Kristi Phillips is a recent graduate of the CLACS MA Program who is now working as the Trip Coordinator with Central American Relief Efforts. She recently returned to the US, and shares her thoughts and experiences with us below.
CLACS: Can you please provide a brief introduction about yourself?
KP: I came to NYU after receiving my BA in economics and Spanish from the University of Northern Iowa and completed my MA at CLACS in January 2013. At CLACS, I focused on public policy evaluation within and with reference to Latin America. I have experience studying, working, and conducting research in Chile, Spain, Nicaragua, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and Honduras and currently work for a Pennsylvania-based non-profit organization called Central American Relief Efforts.
CLACS:Why did you decide to come to CLACS-NYU? What did you think of the program?
KP: I chose to come to CLACS because of the flexibility to incorporate my own interests into my studies; the substantial number of opportunities to study, work, and conduct research abroad; and the fact that New York has so many wonderful organizations that serve as extremely relevant volunteer, internship, or work opportunities.
In addition to my courses at CLACS, I took courses through NYU Steinhardt, an economics course under the consortium with Columbia University, and public policy courses at NYU Wagner.
The availability of short-term, intensive study abroad courses in Latin America during summer/winter breaks was also a huge perk of the program. The intensive international courses I took allowed me to focus on local issues at a deeper level and provided great context for my MA thesis research.
CLACS: What was your Master’s Project on?
KP: I received a Tinker Foundation Fieldwork grant to spend last summer in Buenos Aires where I interviewed beneficiary women of a conditional cash transfer run by the Argentine government, called Asignación Universal por Hijo. The idea is that the government makes a monthly transfer to poor families on the condition that children attend school and go to medical check ups. I used my interviews with beneficiaries and program directors to evaluate whether and to what extent the fact that the transfers are directed toward the mother is empowering or disempowering in various capacities. I found the policy was empowering to women in some aspects, but may be disempowering (i.e. may demonstrate an unintended consequence, such as increased rates of domestic violence) in other areas of a woman’s well-being. The results of my research are important in policy evaluation and should be considered by policy makers when determining how funds are distributed so as to mitigate any unintended consequences.
CLACS: Any surprises/difficulties about working abroad/in the field?
KP: One thing that is important to keep in mind is that no research project ever ends up exactly the way you think it will in the beginning, so it is really important to approach fieldwork with lots of questions and an open mind. I was fortunate that everything worked out well for me and fell into place during my time in Argentina, but it takes balance between focus and flexibility, as well as a good deal of persistence, to find resources who can get you connected to the right network of people for a research project, schedule interviews, and help analyze the data you end up with to assign meaning to your findings.
CLACS: How did you find your current job? And what are your responsibilities?
KP: I work with Central American Relief Efforts, a non-profit organization that sends humanitarian aid primarily to southern Honduras, specifically in the areas of health and education. My official title is “Trip Coordinator”, but I am the only full-time, paid staff member in the US, so I handle a lot more than just organizing mission trips.
In the US, I am responsible for communicating with potential volunteer groups; scheduling and planning mission trips, medical clinics, construction projects, and other projects; and for traveling to Honduras and ensuring that trip projects are completed as schedules, and that all of the logistics area ready to go for a volunteer group when the group arrives. I am also in charge of managing all office functions, like keeping our financial records, keeping all projects documented, building partnerships with other non-profits in the US to continue to send various forms of aid to the communities in which we work in Honduras (i.e. wheelchairs, eyeglasses, medical/dental supplies, shoe/clothing supplies, foodstuff, etc.), and I assist with fundraising efforts in the US. I also supervise all of our Honduran staff members and work with our Honduran advisory board members to select worthwhile, sustainable projects for our organization to pursue.
It’s great in that I’m doing something I feel passionate about, so I never feel like I’m “at work.” Sometimes things get stressful and I have days that run from 4am to 11pm, but other days I get to relax on a beach in Honduras with a volunteer group from the US, knowing I helped bring dental care to 1500 impoverished children in the last week. I get to travel; I get to work with incredible Honduran staff, Honduran advisory board members, and volunteer groups; and I get to know that I’m doing my part to help bring healthcare and education to areas that are highly under-served. I get to spend every day working to serve impoverished communities and introduce others to a new kind of “reality” that those communities facing abject poverty know and live. I have a wide variety of responsibilities, but it is a very rewarding position, and it is fulfilling to spend every day working toward something I am passionate about.
CLACS: Are there any other recent achievements that you’d like to mention?
KP: Last month, I ran a 14k road race in Tegucigalpa, and received an award (the Dick Millett Award from the Midwest Association of Latin American Studies)f or a portion of my thesis I submitted and presented at a conference during the fall 2012 semester. I’m working on revising my full thesis to submit it for publication later this spring, so I hope to report more good news in the near future.
CLACS: Any advice for current/future graduate students?
KP: Take advantage as many clubs, internships, presentations, workshops, conferences, and work opportunities. In New York, you really can’t “overdo it,” because the connections you make by diving in and getting involved in various projects or organizations are invaluable, lifelong resources. Take classes, work, do an internship, attend workshops and events, present at conferences, and take time for yourself.
Elizabeth Con is an MA Candidate at CLACS at NYU