Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Then & Now: A Check In With Julian Palma (MA'14)

We first interviewed Julian Palma in 2013, during his first year of study as a Master of Arts candidate. In our previous Q&A,  Julian discussed his motivation for working in international relations and his post- Johns Hopkins SAIS career goals. This week, almost four years later, we caught up with Julian to see how his career goals have come to life, and how his education at Johns Hopkins SAIS impacts the work he does today.

Julian, what did you study as a Johns Hopkins SAIS student?

I earned a Master of Arts from Johns Hopkins SAIS in 2014. I concentrated my studies in conflict management. Prior to earning the MA, I earned a BS in Business Management from Lynn University (2007) with a semester abroad at John Cabot University in Rome (2005).

Tell us about your current role. 

As an urban development and disaster risk management specialist, I have been involved in the design and implementation of lending investments financed by the World Bank in key urban sectors such as urban transport, solid waste management, slum upgrading and municipal finance. I have also provided specific advisory services to national and local governments with respect to housing affordability and resilience, public-private partnerships and the modernization of hydro-meteorological systems. My international development portfolio is mainly focused in the Latin America Region (Bolivia, Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru and Uruguay) but I have provided cross-support to projects in other regions including India, Indonesia, South Africa and fragile states like Afghanistan.

How do you think your education experience prepared you for this work?

My experience at SAIS had a positive impact in the work I do today and has prepared me in several fronts. First, it has provided me with an increased understanding of economic development through rigorous coursework including corporate finance, statistics, quantitative global economics and international trade theory. Second, it provided me with the right mix of research, analytical and policy skills needed for sectorial work. In particular, a lot of my electives were from the Energy and Environment Program and that’s where my passion for urban development began. Finally, SAIS gave me global knowledge and exposure, not only through my coursework but also through my friends and colleagues, and that helped refined the soft diplomacy skills needed to work as an international public servant.

Did you leverage the school’s network? 

Prior to attending Johns Hopkins SAIS, I had served as a Foreign Service Officer for Colombia (my home country) and the plan was to return to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, I still took advantage of Career Services activities, and I’m grateful I did. The concept of “networking”—particularly sending out cold emails—is practically unheard of in Colombia and that was an additional skill I had to develop. It was awkward at the beginning but I learned why it was so important. It provides first-hand information on the job-market and allows for sincere conversations, particularly when you talk to other SAIS alumni, who have been there, just like you, on the search. By the end of my second year, one of my classmates was the one who referred me to my actual job.

What advice would you give someone contemplating attending?

You will benefit so much if you are open to new ideas, conversations and friendships. Johns Hopkins SAIS is hard work but set aside time to form your personal and professional connections from the start. One thing I learned—the hard way—is that being direct about your career and professional goals will get you a long way. Finally, don’t believe everything you read and use the classroom as a platform to engage in meaningful debates and express your personal opinion. You will be discussing them with the brightest young minds in international affairs.