Q & A

Hear from our graduate students about what being a part of the Jackson community means to them.

Want to know more? Contact our admissions office to be connected with a Jackson student for a one-on-one Skype chat or phone call.

Sei-kashe M'pfunya

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Sei-kashe M’pfunya graduated cum laude from Pomona College in 2021 with a BA in international relations and fine art. While at Pomona, Sei-kashe centered on the nexus of sustainable development, art, and culture. Sei-kashe was a resident assistant, creative director of the African Students Association and founder of the annual Sanbonani! African Film Festival. Sei-kashe’s commitment to bring about public good within sub-Saharan Africa stems from the economic complexities she witnessed as a child in the unrelentingly tenacious and also economically fraught nation of Zimbabwe, her home country. She completed an honors thesis comparatively assessing the sine qua non and impact of cultural development strategies undertaken in case studies of Burkina Faso and Zimbabwe. During her undergraduate tenure, Sei-kashe completed several internships at non-profit organizations including the New York African Film Festival where she executed grant proposals, led intern teams in content creation and public relations and supported event management tasks; Ingressive for Good (Nigeria), where she developed resources and facilitated online events and training sessions to equip young Africans with tech-related skills; and Global Fund for Women, where she conducted concept notes for various projects, managed the Fundamental Film Series platform and helped revamp the organization’s website. At Jackson, she hopes to further expand her knowledge on international development in sub-Saharan Africa. She is particularly interested in refining current philanthropic strategies in the region to better equip non-profit organizations and foundations to scale greater social impact. She looks forward to learning how to leverage the arts and cultural sector for public wellbeing.

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What did you do before you came to Jackson?
Before Jackson, I completed my undergraduate degree at Pomona College: a double major in International Relations and Fine Art. At the time I worked on two senior thesis projects, exploring art and culture in development policy, and as a practice. In International Relations, I compared the socioeconomic impact of cultural development policies in case studies of Burkina Faso and the Pan African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO), and the Culture Fund Trust of Zimbabwe. My senior art exhibition showcased an acrylic series accompanied by recordings of my mother, father and grandmother and their memories of Zimbabwe from the late 70s to the early 80s, in the years leading to Zimbabwe’s independence. The works sought to understand the meaning of collective remembrance and how the memories of my parents and grandmother can be steppingstones for those today, like me, to reflect, learn and visualize alternative futures.
What do you like most about the MPP program and the Jackson community?
Anytime someone asks me this question the same answer comes up - I am constantly humbled and grateful for the community I have found in Jackson. I have been able to learn and grow with my classmates on an intellectual and personal level. The people I have met here have meant so much to me during my time here.
How have you customized your curriculum to match your area of focus?
I came to Jackson with a clear idea that I wanted to create my own patchwork quilt of what is necessary to do development well in Sub-Saharan Africa. Part of my journey has involved investing into the skills necessary to do so and taking classes at the School of Management, Jackson and in the future, at the Law School.
Any experiences that have really stood out?
This past semester I have been part of Clare Lockhart's class "Practical Challenged in Policy Design and Reform", where I had the opportunity to work alongside the Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, David Sengeh. I truly forget how lucky I am to be in conversation with such influential and powerful individuals at Yale. Having to draft policy reform for Sierra's national examination system allowed me to fully engage with how complex and difficult policymaking and development truly is.
What do you want to do once you’ve finished the program?
My dream is to return to Zimbabwe and work as a development consultant, working alongside local and international initiatives to address present socio-economic problems. I also intend to start a heritage center that serves as an innovation hub for artists and creatives. This center will additionally be an ongoing resource of national archives and history that preserves local heritage.

Ashley Towers

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Ashley Towers is a first-year MA student at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. She served in the U.S. Army National Guard as Military Police, and is a combat veteran. Ashley graduated summa cum laude from The Citadel, Military College of South Carolina with a BA in intelligence & security studies and criminal justice in 2021. She spent the summer of 2019 abroad in Georgia and Estonia, where she studied foreign policy issues and challenges both nations face regarding cybersecurity, cooperation and coordination with international organizations, and Russian foreign policy interests affecting the larger Black Sea and Baltic Sea regions. She also recently interned in a Congressional Member office, and worked on the foreign affairs portfolio. At Jackson, she hopes to focus on diplomacy, U.S. foreign policy, and international security. As a 2021 Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Graduate Fellow, Ashley will enter the United States Foreign Service under the U.S. Department of State upon graduation.

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What did you do before you came to Jackson?
Most recently before Jackson, I completed undergraduate study as a non-traditional student. I'm a military Veteran with a diverse work history. Between military deployments I had a career in concrete and aggregate materials sales, and prior to returning to full-time studies I was a government contractor with the Department of Homeland Security.
What do you like most about the MPP program and the Jackson community?
The small cohort size is one of my favorite things about Jackson. I really feel like a part of a community, and not simply a number.
How have you customized your curriculum to match your area of focus?
At Jackson, I've customized my curriculum in a way I couldn't at other institutions. I'm studying foreign language in a manner that suits my individual needs, and I'm pursuing advanced understanding in topics that I've previously explored and become passionate about. Importantly, I have the freedom to take courses that fill knowledge gaps as I transition from an intelligence and security studies focus to a future career in foreign policy and diplomacy. I've also sought courses that further develop writing and briefing skills - crucial skills for real-world success.
Any particular experiences that have really stood out?
The opportunities to engage with and learn from the Senior Fellows are some of the best experiences thus far. I've gained so much knowledge, insight, and advice both inside and outside the classroom. The interactions with Fellows in my future career field are invaluable, and conversations with Fellows in fields outside diplomacy have opened my eyes to new interests and intersections.
What do you want to do once you’ve finished the program?
As a Rangel Fellow, I will join the U.S. Foreign Service after graduation. I look forward to serving my country again in a different capacity, and I'm confident my time at Jackson will leave me well prepared for the exciting journey ahead.

Christopher Kakeung Wong

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Christopher Kakeung Wong, born in Vancouver, Canada and raised in Hong Kong, graduated from the University of Hong Kong in 2018 with a business degree. In college, he developed an interest in public affairs and interned with organizations such as Cathay Pacific and the Competition Commission. He joined the Hong Kong SAR Government upon graduation and was appointed to policymaking roles in the Innovation and Technology Bureau and thereafter Home Affairs Bureau. While in office, he worked on various policies, including support for the Esports industry and subventions to local youth organizations. At Yale, he will focus his studies on US-China relations, as well as the dynamic forces that are forging the future of Hong Kong. He is also keen to integrate impact investing with human rights advocacy and aspires to contribute to public policies in Hong Kong and China, especially in youth, gender and LGBTQIA+ affairs. He is attending Yale as a Kwok scholar.

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What did you do before you came to Jackson?
Prior to Jackson, I spent three years in the administrative service of the Hong Kong government where I worked on tech policy and youth affairs. The bulk of the work was in engaging stakeholders in the community and coordinating policy responses in consultation with the legislature.
What do you like most about the MPP program and the Jackson community?
I think the student community is the best resource at Jackson. Everyone has a unique set of experiences and skills and is incredibly generous in sharing them in classes, student-led events, and casual conversations. The small student body also facilitates these exchanges and builds camaraderie among us. The strength of the MPP program lies in its flexibility and access to the rest of Yale. I was able to choose courses at the Yale School of Public Health and Yale Law School to pursue my area of interest in a cross-disciplinary manner. In terms of career development, Jackson offers great connections from World Fellows to Yale alumni.
How have you customized your curriculum to match your area of focus?
I am focusing on China and human rights at Yale, specifically sexual minority rights. The flexibility of the curriculum has enabled me to explore the different dimensions to these subjects. I have taken courses on China’s foreign policy with Prof. David Rank, LGBTQ health with Prof. John Pachankis at the Yale School of Public Health, and the future of human rights with Prof. Paul Gewirtz and Nicholas Bequelin. This unique selection of courses has helped me contextualize the issues of concern and crystalize my thoughts on tackling them.
Any particular experiences that have really stood out?
I have taken Prof. Asha Rangappa’s course on U.S. national security. This is an amazing course that delves into the U.S. national security regime and its longstanding tension with constitutional rights. Engaging this material as a Hongkonger is particularly relevant for national security, as a policy subject, has dominated the public sphere in Hong Kong in recent years. Classes aside, I also learnt a lot through topical on-campus events, such as discussions on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which offered great insights from both academic and practical perspectives.
What do you want to do once you’ve finished the program?
I wish to build a career centered around human rights with a regional focus on China and other Chinese-speaking regions.

Sharanya Rajiv

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Sharanya Rajiv is an MPP in Global Affairs candidate at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. She is interested in the intersection of Eurasian geopolitics, natural resource politics, and sustainability. She also advises Hillhouse Analytics, a big-data enabled consulting firm that was founded by Jackson alums. Previously she worked at the New Delhi center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where she led research on India’s strategic interests in Eurasia and managed several public and private events as well as track 1.5 dialogues between India and Europe. Prior to Carnegie, Sharanya interned at the Policy Planning and Research Division of India’s Ministry of External Affairs. She holds a BA in political science, with honors from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi. Sharanya also has native fluency in Hindi and Tamil, and hopes to improve her Russian language skills at Yale.

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What did you do before you came to Jackson?
Immediately before Jackson, I worked at an early-stage startup founded by two alumni where I managed operations and helped navigate product development. Prior to this, I spent four years at the New Delhi center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, researching India's engagement with Central Asia and Eurasia along with coordinating various programs.
What do you like most about the MPP program and the Jackson community?
I really like how the MPP program brings together a community that is very diverse and tight-knit. We've got students from all over the world with diverse interests. From engaging with each other in the classroom and other events at Jackson to going to fun local events and traveling together, I have really enjoyed getting to know everyone. What I value the most is the opportunity to form genuine connections, given the small program size.
How have you customized your curriculum to match your area of focus?
I came to Jackson with a two-fold plan to develop certain quantitative / language skills and explore thematic areas that are of interest to me. Fortunately, I have been able to do just that because of the few core classes and the option of taking classes outside Jackson. Further I didn't expect to be able to take classes in which I could learn by doing—my favorite classes have been the practicums at Jackson and other schools at Yale. These have provided the opportunity to apply concepts I learn in the classroom to real-world problems through semester-long projects.
Any particular experiences that have really stood out?
The vibrant student community at Jackson is something that has surprised me. The sheer diversity of interests among us means that we can go from organizing a documentary screening about the LGBT community in Chechnya one week to partnering with the Yale Painting Program to host an art exhibition the next week!
What do you want to do once you’ve finished the program?
After Jackson, I hope to work on issues related to the environment, sustainable development, and inclusion in Central Asia.

Juan Villalobos Toro

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Juan Camilo Villalobos was born in Bogota, Colombia. He graduated from Universidad de los Andes with a BA in economics, a BA in government and public affairs, and a minor in state and public law. Juan developed his career at Instiglio, a global leader in results-based financing focusing on developing countries. He worked with over 15 organizations (including USAID, DFID, World Bank, IDB, Botnar Foundation, Village Enterprise, Fundación Bancolombia, and the National Planning Department of Colombia) to improve the impact of their social interventions in more than 10 developing countries, including Colombia, South Africa, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Namibia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uzbekistan, and India). He led the technical design for three impact bonds, guided the creation of four data systems to manage performance during implementation (a.k.a. adaptive management systems), supported the strategy process for several clients, and advanced various internal initiatives to support the expansion of Instiglio across continents. At Yale, Juan is using the MPP to explore strategies to strengthen governments and leverage the private sector to advance sustainable development initiatives in Latin America and Africa.

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What did you do before you came to Jackson? 
Before coming to Jackson I was working at Instiglio, a pioneer organization working on results-based financing in developing countries. Some of the projects I was working on include the Village Enterprise Development Impact Bond in Kenya and Uganda, a social impact bond for preschool education in Uzbekistan, or a set of dashboards to facilitate decision-making during Covid for the government of Colombia.
What do you like most about the MPP program and the Jackson community?
The program gives an unparalleled opportunity to focus on what you actually care about. My focus is on sustainable development in Latin America with a focus in Colombia. Therefore, I split my time between the School of Environment, the School of Management, and Jackson. Also, the community is very supportive and adds a lot to your experience. Since it is small and very diverse, you will learn about other sectors in an organic manner. For example, I've learned a bit about national security, diplomacy, and humanitarian assistance. This has been very interesting and is helping me think in a more holistic manner about the role of governments in societies. 
How have you customized your curriculum to match your area of focus?
I split my time between the School of Management, Yale School of the Environment, and Jackson. Each school helps me speak the language of business, environment, and society in a way that will help me work on sustainable development. 
Any particular experiences that have really stood out?
As part of a class called 'Development In Action' we learned about the challenges of working on development in a developing country, both on a personal and professional basis. The class included a trip to Jordan where we could see first hand the context, the challenges, and engage with people across the implementing organization. 
What do you want to do once you’ve finished the program?
I'll go back to Colombia to work at the intersection of environmental, social, and economic challenges.