First Year International Administration Master's Candidate

This post relates to my previous post about Condoleezza Rice’s recognition of the importance of administration and management skills in the field of international and public service ( But this time, the recognition comes from the partner of an international aid worker. And I think his insight is very interesting.

In his post, he rails against the improper management of NGO’s and NPO’s, especially when it comes to misconstruing program costs and purposely undervaluing administration as an input into successful programs. But why is this a big deal? Afterall, corporations’ advertising is often misconstrued or misleading so why should professional aid agencies be any different?

Because this is a question of “whether this practice does any harm. [And] I believe it does. Administrative support is an input like any other.”

“If aid agencies compete over making this cost as low as possible relative to total costs, it does not take a genius to see that this can result in too little support from an understaffed and underpaid head office. Further, the practice provides incentive to transfer tasks better executed centrally to individual programs.”

He goes on to state EXACTLY why administration is even MORE IMPORTANT for international development and aid agencies than it is in the for-profit sector, which is ironic given that administration is most valued in the for-profit sector and least valued in the non-profit sector. Unlike in the for-profit sector, mismanagement and inadequate administrative support in nonprofits have a higher human cost. As he puts it, “your partner will be acutely aware of the human consequences of this inefficiency in his/her organization and your partner will work in an organisation that prides itself on allocating too few resources to fund a truly efficient operation. So the cost of the above mentioned inefficiency is typically borne by far too few individuals- one of whom is your partner.”

Staff burnout and turnover are already major issues in international aid work. It’s just the nature of the work. But proper administration and organizational support can help alleviate that suffering and help rejuvenate staff. In other words, international administration doesnt just help your partner, their organization, and those they serve. It also helps the entire field by contributing to its sustainability, not just programmatically but also financially and personally.

You can read the full post here:
And here:


Recently Dr. Condoleezza Rice visited Korbel. She got her BA here at DU and her Ph.D here at Korbel under Dr. Korbel himself (father of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright). I was fortunate enough to be able to sit in on two smaller, seminar styled meetings with her. And at the first one, she sat next to me! She is so poised and even though I do not agree with her on a lot of things, I cannot help but admire her as a minority woman and as a fellow practitioner.

Anyway, one of the things she said at the first meeting really stuck with me and I was really glad that she said it. You see, I am in the International Administration program here at Korbel. The great thing about Korbel’s programs is that they are so flexible. For example, even though I am in the Admin program, I can still concentrate my studies in two fields (say human rights and humanitarian assistance) while also getting a certificate in say, global health or international security (if I wanted). Unlike the other programs, which focus on teaching you a subject of study, the goal of the admin program is to make you a better practitioner at whatever it is you are already there to study.

I feel the program is often misunderstood or underappreciated. For example, at a networking event recently I was speaking with a man about positions and the kind of work Im interested in. He asked, “But why are you looking at those positions? You have an admin degree and that tells me you want to be behind a desk– not in the field.” I responded, “No, it doesnt mean that at all. It simply means that I know how to run an organization and how to be an effective leader– skills that most certainly can, and in some cases are even best, used in the field– when conditions are chaotic and organization/leadership is key.” Even within the school, our program is less well known. We are one of the smallest program, with around 20 students total.

But Condoleezza Rice GETS it. At our morning meeting, she recounted an anecdote. A man once told her, “Hah yea, I’m a great leader but terrible at managing and all that administrative junk.” And Condi’s response was, “Well, if you’re not a good manager, you’re not a good leader.”

I see my administration degree as making me a better and stronger practitioner of human rights than my peers that are in the human rights degree. Because in the field, they may be able to better recount Donnelly or other human rights theorists. But when it comes down to being the highest ranking official in your organization after your boss was killed by a mortar or taken hostage by Somali militias and you can’t reach HQ because the power lines are down, who do you think is going to be better equipped to deal with that organizational and leadership crisis? Someone who has only studied human rights, or someone who has studied human rights but also has additional organizational, managerial, and leadership training? Probably the second person.

I also feel that people in the field often undervalue the work of the people who overcome the legislative, logistical, financial, and personnel obstacles to getting them into the field, let alone the work that allows them to stay there.

Condoleezza Rice stated today that the only reason she was successful as Secretary was her administrative background as Stanford’s provost. She didnt run the State Department, an organization with nearly 57,000 staff worldwide, because of her Ph.D, her Russian/piano skills, or her diplomatic aplomb. She was successful at running such a large, complex, and politically sensitive organization because she was a good manager.

It was just nice to get outside recognition of that fact. Administration may seem boring to some, but it is invaluable in our line of work. I believe my peers could learn a great deal from learning more about my program and I hope my blog has helped you learn about it too!

In the fields of human rights, social justice, and humanitarian assistance, opponents often attack practitioners as “hippy idealists,” as if such a term were a derogatory term that justifies the dismissal of a person’s opinions, beliefs, and practices. But I’d like to share why I think it is so important to be an idealist, and not just as a human rights/social justice practitioner. In fact, I venture to argue that idealists are more capable, perseverent, passionate, and even practical in these fields (and in any field) than a realist could ever be. Indeed, I believe idealists have inherent characteristics that justify my belief that more leaders and managers should be idealists.

1. As a human rights practitioner, faced with daily barrages of rights violations, of rapes, intentionally imposed malnutrition and starvation, genocide, murder, systematic denial of basic human dignities, etc, idealism is simply necessary, not only to remain in the field and prevent staff burnout, but also simply to survive your work experience without PTSD, transferred trauma, suicide, or long term physical implications caused by the emotional, mental, and psychological stress, fatigue, and trauma. If you can’t see the eternal value of your work and passion in the darkest of times (and in this field even the lightest of times is pretty dark), you will not survive in the field. And I mean “survive” quite literally. International aid work has the fifth highest job-related death rate among U.S. civilian occupations, and it is the only one where the leading cause of death is intentional violence.

2. Idealism is also an asset because even when working in domestic offices where exposure to direct trauma is limited, progress on a national or global scale is long-term and collective. This means that a decade of work in human rights may see little progress and may even see some decline in global progressive policies/practices. If you are not an idealist, you will not be capable of persevering in your work since in our increasingly globalized, collective world, an individual’s efforts, no matter how great, are only a drop in the ocean. This work thus requires a sense of faith in the value of your work even when you cannot see its direct implications or directly reap its benefits– something that idealism provides. This long term focus makes idealists excellent visionaries and leaders, as they are anticipatory of future trends and responsive to long term pressures like sustainability.

3. Idealists are also more perseverent, committed, and doggedly stubborn in achieving their goals than realists. This is because for idealists, there is always a “better” to a “best.” Idealists are able to achieve all that is possible only because they strive for the impossible– the attainment of ideals. Realists argue this makes idealists weak since they are thus more prone to disappointment and giving up. But the opposite is actually true. Because idealists are by nature never-ending problem solvers, they make excellent staff and even better leaders and visionaries because the problem is always adapting and the solution is never perfect. Idealists are harder workers than realists because for idealists, the work is never over. As a direct result of this fact, they are often committed lifelong to their passion and work and they demand results not just from themselves but also from those around them. Thus, they hold others accountable as well as themselves and can be counted upon to solve problems and be both results and long term focused in their problem solving– traits that should be valued rather than dismissed. Their commitment to the unattainable makes them more perseverent rather than less, as opponents argue.

4. Finally, idealists believe the best of people and consequently expect more from others and themselves. Because idealists are always searching for solutions to never ending problems and seek the attainment of the impossible, they are perfectionists. Realists argue this is a weakness since believing in the best of people and expecting a lot from others puts you in the weak position of dependence on others’ fulfillment of those expectations, setting you up for disappointment or betrayal. I argue the opposite is true. People can only achieve greatness when someone believes in their potential and helps them develop it. When you tell someone they are stupid, there are only two options. They can exceed your underestimation out of spite, luck, or revenge, or they can succumb to your low expectations and never achieve their full potential out of hopelessness or denial of their own worth. My belief that hope and positive reinforcement is stronger than fear, revenge, and negligence is strong and is supported by scientific evidence. Furthermore if you never question circumstances, demand change, and expect more from others, you create a self-fulfilling prophecy. And ultimately, it leads to burn out since you believe only you can “fix” things and are thus unable to delegate and incapable of trusting. This “realism” is what actually weakens you because it means you are unable to effectively create trusting partnerships and alliances, solve problems that straddle boundaries, develop or accept leadership from your peers or subordinates, or create solutions that bridge diverse, conflicting populations/pressures.

Im tired of people calling me an idealist as if it were an insult.
I’m damn proud to be one.

Week 5

Tomorrow Week 5 begins. I received my first midterm last Tues and it’s due Friday. I get another midterm tomorrow, have a presentation Thurs, and already turned in another paper last Thursday. My point?

It’s only January and I’m already getting midterms and preparing for Spring Quarter registration. Quarter system really sucks sometimes.

And right now, like all other Korbelites, I am struggling just to keep my nose above water. Don’t worry- you’ll be joining in on the water fun come Fall Quarter! 😀

In other news, I have some advice about what NOT to do when you come to Korbel- don’t NOT meet your advisor. My advisor, Prof Hughes, was unfortunately out of town during Fall orientation, so I didnt get to meet with my advisor when I first arrived on campus like everyone else did. And then winter registration came along and I waited and waited for him to send me something about his advising office hours, but never heard anything and in the meantime, had no questions myself. So I let it go.

Well the other day I stopped by his office to look at his office hours for spring registration since my last quarter experience showed me I would need to make the first step to meet with him. His office was closed so I wrote down his office hours before turning to leave. Turns out he was standing at the door next to me talking with another professor and asked if he knew me. I told him he didnt but that I was his advisee. He looked shocked lol

So when you come to Korbel, dont do what I did and wait until you’re almost done with the first year of the program to meet your advisor lol. Adviors can be really helpful not just for coursework but also for career advice, networking, and research experience. So take advantage of my failed experience and force your advisor to recognize your face 😀

Jan 15 was the deadline to apply for the Josef Korbel School. I know this because I work in the office that processes your application. In fact, if you’ve ever had a question about the application process, odds are that we’ve spoken on the phone or email. I remember when I applied to the Josef Korbel School.

I was so sure I wouldn’t get in that I wasn’t even apprehensive about waiting for the final decision. I knew it would be a resounding, “No.” In fact, even though the Josef Korbel School was my first choice, I wasn’t even going to apply, I was so sure I’d get rejected. It took months for my advisor and various loved ones to convince me to apply “just for the heck of it,” to apply so I “wouldn’t regret it.”

So if you’re feeling that way about your own application, don’t! Believe in yourself and your abilities! Because my friends and family were right, and apparently the application committee saw things in myself that I didn’t. They may very well see the same things in you, even if you can’t.

I first applied for the International Studies program. However, after my first quarter here I switched to the International Adminstration program. And I’d like to tell you why.

Once I got to the Korbel School and became more familiar with the classes, professors, and different programs, I realized that the Studies program was much more academic geared than I wanted. I don’t want a career in academia or research tanks and I’m not interested in making policy.

I wanted less theory and politics and more concrete skills that would be transferrable throughout sectors, so I could work in public, private, or government and still be competitive. I wanted skills I could use to run a nonprofit, manage a team, and evaluate projects. I wanted the skills and knowledge necessary to advocate for policies and to defend my work’s value to others. This might also have been a function of the fact that unlike some of the other students, I already had a BA in International Politics, so I was looking to grow on that, not simply to relearn at a slightly deeper level what I’d already studied.

I looked at the required classes on the different program fact sheets and realized that the ones I most wanted to take matched up with those required for the Admin program. And once I made the switch, I could feel in my bones I’d made the right choice.

The great thing about the Josef Korbel School programs is that they are by nature interdisciplinary, which means you can be an Admin MA with a Homeland Security certificate and concentration in Human Rights. As a development student you can take a Homeland Security course and still find what you learned is relevant to your own field. The degrees here are highly flexible and allow you to learn new skills and expand your skill set beyond what is normally seen in your field.

So my advice? It’s ok to hope you’ll get in. And if you do get accepted, dont pigeonhole yourself. Look at the other programs and see what you can learn from them. You may be surprised.

This was the first week of Winter Quarter. And surprise, surprise, I made all A’s my first quarter of gradschool. Looking back, I’m still not sure how I did it. The only explanation is that our Stats professor curved the last exam lol. During winter break, I was also able to read the entire Hunger Games series and the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. SO GOOD! And great to do some less academic, pure leisure reading for a change haha.

Anyway, my courses this quarter are: Intro to Human Rights, Financial Management for NonProfits, and Comparative Public Policy and Finance. I’m excited about the Policy class because it focuses on welfare states and welfare programs, something I am very interested in due to my social justice background. But what I’m really excited about is the Human Rights class, taught by Prof Donnelly.

He’s one of those professors whose class readings substantially include his own work but unlike so many other professors who do that, it’s not because he’s a stuck up prick trying to make money off his books by forcing students to buy them. Indeed, he put all his work online for us for free. You know he includes so much of his own work because, quite frankly, he’s literally a leader in the field and his work is the standard in the field. I feel so blessed to have a class with him, even if he occasionally says eccentric things, wears embroidered flowers on his shirts, and has extremely skinny ankles lol. It’s a good thing he’s so brilliant too, otherwise I’d hate him for the amount of reading he assigns.

In addition to these three classes, I am also taking an Employment Enrichment course for a few weeks to map out my job hunt strategy. I intend to start job hunting by spring and no later than next fall quarter. It meets two hours each week for six of the ten weeks.

I also have great news! This week I met with the director of the Humanitarian Assistance Program to argue my case to get in, and after an hour of discussion and debate…


I’d practically given up last autumn but I went in today for one last shot, and God, I am so happy. Ive been expressing my gratitude to God and Providence all week. The program was a central reason I chose to come to DU, so I can’t tell you how excited and thrilled I am about this development! The program has just gotten a new director and they are changing the requirements, so getting in was confusing because we had to figure out which requirements I fell under. YAY! 😀

Estoy lista!

I just clicked “send” on my last paper of the quarter.
I am officially done with my first quarter of grad school! HUZZAH!
Now I can spend my time catching up on leisure reading I have stocked up and catch up on all my tv shows. I can visit my family, kiss my boyfriend, and hug my best friend! I can work out and play wii, and celebrate my birthday! I can pig out on pumpkin pies, cranberry sauces, turkeys, hams, eggnog, and ever more quantities of alcohol. I can indulge in christmas carols and buy a mini christmas tree for my cat and I at the dollar store! I can paint my toenails and go clubbing. I can go to the movies and eat out! We also get off work at noon two days this month and have a really cool christmas party!

So much fun, love, and joy awaits me this season, I simply cannot wait to get started.

I put in over 30 hours studying for my stats exam and I know for a fact I did not make an A. There were 7 questions I guessed on and if you miss more than 5 you fail the test. There comes a point when your brain is so full of stuff that you’re sitting there, reading the same things and doing the same problems, and not remembering anything. You keep studying because you know you have to, even though you know it will do no good. There’s only so much stuff you can fit into your head from so many subjects in such a short period of time. Your brain actually begins to physically hurt. That hopeless doggedness is how I felt all of last week

I will not know my grades until early December, but until then, I plan on forgetting I am even in grad school. That being said, I had so much fun this quarter– moving here, making friends, learning so much. I’ve really strengthened my sense of self and sense of purpose. I’ve always loved challenges, and grad school has proven to be one of the worthiest challenges yet.

It will be Christmas soon. And I will be 22 soon. I won’t be one of the babies here anymore!

Ima rock this next month like a horcrux.

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