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Tenth Decade Project
Director of Program
Cathy Choi is the Director of Programs for The Eisner Foundation in Beverly Hills, California. She earned her MPA from Maxwell in 2002, and also holds a BA in Economics from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
The Eisner Foundation exists to provide access and opportunity for disadvantaged children and the aging of Los Angeles County. In her work, Cathy plays a bridge role between high net worth donors and numerous nonprofit organizations serving impoverished communities. The popular perception that those who work in philanthropy are disconnected to funded projects is far from the truth. The philanthropic sector takes time to be out in the community and learn how foundations can help bridge many social and economic gaps that exist, and become true partners with community organizations
Cathy drives many miles to visit hundreds of nonprofit organizations, their visionary leaders and clients to see firsthand the critical role they play for the most vulnerable populations. With all that legwork, Cathy notes that, "When I get to deliver the good news that they have been funded to carry out their good work, it is always so rewarding."
When reflecting back on her time at Maxwell and how it shaped her career, Cathy shares, "My Maxwell education has definitely helped me to advance to management positions in the field of philanthropy. Prior to my studies I held several positions in advocacy and the political arena where I assisted in supporting a certain cause(s). At Maxwell, I was able to take more of a leadership role in various group settings where we worked on actual case studies or took on real clients to resolve various policy or management situations from beginning to the end. The faculty and the challenging courses really honed my analytical and management skills, and even now I still refer back to what I have learned as I work with the nonprofit organizations that our foundation funds."
During her studies, Cathy's favorite classes were the Public Policy Colloquium - the first class of the program! - and a Ph.D. seminar course in Political Science on presidential leadership models she took as an elective. During the Colloquium, she participated in a simulation exercise where each student played a member of Congress, the Executive branch or various interest groups. She explains, "We were able to see the complexities in setting and executing policies that could have a major impact to individuals and groups."
To her surprise, quantitative analysis and evaluation courses were the courses Cathy considered most useful in her career - even though she thought those courses would be useful only to students pursuing higher degrees!
Cathy also notes that the nonprofit management elective course was pivotal for her career. "During the class we had an opportunity to have guest speakers who were professionals in various foundations. That's when I learned about possible career opportunities in philanthropy, and the professor also encouraged me to explore my options since she saw I had a diverse background which could fit well in dealing with the nonprofit sector. Until then I thought I was going to be a consultant of some sort in the field of information technology and I'm glad I made the right choice for me eventually."
Cathy's advice for those considering Maxwell? "Being a Southern California resident for most of my life, I was very hesitant to live in Syracuse since I heard horrible stories about how cold and long the winters can be. But I knew I wanted to branch out of my comfort zone and was willing to take that leap of faith, especially after I visited the campus and met the faculty and students when I was accepted to the program. After purchasing an entire winter wardrobe I am glad to say I survived the cold and didn't get sick once because I was always prepared! Also, people may think that Syracuse is not as diverse as other cities but you will be surprised how much interactions you will have with students from around the world. Now I have many friends who are leaders in various countries and have been able to keep in touch regularly. Lastly, due to the interdisciplinary nature of the Maxwell school you will be able to design a program that suits your needs and interests. It's not a "cookie cutter" program where everyone is expected to be in a certain profession. One year program may seem short but you'd be surprised how much knowledge, experience and inspiration you will gain."