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Cornell Holi 2014

Photos:

Taking a break on the last week of classes, celebrating Spring!

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From left: Matthew Williger ’14, Valeria Farinaro ’14, Samantha Cherney ’14, me, and Alexander Villalobos Morsink ’15

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With fellow blogger Linnea Musselman ’15

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Photos

Another photo post.

When they sell chocolate covered strawberries outside the library, you get some.

When they sell chocolate covered strawberries outside the library, you get some.

 

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Brittany Morrissey ’14 (left) and Allison Urbanski ’15 studying for a planning methods midterm at the Big Red Barn.

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Arts Quad few days before the official start of Spring.

 

Making decisions.

At this time of the year, most students have already heard back from graduate programs on their acceptance. Choosing CIPA among other public policy programs can get tricky (in the best way) because of the word ‘flexibility.’ Often, having a flexible program is great for academic and professional pursuits, but you also need to decide if you are someone who benefits more from structure (i.e. spending two semester or more taking mandatory courses with others in your program before specialized courses) or from being able to design your own path (which can also take more work). Personally, the flexibility of the program has allowed me to come in with a set of expectations and really delve into them via courses and interactions with professors across campus. This meant that I was able to really narrow down my focus to what I want to do in the realm of policy, rather than what traditional study of public affairs entails.

For others, the flexibility has meant being still interested in a concentration but take on more challenging courses to fulfill requirements while at the same time, gain new skills. This has certainly helped many CIPA Fellows who chose to pursue their PhDs following the MPA. Learning advanced econometrics or being part of a seven-student seminar with experts-students has its many advantages if you are academically inclined (or think that you might be in the future).

Since coursework is what you will be involved in throughout the four semesters, taking a look at the CIPA course guide on the website is a great way to get a sense of the ‘flexibility’ that is emphasized here. It is also a great way to compare it to other program requirements and to judge what might be best for you.

If you are unable to visit Cornell University, you should definitely reach out to the program to speak with current students like myself who can answer your questions, or simply put in some input. I was abroad during my application process so I will say that it is not the end of the world if you cannot make it up to upstate New York!

February update, that time of the year

 

From Sibley Hall

From Sibley Hall

For the first time, Cornell actually gave us a “February break” where we had two days off, which I somehow turned into a 9 day break with some cancelled classes. I returned over the weekend and apparently, midterms are already here for some people. I still feel like my semester at Cornell just started not too long ago. My courses are pretty light this semester, and mostly related specifically to my professional interests. Since the weather is still dramatically cold in Ithaca, my time at my too-beloved Mann library is being cut short. The past few days have been using my energy before the weather-related annoyance kicks in to work on my website for my electronic commerce course, finish up readings for a technology businesses development course, and avoid reviewing calculus for my methods of planning course. I am also in dire need of major research for my professional report, which I need to have done in two months.

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This time of the year is also when first year MPA students start to hear back from internship applications or get called for interviews. This time last year I was trying to balance these phone interviews and school work, sometimes just dealing with the added stress. I recall when me and my friend Sam, another CIPA Fellow both had final round interviews for Deloitte and since we could not reschedule our Finance exam the previous night, we had to make some crazy plans. Basically, both of us finished our exams around 10 pm, packed, barely slept, and took a 5 am flight to Newark, NJ and then a train to New York City for our all day interview, after which we took a flight back to Ithaca the same night. Needless to say, I will not forget that 24 hours of studying, packing, and wearing a suit all day for sounds of interviews. Good times.

So what do people do other than study and get food delivered when it is below 20 degrees outside with occasional snow? Some of us have taken advantage of great upstate New York skiing resorts and have gone on day trips to ski and snowboard. I have not done this after some scares of injuries that can happen with skiing. Then there was the winter Olympics that just ended, and people have been getting together to watch the hockey games (if not the real hockey games at Cornell). While there are things to do, most of us are probably happy to go to bed early with the excuse of weather in our hands. So with that, I myself am off to sleep. 

Cooking warm cozy food with friends.

Cooking warm cozy food with friends.

Cheers,

O

Published in The Diplomat: ‘Authorities Make Arrests in Bangladesh Garments Factory Fire’

Something  I wrote on the recent arrest of the owners of the Tazreen Fashions factory in Bangladesh has been published in The Diplomat. This is in response to the factory fire that killed more than 1,000 people in April 2012. I focus on the police force and the lack of justice served in Bangladesh, and what this much-talked about disaster could mean for the system. To read, click here.

Authorities Make Arrests in Bangladesh Garments Factory Fire

Their track record is not promising, but will the authorities finally deliver justice?

By Olinda Hassan

On February 8, the owners of the garments factory in Bangladesh that burned and killed more than a hundred people in April 2012 finally surrendered to the police. Delwar Hossain and his wife, Mahmuda Akter, along with eleven associates are charged with homicide for the fire, which prompted an international debate on corporate responsibility in developing countries.

The charges are significant because it is the first time that Bangladesh has sought accountability from leading players in the lucrative garments industry, a powerful political and economic player. It is a test of Bangladesh’s police force and the legal system, at a time when they are coming under increasing public scrutiny for what is perceived as their laissez-faire attitude towards the rich and powerful.

At around $20 billion, the garments industry in Bangladesh accounts for a significant portion of the country’s export industry, with shipments mainly going to the U.S. and Europe. A poster child for development economic research and nonprofit work, the industry has been hailed by academics for increasing the role of the private sector in what is a late bloomer emerging market. With women accounting for the majority of workers, researchers and international development bodies alike have credited garments manufacturing for increasing employment opportunities for women and helping to bridge the rural-urban divide in Bangladesh, praising the industry for its indirect facilitation of gender advancement in Bangladesh socially and economically.

Following the fire in April 2012, along with several other deadly fires in the following months, this praise has been overtaken by stories of harsh working conditions and poor pay, attracting attention from human rights organizations, mainly from the West. While authorities and global clothing companies have vowed to improve safety standards, it is often forgotten that the issue goes beyond the rights of workers, to the very nature of the country’s police enforcement and legal system. The arrests of Hossain, Akter and their associates has shone a light onto an uncomfortable arena: the power of the police, one of the most mistrusted agencies in Bangladesh.

The power and fragmented nature of Bangladesh’s police force is an uncomfortable discussion. Following the fire in the Tazreen Fashions factory, local police cited insufficient evidence to bring a case against the owners. However, further investigation found that some managers had in fact closed the gates that would have allowed workers to escape the fire, and even told workers that it was a regular drill. The building had no emergency exits or a proper monitoring system. Even getting this far in the investigation was a power struggle; everyone knows that there is something profoundly wrong with the way that these factories are run, but no one does anything about it because of their lack of faith in the police.

In incidents involving garment factory fires, factory owners are rarely charged or held responsible. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, a quasi-governmental body that is supposed to regulate export relationships, rarely faces charges, such is the influence of its leaders. Look no further than its glittering headquarters in Dhaka, which the Bangladesh High Court ruled sits on illegally obtained land. Despite a court order for it to be demolished more than two years ago, no action has been taken.

Yet the Tazreen fire was the deadliest factory fire in the history of garments manufacturing worldwide. The EU and the U.S. have placed and continuing to threaten Bangladesh with trade sanctions. In the meantime, stories were heard of protests abroad, from people far removed from the Bangladesh experience, against companies like Wal-Mart.

Whether this sustained international pressure was what finally motivated the police to file charges against the owners of the Tazreen factory a full year and a half after the fire will remain a point of contention. The police in Bangladesh are seen as both powerful and indifferent to the public they serve. It will be interesting to see if in this tragic case authorities can successfully separate justice from political power.

 

Policy Review Blog post: Germany Online

Hey readers,  I recently wrote an article for the Cornell Policy Review, ” Germany Online: The road to modernizing privacy policies in a digitalized world.” Tech policy has been an interest of mine, especially from the perspective of users and politicians.

Germany has been leading the European Union (EU) in reforming their data protection laws, with the aim of strengthening personal rights in the face of a digitalized economy and growing online penetration of social media networks. Germany’s push for new measures, including greater protection from foreign intelligence should not come as a surprise, especially following Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) spying of foreign governments. Just last year, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel accused the NSA of tapping her phone which sparked a very public exchange between her and the White House, with President Obama assuring her that she was under no such watch. Recently, it was revealed that the NSA had monitored Gerhard Schröder, the Chancellor back in 2002, following his aversion to military intervention in Iraq. While Germany has been historically able to push for rampant reforms to privacy and data collection laws, current technologies’ reach, combined with increased diplomatic implications poses new challenges. 

Click here to read more.

Cheers,

O

Note before starting my final semester

Bed of clouds above somewhere in Kentucky (on my way to Virginia)

Bed of clouds above somewhere in Kentucky (on my way to Virginia)

I returned to Ithaca last night after a month and a half hiatus from the East Coast. I left the campus in a hurry on December 12th and have found it pretty much the same upon my return- snowy, cold, white, and quiet. The sudden 60 degree drop in weather from my winter in  Phoenix and lack of cable meant I was in bed by 10:30pm last night. Also, there is such a thing as jet lag, even if it’s just two hours. All the complaining aside (did enough of that on Twitter), it is unsettling to realize that this would be my final semester on campus. Classes do not start for another two days but I am back in the library today, trying to sort ‘things’ out. Even the woman at the counter in Olin library’s café asked me why I was here already and gave me a free raspberry jelly pastry earlier. I guess I looked more somber than the rest of the people at the library already (seriously though, why are they all here?).

The reason for me being at the library is actually pretty simple- I still have a term paper to write, left over from last semester. After a 21-credit semester (not recommended), one of my professors let me finish my final over break and receive a grade letter. Now, the finishing part is what I am trying to get at. Basically, the semester has not started and I am already behind.

Visiting Grand Canyon, the only time I wore a sweater over winter break.

Visiting Grand Canyon, the only time I wore a sweater over winter break.

Other than academics and no longer having my mom’s food every day, I am looking forward to the semester. With my duties in the CPAS Board over, I am excited to really commit my time to the Policy Review in my last semester as its Managing Editor. Over the weekend, six of us from the Review met for the National Journal Conference (NJC) in Charlottesville, Virginia (hosted by the University of Virginia). It was a good experience as a board to hear from speakers in research, publishing, and public policy, as well as to learn from other graduate programs with policy journals. We discussed strengths, weaknesses, and identified areas for improvement, which was necessary for us as a student run organization, and for the incoming Editor in Chief, Managing Editor, and Online Editor to participate in. This year, we changed the Review so that we would only publish one journal, and focus more on the online publication. I am really excited with the transition, and especially in broadening our online presence.

Driving to Chancellorsville, VA

Driving to Chancellorsville, VA

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National Journal Conference (NJC)

I am also looking forward to giving some serious time to my Professional Report this semester. In discussing with various professors, my report is more like an academic thesis, but catered towards my summer internship with Twitter, in which I will focus more on the relationship between public policy, governments, and social media networks. It is definitely secondary research heavy, and I think that it can become a fruitful project to take with me when I start work in August in San Francisco.

At Cornell, we have a pretty long winter break (over a month), which is enough time to get rested, get used to resting, and not want to come back to take classes and remember that you are a graduate student. Either way, welcome back CIPA Fellows or good luck getting back to the flow of things!

Cheers,

O

December in photos

Studying for an exam the next day at Gemme Coffee on State Street, Ithaca

 

Final dinner with CPAS board members at the Nines. We had too much pizza and wings.

 

Walking around campus in the winter, as the sun sets (or maybe it was just dark and gloomy, cannot remember).

 

They found a tree. Samantha Cherney ’14 and Dana Westgren ’14.

Final exam time

The above basically sums up my exam week in Ithaca, and rather the weeks leading up to my finals for the past month. Following the very brief Thanksgiving break, some of us immediately had our first final for the course Nonprofit Finance and Management by professor Joe Grasso at ILR. It was the first final exam and during the last week of classes. The course overall was great, even though I have had little experience in the nonprofit sector and working in the private sector following CIPA. Perhaps because it was the lack of experience that made the course useful and interesting. By nonprofit, the focus of the course was more about the larger organizations, such as hospitals and universities, to museums. The class is pretty large and a mix of graduate students from CIPA, as well as students who are pursuing studies in hospitality, management, and other professional degrees.

The same week I also had my final presentation for my Entrepreneurial Management course at the Hotel School, taught by professor Susan Fleming. This class was a little bit more in line with my career track in that we focused on startups and new business ventures. As a policy student focusing on this area, the class played an important role in looking at the process of entrepreneurship from the business perspective. The course also included looking at concepts like establishing work culture, identifying opportunities, and managing finances during a company’s growth. The presentation was  for a real life client, a project in which we work with groups throughout the entire semester to think of a business plan (or improve on an existing one).

Following the last week of classes, I had three more papers, one of which I am still working on. One of my papers was for my course, People, Markets and Democracy in the Government Department with professor Alexander Kuo. The final was a research paper with a special focus on the empirical research process and data gathering (and interpreting) in a social science case. My topic was looking at the use of Twitter by leading political candidates in the national election of France in 2012. I just finished this paper and am not exactly ready to discuss and recall my work but, I will say that it was, a lot of work. I am happy to not look at excel spreadsheets for a while. Unlike my experience in political science courses, this one focused not just on the ideas of the papers but how authors came to design their research, the methodology used, and identifying dependent and independent variables. It is not the easiest task when you are working with social science papers, which is perhaps why the class was challenging and also served as a great learning experience this semester.

Campus- Arts Quad after snow.

Campus- Arts Quad after snow.

I am not quite done yet but so far, I am more than happy to get on that flight home and leave the Northeast storm. Writing finals papers from home is not always easy (who wants to get out of bed?) but always an option. I am of the idea that I should leave as soon as possible from Ithaca in the winter (yes, all those blog posts about the weather here being terrible come December is true). Anyways, just one more finals season left at Cornell!

Cheers

-O

Photo post again- late October/early November

Walk to class.

Checking our emails and maybe something on YouTube in the CIPA Lounge

 

Halloween, Jon as a doc and Jeremy as Snowden.

Brunch at the Hajra and Hira’s house, CIPA Fellows ’13

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