Perspectives from the Field: Ben Aplin

Benjamin Aplin
Benjamin Aplin, Director of Institutional Advancement at the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience & CLACS Alumnus
On Friday, December 7th, we had hosted another CLACS Alumn during our Perspectives from the Field Series, a speaker series that invites CLACS alumni from a wide range of professions to speak about their experiences since graduation, and how their studies at CLACS prepared them for the work that they are doing today. The topics that our invited speakers discuss in the series include development, education, human rights, business, public health, and more.

On this day, we welcomed Benjamin Aplin, a 2006 CLACS MA alumnus and current Director of Institutional Advancement at the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, to speak about the non-profit world and how his experiences at CLACS helped him get to where he is today.

Ben, who has been working in international NGOs since graduating from CLACS, has always been interested in working in an international environment because he traveled a lot with his mother when he was a teenager, including working at a summer arts camp in Haiti when he was 15. Ben graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in English, and came to CLACS interested in international development issues. He wrote his thesis on Protestantism in Latin America and its dominance in certain parts of the region.

At the Coalition, Ben oversees all of the fundraising (97% of their funding comes from grants), which means that he visits program officers at foundations to try to obtain the funding that they need. The Coalition has member sites all over the world, and seven original sites as the founding members; one of which is the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.  Other founding members include Memoria Abierta in Argentina, District 6 in Capetown, the Liberation War Museum in Bangladesh, and the Gulag Museum at Perm 36 in Russia.

The Coalition strives to connect what happened in the past to the present day, and in their exhibits, they have guides who ask questions and engage visitors in a dialogue as they move through exhibits. There are also regional networks (30 located in Latin America), for which the Coalition raises funds to allow them to travel to yearly meetings and focus on a regional project, such as archiving training. In addition, there are also thematic networks, such as the Civil Rights and Immigration Network in the US, whose members include Ellis Island and the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham.

Through his transitions at different organizations (Trickle UpThe Hunger Project, and finally the Coalition), Ben has been able to utilize the international development and human rights vocabulary that he learned at CLACS. At the Coalition, Ben has been mostly involved in fundraising, grant writing, and researching for new donors.  He also does research to build a case for the Coalition’s work and make arguments for their services. He says his time at CLACS helped with his communications skills, because he had experience with persuasive writing, research, and presenation skills and finding new approaches to solving problems. He added that CLACS helped him to learn how to speak in a group setting and confidently put his ideas on the table, while remaining open to feedback from his peers.

Additionally, Ben provided us with a lot of quick tips for making the most out of your time as an MA Student at CLACS:

-Apply for travel grants

-Publish in journals

-Get used to networking, because it’s easier than you think and crucial for getting a job. He suggests researching organizations that you might want to work for, going to one of their events, and introducing yourself while there.

-Take advantage of how broad the CLACS program is and the endless resources available at NYU

-Improve your foreign language skills

-Get an internship and/or volunteer (but find something that is interesting and beneficial to you; do not just take whatever is available)

-Use grad school as a way to get used to being in a group setting, putting risky ideas on the table, and talking about your ideas

-Learn to write succinctly and memorably (need to lose academic jargon if intending to have a career in the non-profit/NGO world)

If you would like to know what some of our other Alumni are up to, please join us for our next talk on Friday, February 22nd, as we sit down with Zammy Diaz Lebron, Program Officer at the Institute of International Education (IIE) University Placement Services, to hear how her training in Latin American and Caribbean Studies at CLACS prepared her for her career. We hope to see you and some friends there for interesting conversations and great networking opportunities – it’s never too early to think about the future!

Elizabeth Con is an MA Candidate at CLACS at NYU

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