Alumni in Action

Public Service Spotlight

Luciana Mermet

MPA-PNP - 2007

Policy Specialist United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) Bureau for Development Policy

Tell us about your current public service work. Can you briefly describe your employment organization and position responsibilities, as well as any relevant volunteer or entrepreneurial activities?

I currently work with the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) Bureau for Development Policy. As Policy Specialist, Trade and Poverty, with the Poverty Practice, I work with the Inclusive Globalization team on the trade portfolio. My main areas of work include supporting UNDP’s role in the Enhanced Integrated Framework for trade capacity development in least developed countries (LDCs) and the Aid for Trade initiatives, as well as MDG8 monitoring. Recently, we have initiated a capacity assessment initiative for trade institutions work programme with LDCs. I am responsible for the coordination with other UN agencies in these areas, as well as an array of corporate initiatives dealing with poverty reduction and trade related matters. In my Policy Specialist capacity, I spend quite some time mentoring interns and junior staff, including on work opportunities, and learning and professional paths within and outside the UN.

Please summarize your professional and academic background. What has been a highlight?

Before joining UNDP in 2007, I worked for four years as trade officer in the Foreign Trade Division of the Ministry of Economy and Production in Argentina, where I was involved in multilateral and regional negotiations with a focus on non-agricultural goods, rules, dispute settlement, South-South cooperation and multilateral environmental agreements. I also worked with the Economic Development Division of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in Chile backstopping the Economic Division's trade and fiscal policy adviser, and taught and researched international trade related subjects at Universidad Nacional Tres de Febrero in Argentina.

What led you to pursue a master’s degree in Public Administration? Why did you decide to study at Wagner?

Despite feeling extremely passionate about my job while working at the Ministry of Economy in my home country, I realized that I needed to further my studies in order to gain a wide-range understanding of international development and its networks. I examined many programs before I applied, and Wagner was my choice based not only on its extremely well-ranked policy program, but also on the remarkable international policy networks built by the faculty, students and staff in the fast-paced New York setting. I am thrilled with my decision. Wagner offers a particularly good mix of skill-oriented, practice-grounded courses. Coming from a developing country, the experience at Wagner gave me a unique opportunity to understand how development problems are seen from the standpoint of a developed environment and how strategies towards the developing world are outlined. Many Wagner grad students intern with UNDP, and the feedback I get from colleagues is that they are extremely well prepared to undertake development work.

In your current position, how do you use the knowledge and skills that you gained at Wagner? Which skills do you use most frequently?

In my current position, I most utilize my policy analysis skills, which were gained through a range of course work, including most certainly the capstone assignment with the InterAmerican Development Bank. In terms of specific skills, writing succinct policy memos and reading summaries was certainly a good skill to learn.

Reflecting on your academic experience, what Wagner courses, professors, and/or projects had the greatest influence on your professional development? How?

I particularly liked the course by John Gershman and Paul Smoke on international policy and institutions, the capstone course taught by Natasha Iskander and the development economics course by Jonathan Morduch. Professor Gershman was indeed an important pillar and interlocutor of my journey at Wagner; I really appreciated his candid and deep understanding of development politics. I benefitted greatly from his courses and tremendously enjoyed and the chances to learn more about issues of interest, such as the human development paradigm.

Reflecting on your time outside of the classroom (social events, orientations, trainings, etc.), can you describe one or two key moments at Wagner that impacted your passion for public service?

One of the main assets of Wagner is the student body. Having the opportunity to meet so many interesting people was invaluable. I still keep dear friends from my time at Wagner. Also, being a member of student organizations, such as the NYU Global Health Alliance and International Public Service Association (IPSA), was a good opportunity to network and learn. I remember quite dearly the IPSA annual event where Paul Farmer was the key speaker; it was an amazing session which inspired me profoundly.

Are there any programs, opportunities or other aspects of the Wagner experience that you wish you had leveraged during your time as a student?

I wish there would have been more opportunities to take courses in other NYU schools (I actually took macroeconomics at Stern) or other schools in the city. Trade is my area of specialization and would have liked to have the opportunity to take more courses on this subject. When I tried to enroll in Columbia for a semester, it proved impossible because of institutional rules.

How are you involved with the Wagner community as an alumna (i.e. attending events, mentoring students, maintaining connections with other alumni, recruiting at Wagner, etc.)?

I have been invited to be part of several events to mentor and share experiences with current graduate students. I also organized a visit for Wagner students to UNDP, which had great feedback in terms of giving students a better overview of current work focus and job opportunities.

Prospective students have expressed interest in learning how alumni funded their living expenses and education during their time as a Wagner student. If you feel comfortable, can you please tell us how you made it work?

I was a Fulbright scholar during my time at Wagner, and was lucky enough to get the Dean's scholarship, all of which made my time in NY easier. I also worked part time as a research assistant with the Research Center for Leadership in Action (RCLA) in my second year.