David Fernandez, JSI 2018
Hometown: Madison, Wisconsin
College and majors: University of Wisconsin–La Crosse; political science, international relations
What attracted you to the Junior Summer Institute?
Simply put, I wanted to learn more about policy and public service; to learn the tools necessary to be a good, evidence-based decision-maker. I knew the PPIA program at Humphrey was going to be challenging, but that is precisely why I wanted to apply. I wanted to be good; I wanted to be really good at solving problems using different tools. I’m a first-generation, low-income, immigrant student from Mexico, so I never had any resources to improve my preparation for graduate school. This program allowed me to hone my research skills while providing a metric of how ready I am for graduate-level work.
What surprised you most during the program?
Before I came to this program I was thinking more or less like an economist, but now I’m thinking more like a really good economist, thanks to the sophisticated training of this program. Economists are really good at creating economic models to explain the complexities of the markets, but taking Samuel L. Myers’ class, Why Research Matters, taught us to question these models and know where economists and other social scientists go wrong: What was the research question? What assumptions did they use? Where did they get their data? Which analytical tools did they use to analyze their data? How did they come up with their conclusions?
What was the best part of the JSI?
The rigorous training. I’m not necessarily a leader per se, but I do want to become a security expert and face the global challenges that governments and other actors must face. Issues like war, nuclear arms control, cybersecurity, and stopping economies from crashing are grand challenges that require sophisticated skills and expertise. Although this is a complex world, knowing how to conduct research, construct theoretical frameworks and use analytical tools allows us to move from complexity to applicable solutions. There’s nothing more rewarding than to come to a program like this and be trained by someone like Professor Myers on racial disparities in the lending market, or be lectured by [Professor] Jodi Sandfort on the complexities of networks and power structures in politico-public affairs. I love the challenge of the program, and the friends for life I’ve made here.
Did the program change your mind about what you want to do after you graduate from college? What do you want to do after graduation?
After graduation, I’m hoping to get an MPP or an MA-IA in security policy to learn about real-life policy applications, and later get more training in a PhD program and contribute to international relations theory. There are many ways to help people, but I think the best way to do it is by being at the decision-making table of these large institutions that govern us—from the ivory tower and private firms to government. I have a serious commitment to public service, and the PPIA JSI program converted that abstract idea to something more concrete.