Friday, December 7, 2012

Student Spotlight: Cynthia Nyakeri

This post is the first in a series of student interviews that we will be posting over the next several weeks.
For this post, we’ve interviewed Cynthia Nyakeri. a first-year SAIS M.A. student concentrating in International Law and Organizations.  Cynthia received her B.A. in May 2012 from Hillsdale College, where she completed a double major in Economics and French, and pursued a number of volunteer extracurricular activities.  Cynthia, a Kenyan national, was a 2008 recipient of the Zawadi Africa Education Fund Scholarship.
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What made you want to pursue international relations professionally?
They say you cannot see the forest when you are there among the trees, and it is true. It does take some separation to find clarity. It was only after I was away from Kenya for a while and went back for visits that I was able to recognize the extent of the problems that plague Kenya and other developing countries. My interest in looking at development issues through the broader lens of international relations and finding creative solutions to these problems grew from there.
When considering graduate school, what was appealing about SAIS?
I was looking for an academically rigorous program that would challenge me while at the same time nurture me as I prepare to start my career.  SAIS was able to offer me that. Additionally, SAIS has a reputation as one of the leading institutions in International Relations, producing experts in world issues and policy making. The high quality and dedication of its professors and students was also a criteria I could not ignore. I was confident that I would be surrounded by inspiring people, amazing professors and peers who are good at what they do and are passionate about their careers.
Tell me about the mentoring you are doing back in your home country, Kenya.
Twice, I have applied to colleges in the US and both times, I have gone through the application process with very limited information. I have first-hand experience of challenges that Kenyan students face when applying to top schools around the world. I therefore work with students from my neighborhood and schools I attended previously in an effort to educate them on the opportunities that exist in the country and abroad. For those interested in studying abroad, I give them application tips and answer the questions that they may have.  I recognized the need for the African continent to harness its young and talented labor force and nurture them to become leaders.
How do you plan to make a difference with regards to development in your home country?
I would like to create an environment where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. One of the barriers that exist at the moment is institutional weaknesses that prevent efficiency and have allowed corruption to thrive.  It is necessary that this problem be addressed through institutional changes. I would like to launch a consulting firm that specifically covers the social, political and economic problems of Kenya and that will offer valuable policy advice to the government and other firms on how to tackle these problems. This should bring Kenya closer to its vision of being a middle income country offering a high quality of life to all its citizens by the year 2030.
What are some of the courses you are taking and skills you are learning right now that will help you with that?
I am currently taking development and international law classes and in the future, I plan on taking more quantitative Economics classes. I am aware of the interdisciplinary nature of the field and so I would like to have the different but complementary perspectives that the classes have to offer. The classes at SAIS enable me to learn not only the theoretical frameworks and conceptual tools but also give me real life applications. I cannot ignore the interpersonal element and I hope to obtain these skills through my interactions with my peers and professors.
Thanks for reading!
–Erin Skelly Cameron, Associate Director of Admissions