Meet Elvin Garcia, a second-year student in the Master’s in Public Administration Program, who has been named one of only three recipients of the notable Open Society Foundation Presidential Fellowship.
Can you tell us about yourself, where are you from and what brought you to the Colin Powell School?
I was born in Brooklyn and raised in the Bronx. My parents are from the Dominican Republic. Like many Dominican families, we started in Washington Heights and there my mom, a single mom, raised me and my two siblings. We then settled into the West Bronx, in the Soundview area shortly after. I was a public school kid, K-12. My oldest sister is a CCNY alum from her undergraduate days.
What brought me to CCNY was that I had a life-changing, career-changing chapter after three and a half years at City Hall. I ran for City Council in my local neighborhood, and I lost. It’s definitely harder than it looks with all the experience I had. Being a candidate as opposed to working on campaigns is tough and there are a lot of things that made the outcome what it was, but I learned a lot.
I thought to myself, I hustled a lot in my twenties, I made pretty impressive steps in my career, so I took some much needed time off. I healed my wounds and now that I’m in my 30’s, I wanted to go back to school and I thought, why not? I wanted to formalize a lot of my practical skills in government and public service--the things I had learned through experience rather than academically. Coming to CCNY is probably the best decision that I made in my life. For one thing, I know my sister got her education here, so that was never an issue for me. I knew that I wanted something affordable and something local and the MPA program had spoken to what I had already been working on. So it was almost a perfect match. It was based in Harlem, not too far away to be back in an academic setting. I love being a student again.
What is your concentration and what programs have you participated in while at the Colin Powell School?
I applied to the New York Life Graduate Fellows Program this year and received it. I am focusing on addressing the lack of civic engagement. What are the common themes on how we can get more people civically engaged? My pitch to the community was surrounding the 2020 census. I want to identify census data and voter data that will show how many people with lower income filled out the census data compared to higher-income people, and compare that to voting behavior between the two groups. Lower-income people have to go out to voter sites that require a lot more and there are a lot of obstacles in their way, like voter apathy. Those two things are parallel in what gets people up and going. If down the line, New York offered vote by mail, that would alleviate a lot of problems for low-income families to vote. We already have proof that they have filled out the census at a higher rate than they actually vote. I also plan on taking a deeper dive into why people really do not get engaged. Is it a lack of civics in schools, is it the political culture in certain communities, lack of choices, or something else?
What originally sparked your interest in the Open Society Foundations?
OSF is among the largest funders of civil rights organizations in the country and, as someone who has worked in spaces trying to create change from the government side, from the activism side, I have found myself very curious about how philanthropy has played a role in effecting change and supporting organizations that are on the ground, doing the work at an international scale. Having worked in the largest city in the country, worked with some heads of state on some issues, met people while working on the Obama campaign, but never really worked on that level, that scale really attracts me. I am also interested in how to build coalitions and achieve a certain goal at an international organization, something that is brand new to me. Knowing the mission, background and goals of Patrick Gaspard [the President of OSF] himself, is someone I relate to as an organizer and George Soros as well. His philosophy around the transparency of government and human rights, and how I can play a role in that, sounded really interesting and exciting. It also felt like a really opportune time, given my experiences and where I’m at as a grad student, I felt like this was exactly where I needed to be, and it just fit like a glove.
What do you hope to bring or get out of this experience?
I hope to learn a lot. The outgoing fellows have explained that this new class’s experience will be different from theirs, because this time it will be a two-year fellowship, full time in the Executive Office of the President, working under his leadership. And there will be a new policy unit within that office, so we will be working directly on the policy priorities at the highest level within the OSF on an international scale. It’s exciting and even in my courses here, we have talked about the role of nonprofits and NGOs and the pros and cons of philanthropic organizations, which operates where government fails to act or is too rough or too corrupt or too rigid and slow. I want to come into everything with an open mind. The previous fellows have really opened up conversations on where things could be improved, where there could be some blind spots that have been overlooked, and I plan to take all of their information with me.
What advice can you give to students?
You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. I had a great professor who coached me through this, and she was right about a lot. A lot of past OSF fellows have come from the Ivy leagues, like Yale and Columbia. This personal achievement is as much of a big deal to CUNY, City College and the Colin Powell School as it is for me, and I am very cognizant of that. I will definitely be on my “A” game to leave a positive mark and show that CUNY and the MPA program specifically can produce the kind of students that can perform on par with anyone else. I think at the end of the two years after I’ve given it my all and leave my impression, if they give one slot to a CUNY student every year, then I have really accomplished something. This entire process isn’t just about me. My professor was really supportive of everything from the very first step, coaching me through it and helping me to recognize things that I have done that I didn’t think about.
What do you think is special and unique about the Colin Powell School?
The Colin Powell School offers a world-class essential skills curriculum as a catalyst for leadership development and professional growth. The unique, very small student-faculty ratio allows for tailored career development support services. Finally, the scale and scope of knowledge among the faculty and administrative staff speak to the values of professional excellence and local-to-global social impact that make the Colin Powell School truly special.
To read more about the Open Society Foundation, click here.