A Cohort to Lean On

Shazmeneh is a first-year student in the IEDP. She was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan and first came to the US for her Bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at NYU. She has returned to the US after two years managing public schools; creating curricula for out-of-school children; training teachers; and conducting research on the performance of public-private partnership school models in Sindh, Pakistan. Specifically, she is interested in education systems, policy and implementation, and student learning. Before starting this program, she was leading a school for out-of-school children in Karachi, Pakistan. After completing her degree, she hopes to return to the people and places she calls home.

I struggle with presentations. I can talk for hours; I enjoy public speaking, too. But when it comes to standing in front of a class and presenting with slides and clickers, my heart races inexplicably. I’ve always been the person who made the presentations, answered the questions that followed, but always dodged the “presenting” part. Last week, I was up to present in different classes. However, this time around I had a group of colleagues, friends, and supporters, who heard me rehearse and sent text messages saying, “you got this!”

There are 29 of us in this cohort. We come from different places, with different backgrounds, mindsets, and aspirations. And yet, there is a synergy – intentionally created, perhaps, but genuinely maintained. In a pro-seminar class on “Identity in Development Work” two weeks ago, I saw people ease into conversations, showing their vulnerability and attempting to be their real human selves. I saw people look at each other, listen, and genuinely connect with one another’s experiences. Some critically reflected on their own positionality, some talked about their anxieties, and others talked about the culture of IEDP. There was a sincere exchange of questions and thoughts. This does not come easy with people you met three months ago. But this reflective circle helped us connect and collectively embrace our vulnerability when it comes to doing development work.

It is this spirit the creates room for individual anxieties: presentations, writing, time management, professional uncertainty, etc. It makes it “ok” to accept there are things we struggle with.  I find it easier to learn the “technical” – it is difficult (and I credit my “Systems Thinking” class for this) to embrace the complexity of being human, not having answers, and accepting our struggles.

IEDP first- and second-year cohorts, faculty, and family together at the annual IEDP brunch, hosted by Dr. Dan Wagner and Mary Eno’s at their lovely home

Before I started this program, I was nervous about how competitive it would be. “Cut-throat” and “stressful” was what I had expected. But I don’t believe it is the competition that helps us work towards our success. I believe it is how we collaborate and have each other’s backs. And I also realize that this might be a sunny story that ends after the IEDP journey ends. But, this will almost certainly make us better equipped to make those new journeys more meaningful.

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