Prioritizing the Protection of Vulnerable Populations in California, Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, and New York
When she began studying at NYU Wagner in 2015, Justine Jacob (MPA 2018) brought her first-hand experiences working in both Palestine and Egypt to her international policy and management specialization. Justine was a global studies major in undergrad, and she traveled extensively working across the region throughout her senior year leading up to the Arab Spring.
After completing her undergraduate studies in 2011, Justine began teaching English to second-grade and sixth-grade students in Nablus, one of the most populated towns of the West Bank. She taught at the first and only bilingual and international school for Palestinian students in the area.
The following year, she traveled to Cairo to work for Refuge Egypt, an Egyptian NGO serving mostly African refugees. As the head of capacity and livelihoods, she hired, built, and trained the entire department while developing plans to open a school for adult refugees.
“That was my first time being a manager, and I loved it,” she said. “But it was very clear to me that I needed to learn more. With the skills I wanted and the skills I already had, New York was obviously the place for me. I wanted to go to NYU as an undergrad, but it just didn’t work out. So years later, I ended up moving from Egypt to NYU Wagner.”
Justine remembers watching every video she could find of NYU Wagner professors to get an idea of the faculty and their specialties. She recalled waiting a long time for each video to load because of poor internet connectivity in Cairo, but once she was able to explore NYU Wagner’s offerings, she knew she had found the place to hone the skills that would help her continue her mission of protecting vulnerable populations.
“I discovered [the MPA] program, and it seemed like a perfect fit—especially with the international specialization that is offered,” she stated.
NYU Wagner gave Justine the experience she had been longing for. She worked with professors who truly shared her interests and encouraged her to develop professionally beyond the classroom.
“Professor Paul Smoke had worked with the Egyptian government before the Arab Spring,” she remembered. “It was really cool for me to visit my professors during office hours to discuss potential internships and my experiences before Wagner.”
Justine explained that her professors helped her learn new ways to apply her work abroad to her coursework. She found herself in a position with the United Nations as a liaison assistant for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) working closely with the organization's leaders by attending security council, general assembly, and bilateral meetings. Her work led to an internship a few months later in the UN office of the humanitarian NGO World Vision, where she applied her coursework to her advocacy support role for the child rights and sustainable development division.
During her second year in the MPA program, Justine was one of two NYU Wagner students awarded a Boren Fellowship by the US Department of Defense. The fellowship provides unique funding opportunities for US graduate students to study less commonly taught languages in world regions critical to US interests and underrepresented in study abroad.
Justine suspended her studies for a year to learn Arabic and work as an assistant in the UNRWA Executive Office of the Commissioner General in Amman, Jordan. She returned to New York to finish her master’s degree and graduated in May 2018.
Justine now works as a program analyst for legal immigration services with Catholic Charities of California in her hometown of Sacramento where she is responsible for allocating the $20 million her organization receives from the state government.
“It’s a great experience to return home at a time when the state government is really trying to forge its own path away from the trends of the federal government when it comes to immigration,” she says. “[The State of California] is prioritizing the protection of vulnerable populations, and that’s not always the case in other states.”
Although Justine performs state-level advocacy and administers the largest state-wide immigration and refugee legal service network in California, eventually she wants to return to the Middle East.
“My passion is working on refugee policy and with refugee populations, particularly in the Middle East,” she said.
In the immediate future, Justine sees herself working with the United States Agency for International Development, or an affiliated organization, to fulfill the terms of her Boren Fellowship. In the long term, she plans to become a country director for an international NGO, possibly in Syria.
“All of this was because of Wagner – not just because of the skills that I learned, but because I was given a platform to develop my career,” she says. “Wagner gave me the time and space to explore my passions and pursue them. For that, I am very grateful.”