cornell Public Affairs Society (CPAS), CIPA’s student organization. Originally from Fresno, located in the middle of California’s San Joaquin Valley, she completed her BA in International Students (Political Science) at Whitworth University in Spokane, WA.


While at Whitworth University, I spent a semester in a Service-Learning and Community Development program in South Africa. Since my sophomore year of college, I have been working with refugees and asylum seekers of all ages. After spending a year in Toronto, in an incredible community named Romero House, I decided to try to see if I could build that same kind of welcoming community for newcomers in my hometown. I meant to stay a year while applying to graduate school, but a transformative public planning process waylaid my plans for a couple years.

The Three Presidents of CIPA-affiliated clubs, Danielle Mearis of WIPP, Paula Garcia of CLASS, and me

Working within an amazing coalition of six agencies, we organized alongside hundreds of residents to advocate for a General [Comprehensive] Plan that invests half of future growth in existing city limits and doesn’t expand the city’s Sphere of Influence for the first time in history. Using participatory research and mapping, we brought together five different linguistic/cultural groups to engage in the local political system by sharing their stories and shared values. Crossing language barriers (and learning the highly intellectualized planning lingo to boot), we developed strong bonds and social capital that created tangible improvement in the quality of public engagement. After many delays, the plan passed in December of 2014. It’s now up to Fresno to live up to the vision of equity and inclusion that the plan promised.

My CIPA Story

Since coming to CIPA, I’ve kept myself quite busy. I’ve focused my Social Policy concentration on migration policy specifically, which means that I’ve taken classes in Government and ILR with students from many different programs. During my tenure as President of CPAS, our board organized events and townhall meetings on campus and around Ithaca. We watched the US presidential debates in a local bar, we hosted a S’mores and Stargazing event at Stewart Park, went apple picking, and celebrated events like Holi, Lunar New Year and Eid with our classmates, who come from around the world. It was such an honor to be able to serve the entire CIPA family over the last year, including welcoming the fabulous Class of 2018.

Why I Chose CIPA

I chose CIPA because I was attracted to the flexibility of the curriculum and the assets of the Cornell academic community. After five years of work experience, I wanted to be able to customize my academic experience to be sure that I was gaining new skills and perspectives.

The incredible and incredibly hard-working CPAS board at the CIPA Gala (L-R Telmuun, me, Kate, Elif, Erica, Yasu, Zixian, Zixuan)

Transitioning to CIPA in the Fall of 2015

Coming from California, where we had four years of historic drought, I was overwhelmed by how green everything was in Ithaca in August. My brain kept panicking that someone had left the water on too long. At home, everything has been brown for so long. In addition to the natural abundance of water, I have encountered an abundance of professors across departments who are happy to meet during office hours to discuss mutual interests and help me think about how to best use my time at Cornell. At CIPA, I am thrilled to be able to create the MPA program that’s right for me, based on my work experiences and the questions that I want to answer.

Where to next?

After a healthy year and a half away, Fresno has been calling me home again. I cannot wait to use the analytical and administrative skills that I’ve sharpened in my time here at CIPA to build the welcoming and more equitable city that we’ve been longing for in the San Joaquin Valley. I will be reentering the nonprofit sector with the confidence and clarity that a CIPA MPA has given me.

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