WooSights - Alumni Reflections & Advice
As an MPA student at the Woodrow Wilson School, I've been awed and advised by classmates, faculty, professors and alumni. My hope is that this new series of alumni profiles, “WooSights,” will give you a sense of the generosity and depth of the Wilson School community and offer some insights into how alumni have made the most of the opportunities it provides.
Renee Ho, MPA ’12
Fellow, Feedback Labs
Renee Ho ’12 started thinking about going back to school while working at the Gates Foundation on agricultural development and food security in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
“Between the external visitors and the staff itself, I learned a lot, but what I found missing were the time and resources to step back and situate the very unique experience of the Gates Foundation in the broader ecosystem of philanthropy and aid,” Renee said. “Going to Princeton gave me that kind of space and that kind of structure.”
In considering the Wilson School’s Master in Public Affairs (MPA), Renee wondered whether a more specialized program might be a better fit. She ultimately decided the balance of structure and flexibility, particularly in the MPA’s second year, would allow her the benefits of a more general degree in addition to some specificity.
“Talking to other alumni, I realized that there’s a tremendous value that comes with being able to think horizontally and broadly,” she said. “Jobs these days are not siloed, and being able to make analogies to other sectors and experiences is really valuable.”
Today, Renee has her own company, Rho Insights, which offers aid- and philanthropy-related client services and consulting. Renee hopes to help clients to find and use better evidence for understanding and improving their projects. She is concerned about the political dynamics of aid and philanthropy, and she works toward helping beneficiaries have a greater say in the programs they receive.
“The fact that we don’t usually consult beneficiaries is flawed from a rights-based perspective and from an effectiveness perspective,” Renee said.
At Princeton, Renee gained a theoretical background to complement her practical experience in direct service provision. She also continues to find her core coursework useful, particularly the Wilson School’s required psychology of public policy course.
“I do a lot of behavior-change work now,” she said. “Behavioral economics is like the new cool kid on the block.”
Likewise, Renee credits the policy memos assigned in WWS 501, a required politics of public policy course, with helping her to develop succinct, clear and directive writing skills.
“Princeton gives you the fundamental skills to absorb information, think about it critically and ultimately be more useful because you’re able to see across silos,” she said. “I feel I can take information, digest it and think intelligently about it in ways surprisingly few people can.”
Even with the strengths of the curriculum and the support of Princeton’s Career Services, Renee found landing her first job out of graduate school to be challenging. She and her peers were entering a still-recovering job market. Hoping to find a job near her partner, also a Wilson School alum, further constrained her initial options, but Renee stressed the importance of staying flexible and optimistic.
“It’s difficult to market yourself initially, but once you’re able to land that job, that’s where you’re able to demonstrate value,” she said. “Most people get all worked up about their first job after they graduate. I would say maybe 80 percent of my classmates switched jobs after the first year.”
After a year at ideas42 post-graduation, Renee started looking for jobs in Washington, D.C. She began consulting at the World Bank. More recently, Feedback Labs was hiring for a research consultant. Because the role was new, they were looking for someone with a wide range of experience in different types of institutions and sectors. Renee fit the bill.
In looking back at her time at Princeton, Renee is grateful for the versatile skillset she gained as it gave her flexibility of interest and expertise to move between jobs and fields. She also is thankful for the Princeton community.
“The thing that surprised me is how familial it gets,” she said. “Some of my best friends are alumni, as well as my partner, which speaks to the community. It’s a network that facilitates a lot of jobs and a lot of learning that continues.”