Program Assistant Introduction: Zawadia LeFang MPA ’21

Note from Admissions: The 2020-2021 academic year is officially in swing, and as usual we have a new group of program assistants (PAs) working in the SIPA Office of Admissions and Financial Aid. They’ll specifically be helping you through the application and decision process over the next few months. We’ll be featuring our new PAs over the next couple of weeks, starting today with Zawadia LeFang.

Zawadia LeFang is a second-year MPA student with a concentration in Urban and Social Policy and a specialization in Technology, Media and Communications. She earned a Bachelor of Arts with honors in Economics from Occidental College. Prior to SIPA, she performed economic research on public health matters, mobilized around issues of diversity and equity through job and volunteer opportunities, and worked in economic consulting on antitrust and litigation matters. In 2017, she participated in PPIA JSI (the Public Policy and International Affairs Junior Summer Institute) at Princeton University. After graduating in May 2021, she plans to explore opportunities in policy analysis, social enterprise, and corporate social responsibility. 

What experiences do you think prepared you to apply to and attend SIPA?

Attending a liberal arts college allowed me to approach the range of policy topics that we discuss at SIPA with nuance. Additionally, performing quantitative research in both classroom and workplace settings prior to applying helped prepare me for the rigorous studies that occur at SIPA. Participating in PPIA JSI during undergrad, an intensive 7-week microcosm of graduate policy education, was also a major key in helping me understand what to expect at SIPA academically and socially. 

What was the most challenging aspect of the application process?

Overall, pulling together all of the materials for the application by the deadline was the toughest part. I underestimated how much time certain materials would take to prepare. For example, I thought the personal statement would be a moderately quick ‘about me’ exercise but it actually required deeper reflection on my motivations for pursuing an MPA at SIPA as well as a succinct evaluation of my short and long term career goals. Setting a realistic application timeline for preparing materials would have eased this challenge. 

What advice do you have for current applicants?

Use your personal statement to paint a clear picture of your goals for the future and how SIPA can help you achieve them. You know exactly why the degree program you are pursuing suits you, you know why SIPA is a great place for you and how you can contribute to the ecosystem, now the tougher part is making sure that you can effectively express all of that to the Admissions Committee. Keep in mind that preparing a cohesive and competitive application takes time. Give yourself enough leeway before the submission deadline.

Did you have a lot of quantitative experience when you applied to SIPA? Why or why not? How did you perform in those classes?

I had a good amount of quantitative experience at the time of application. I studied economics in undergrad and took several courses in the mathematics department. At SIPA, I opted to take advanced economics. Even with prior experience the quantitative core curriculum courses were challenging, however the Professors and TAs (teaching assistants) were very engaging, approachable and helpful. This made it easier to ask for help on any topics that I found difficult and ultimately I performed well in the classes. 

What do you think makes a good SIPA student or what qualities do stellar SIPA students typically possess?

I think stellar SIPA students are able to translate their ideas into action, whether through activism, startup pitches, careers or other avenues. The peers I admire here at SIPA are inquisitive, open-minded, and ambitious. SIPA students are well-informed and open to discuss the policy topics they care about. We continuously teach each other and learn from each other.