Trip to New York City helps students explore career options

SIA students in the United Nations headquarters in New York City
SIA students at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. IMAGE: Jennifer Cockerill

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Forty Penn State School of International Affairs (SIA) students spent two days in New York City this spring meeting with professionals at several major organizations and networking with SIA alumni who live and work in the city. The New York visit is one of several annual career trips organized by SIA to help students gain valuable professional insight and exposure to potential career paths.

It was a busy 48 hours, with meetings at the United Nations, UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Bloomberg, Council on Foreign Relations, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as well as an alumni reception on their first evening in the city.

Meeting with a variety of organizations related to the international affairs field helped the students, most of whom are in their first year of the Master of International Affairs program, learn more about the various career options that are open to them.

Elizabeth Weatherly, like many others, is exploring multiple paths. She completed her bachelor’s degree with a double-major in psychology and communications, and now in the international affairs program she is concentrating on human rights and completing a certificate in applied statistics. She is currently assisting an SIA professor with research on issues related to healthcare, sanitation, and maternal care for refugees. Given her current focus on human rights and refugees, she found the visit to the UNFPA particularly relevant, but added that she also appreciated meeting with organizations whose work is less pertinent to her interests.

“I know my interests, but I don’t know about all the career options that are out there,” Weatherly said. “This trip was a really good opportunity to understand what jobs you might like and what you don’t like.”

SIA students at the UN Population Fund
SIA students listen to a presentation while meeting with employees at the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). IMAGE: Erick Jenkins

For international student Wei-Ting Yang, the trip was a unique opportunity to explore New York City and learn more about the organizations, some of which he considers potential future employers. Yang, whose studies center on East Asia and human rights, is open to a wide range of possibilities after graduation—he is interested in working in the United States but may also return to his home country, Taiwan, to start his career.

“To me, [the New York trip] is about seizing the opportunity to expand your horizons,” Yang said, “which helps you see opportunities you might not have thought about before.”

In addition to expanding their perspective on potential careers, students came away from the trip with valuable career tips and advice from professionals in the field, including SIA alumni working at the United Nations, UNFPA, and FEMA.

“We met with an SIA alumnus who works at the UN, and he was able to give us very specific advice—like, if you want to work at the UN, here’s what you have to do to get your foot in the door,” said first-year SIA student John Madeira, who is concentrating on international security, including nontraditional security threats and broader issues that affect security such as climate change. 

“It was very helpful being able to talk to recent alumni and other people in the early part of their careers,” added Weatherly.

Some of the advice came during the alumni reception, which gave current students the opportunity to network with SIA alumni and other special guests; a highlight for many students was meeting Ambassador Richard Butler, a former SIA professor who previously served as the Australian ambassador to both the United Nations and Thailand, governor of Tasmania, and chairman of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM), the UN weapons inspection organization in Iraq.

SIA student Nathan Markowski said the trip, with so many meetings scheduled, was very fast-paced and exhausting—but well worth the time and energy. It was emblematic, he said, of the kind of career support he has received since starting the master’s program last fall.

“In undergrad I didn’t really learn how to job hunt,” Markowski said. “Here [at SIA] I get a lot of resources that I would have loved to have when I was younger.”

SIA students at the Council on Foreign Relations
Included in this year's trip was a meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations. IMAGE: Jennifer Cockerill

Along with New York City, SIA organizes annual Career Exposure Trips to Washington, D.C. and one of Philadelphia or Pittsburgh. 

“Our students and alumni consistently tell us that these career trips are among the most valuable aspects of their time at SIA, especially in terms of exposing them to a variety of career paths and employers they might consider after graduation,” said SIA Director of Career Services Grant Littke.

SIA’s focus on career services and support was a big selling point, Madeira said, when he was considering his options for graduate school.

“We’re all trying to get jobs,” he said, “so being able to sit down with employers is really helpful and kind of gives you a ‘cheat sheet’ before you start applying.”

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