Ibrahim Kante ’21

Longwood senior Ibrahim Kante ’21 spent a good portion of his summer participating in the prestigious Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) Junior Summer Institute Fellowship Program at Princeton University. During the six-week program, which was held virtually this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, he took two courses: advanced statistics and global systemic risks.

The PPIA Junior Summer Institute Fellowship Program is a graduate-level preparation program for college juniors who aspire to careers in public service. The program was started to address the lack of diversity across the spectrum of professional public service, including government, nonprofits, public policy institutions and international organizations.

We caught up with Kante, a political science major with a concentration in global politics and minors in international studies and economics, over Zoom to learn about his experience with the program. His experience was also recently featured in a write-up by the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, which hosts the program.

This program gave us an opportunity to learn what it will take to have a platform and to be involved in public policy and international affairs.

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What is the PPIA Junior Summer Institute at Princeton and what did participating in this prestigious program entail?

The PPIA program is designed for students who will have a future career in public service, and it focuses on public policy and international affairs. It was created to help give students from historically underrepresented and marginalized backgrounds more representation in the arena of public policy.

In my statistics class, we did a lot of data analysis and I learned how to use the coding software called R, which is very important in the world of public policy. It really was a good opportunity to delve into the quantitative analysis part of public policy. This experience also put me a step ahead in my econometrics class at Longwood this semester.

In my global systemic risks course, we looked at the world as a whole web of people and how, if one link in the chain is broken, it can affect the entire world. We’ve become so interconnected it’s presenting a systemic risk to all of us. We talked a lot about inequality, disparity and the impact of issues such as Covid-19 on marginalized societies. My group’s final project was to look at the government response to the Covid-19 pandemic in France. The program was really intense. At times it was a lot to take in and learn. But we had tutoring available and other helpful resources.

How was the program different this year due to Covid-19 and how did you get to know other students?

The entire experience was virtual, so I did the program from home. We had our classes via Zoom, and some discussions and lectures were through Canvas. I really loved my cohort, which was 27 students. I got to know some amazing people from a lot of different backgrounds, even though we didn’t get to meet in person at Princeton. We had weekly happy hours on Zoom where we would just get together and get to know each other. We still keep in touch through group chat, and we talk to each other all the time. I admire many of them, and I can’t wait to meet them in person. I feel like I got to witness the greatness of some the future leaders of this county.

 The power of public policy has to start with taking everyone’s opinion into consideration and evaluating things from there.

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What was your favorite part of the program? What did you take away from it?

Two of my favorite aspects of this experience were the people I met and getting to learn how to use the R software. Through this program I got to expand my professional network tremendously. That was one invaluable aspect for which I will always be thankful. My cohort became like a second family beyond my Longwood family. I was also very interested in learning how to use R. I’m a statistics tutor at Longwood, and data visualization and data computing systems are easy to understand once you understand R. Learning this program will be helpful to me as a tutor this year and in the job market after I graduate.

My biggest takeaway from the program was learning the importance of system thinking and making holistic decisions. We read Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella Meadows and Diana Wright. It’s one of the most important books I’ve read since I’ve been in college. When you have a decision to make, it’s not just connected to the one thing you are trying to solve. We learned about visualizing all of the consequences of one particular policy and appreciating the bigger picture.

My experience with this program was simply amazing. The power of public policy has to start with taking everyone’s opinion into consideration and evaluating things from there. It helps when minorities who have been historically disenfranchised have a seat at the table. This program gave us an opportunity to learn what it will take to have a platform and to be involved in public policy and international affairs.

Did the PPIA program have an impact on your future career plans?

I already knew I wanted to go into international relations and international development. I thought I’d go to graduate school after I graduate from Longwood. But because of this program I’m looking at different opportunities for what to do after I graduate in the spring. I’m thinking about applying to the Princeton in Africa program, which is a one-year fellowship. I’d love to have an opportunity to get practical experience before I attend graduate school. Ultimately my career goal is to become a diplomat and work in the field of international development.

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