Alumna Alana Murphy, Public policy analysis, Class of 2015

Major: Public Policy Analysis, focus in Politics

Profession: Policy Analyst (International Migration, Humanitarian Affairs), Activist, Poet

Hometown: Oak Park, IL

What are you doing now?

Right now I am living in Quito, Ecuador, working professionally in my fourth language (Spanish), and climbing all of the marvelous glacier-topped mountains this country has to offer.  I moved here in March 2017 knowing practically no Spanish (the only class I had ever taken was my sophomore year of Pomona in 2012), with the primary intent of learning the language and essentially working my way into a job.

In August 2017, I began working as a program assistant with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), also known as the UN Migration Agency. My current position provides me with an up-close view of the behind the scenes work inherent to policy development and working with local governments. I have supported the development of the national operational guide for the management of temporary shelters (for people displaced internally during disasters), and helped conduct a series of country-wide workshops gathering information to be included in Ecuador's National Plan on Human Mobility.

In August 2018, I will begin a one-year master’s program in global studies with a focus in public policy in Beijing, China. The Schwarzman Scholars Program provides students from around the world with a full scholarship to complete a one-year advanced degree at Tsinghua University.  Although my knowledge of China is certainly nothing to brag about, I am excited for everything that lies ahead, including beginning to study Mandarin.

How did you get there?

Immediately after graduating high school, I traveled independently to Amman, Jordan and spent a year studying Arabic. During that year I had the opportunity to teach English to a group of Iraqi Assyrian women anxiously awaiting resettlement to Australia. I fell in love with these amazing women, was fascinated with the Arabic language, and became thoroughly interested in refugee affairs. After starting classes at Pomona College the following fall, I dedicated myself to studying international migration in its various forms. I spent a summer working as a resettlement intern with World Relief Chicago, helping newly arrived refugees start their lives over in my home city. During my junior year, I spent fall semester studying transnational migration in Morocco and spring semester working for the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration in Washington D.C. I returned to Jordan during the summer of 2014 and worked as an advocacy assistant for World Vision while conducting independent research to inform my senior thesis at Pomona. I interviewed Jordanian locals and Syrian refugees living in urban city centers about sources of tension between the two groups.

After graduating from Pomona College, I completed a Fulbright Research Grant in the Philippines. I studied Tagalog and completed a research project focused on Filipino migrant workers who had spent significant time overseas and had returned to the Philippines for various reasons. Many of these returnees lacked adequate savings or the skills necessary to start a small business or re-enter the Philippine job market. My project sought to evaluate existing livelihood programs sponsored by the Philippine Government or local NGOs that were available to these Filipino returnees.

After leaving the Philippines, I expected that my Pomona College degree and Fulbright qualifications would make it easy to obtain a job working in the international humanitarian sector. Eventually, I took an employment specialist position with World Relief Chicago. I helped my refugee clients prepare for interviews, connected with potential employers, and provided Arabic interpretation for Syrians and Iraqis.

Working for World Relief during the fall of 2017 might possibly be the best thing that has ever happened to me. I had the opportunity to be part of an amazing team of people who dedicated far more than their 9-5 a.m. office lives striving to support refugees and ensure that they survive their first few extremely difficult months in the United States. Helping my clients secure their first jobs in Chicago was perhaps the most challenging and rewarding work I have done so far.

Unfortunately, in January, 2017 President Trump signed into effect what is most commonly known as the “travel ban.” This new policy restricted who could come to the United States and limited the overall number of refugees granted resettlement in our country each year. With dwindling numbers of arrivals, resettlement agencies were forced to reduce their programs, and I began to consider what my next steps should be. Since my efforts to apply for overseas jobs from Chicago had been unsuccessful, I decided to go overseas and look for the job directly.  Moving to Ecuador seemed like a risky decision at the time – unsure of my finances and future job prospects.

How did Pomona prepare you?

Pomona College’s campus probably has more resources per student per square meter than the majority of educational facilities in the world. Moreover, the endless array of invited guest speakers, discussion events, artist performances, and student-organized parties provide students with an unparalleled campus experience that goes far beyond the classroom. I was also blessed with several close professor relationships that supported and challenged me throughout my time at Claremont (Ken Wolf, David Menefee-Libey and Heidi Haddad to name a few).

Nevertheless, I truly believe that Pomona best prepared me to face the frustrations of our current job market and to shape a career path for myself by offering generous support for various summer engagements and off campus activities. The 2012 summer internship funding I received from Pomona made it possible for me to work with World Relief as a resettlement intern.  Conducting research in Jordan for my thesis would have been impossible without Pomona’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP). I also worked for two years as a teacher's assistant for first and second grade through an agreement between Pomona’s Student Employment Office and Sycamore Elementary School. And of course, I cannot even begin to express my thankfulness for all of the outdoor trips and adventures I participated in made possible by Pomona’s Outdoor Education Center

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I will graduate from the Schwarzman Scholars Program in 2019. With an advanced degree in hand, I plan to apply for international program management positions working with the International Organization for Migration or other UN Departments. Perhaps three or four years down the line, I am considering applying for the U.S. Department of State Foreign Service, but in the long run I would like to be working in refugee resettlement. I can picture myself helping to run one of the larger aid organizations that provides resettlement services, building up the program  and improving it to meet the challenges of our 21st century political environment.

Any advice for prospective or current students?

If you are a prospective student, I encourage you wholeheartedly to go to Pomona. Go for its great academic reputation, go for the 8:1 student faculty ratio, go for the resort-like campus and the beautiful California flowering fruit trees – but above all, go so that you can make the experience your own. So that Pomona can be a tool for you, a step on your path to success.

If you are a first year or sophomore at Pomona, I challenge you to spend as much time off campus as possible. Volunteer with the Draper Center, apply for Alternabreak, take the train into LA and bike to Venice Beach just to do it. Research and apply for all of Pomona’s summer funding opportunities. Always be thinking about what comes after Pomona.

If you are getting ready to leave Pomona, I can guarantee you that your time post-graduation will be two things: disappointing and invigorating. Disappointing because very soon you will realize that there are no longer any clear road maps directing your career path. Don’t expect your next steps to be neat and straightforward, and don't be disheartened if at first it seems like you are wandering. Never be afraid to work the job you think you don’t want in order to get where you want to go. Your time post Pomona will also be invigorating because finally you will be able to dig your two hands into this messy, frustrating, crazily beautiful world we live in. Rather than talking about fighting for change, you will have the chance to work for it. Perhaps slowly through small, everyday acts of kindness, but moving forward all the same.